Caste panchayat

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Caste panchayats, based on caste system in India, are caste-specific juries of elders for villages or higher-level communities in India.[1] They are distinct from village panchayats in that the latter, as statutory bodies, serve all villagers regardless of caste, although they operate on the same principles. A panchayat can be permanent or temporary.[2]

A panchayat near Narsinghgarh, India.

The term panchayat implies a body of five (Sanskrit: Panch) individuals, although the number may vary in practice. The number is kept odd to ensure there is no tie when a decision is made. Panchayat members are appointed by consensus.[3]


Panchayats, the council of five elders, had existed since vedic period ( c. 1500 – c. 600 BCE) from the times of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Kautilya (Chanakya) also provides the 4th century BCE description of decentralised autonomous governing organisation for each village based on the council of five where the king ruled the empire based on the conglomeration of villages.[4]

Historical mentions[5] of panchayats include the Parsi Panchayat in 1818,[6] the Aror Bans Panchayat at Lahore in 1888,[7] low caste panchayats in 1907,[8] and the Prachin Agrawal Jain Panchayat of Delhi, founded in the late 19th century, which runs Delhi's famous Bird Hospital[9] and some of its oldest temples.

Caste panchayat versus Gram panchayat[edit]

There are different types of panchayats.[4]

Gram panchayats (village councils) were usually controlled by the upper caste for maintaining the social order and the resolution of criminal and civil disputes. There were also panchayats for resolving inter-caste conflicts. Gram panchayats were legally formalised under the panchayati raj system as a decentralised grassroot form of local governance.[4]

Caste panchayats (caste councils) have members of particular castes who follow caste-based social norms, rules, religious values and settle conflict among its own members. Each caste, including upper caste and dalits, had own caste panchayat. They repair wells, organise festivals, look after the sick of their castes. These caste panchayats existed as the form of local governance much before the gram panchayats came into being.[4]

Urban caste panchayat[edit]

A 1992 study on twenty different low caste Telugu immigrant communities in Pune, found evolution of caste panchayat of each community into three different types in their new urban setting:

  • Fused caste panchayats: those with characteristics similar to the traditional caste panchayats in villages.
  • Transitional caste panchayats: those where the characteristics of traditional village caste panchayats and modern organisations coexist.
  • Differentiated caste panchayats: those more adopted to the changing modern conditions with diminished traditional characteristics and modern organisational characteristics projected outside.[10]


Traditionally, panchayats have adjudicated disputes involving caste members in open meetings. The issues brought before these bodies can include: managing temples and schools, property disputes, marital relations, and breaches of community rules (such as extravagant spending on weddings[11] or the eating, drinking, or killing of certain animals, such as cows). Penalties include monetary fines, offering a feast to the caste members or to Brahmins, or temporary or permanent excommunication from the caste. Pilgrimage and self-humiliation are also occasionally imposed. Physical punishment was levied on occasion but is now uncommon.[2]

When the Evidence Act was passed in 1872,[2] some caste members began to take their cases before civil or criminal courts rather than have them adjudicated by the caste panchayat.[12][13] Nevertheless, these bodies still exist and exert leadership roles within their respective groups.[14][15][16]


A Khap is a clan, or a group of related clans, mainly among the Jats of western Uttar Pradesh and eastern Haryana.[17][18] The term has also been used in other communities.[19] A Khap panchayat is an assembly of Khap elders, and a Sarv Khap (literally, "all Khaps") meeting is an assembly of many Khaps.[20][21] A Khap panchayat is concerned with the affairs of the Khap it represents.[22] It is not affiliated with the democratically elected local assemblies that are also termed panchayat, and has no official government recognition or authority, but it can exert significant social influence within a community.[23] Baliyan Khap, led by the late farmer's leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, is a well-known Jat Khap.[24]


  1. ^ Mullick, Rohit; Raaj, Neelam (9 September 2007). "Panchayats turn into kangaroo courts". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 7 June 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c "Panchayat Indian caste government". Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  3. ^ [1] Justice, Human Rights and Premchand’s Panch Parmeshwar By CHARANJEET KAUR | 9 Dec 2012]
  4. ^ a b c d Smita Mishra Panda, 2008, Engendering Governance Institutions: State, Market and Civil Society, p119-.
  5. ^ Wadia, Sorab P. N. (1897). The Institution of Trial by Jury in India. p. 26. 
  6. ^ [2] Rhetoric and Ritual in Colonial India: The Shaping of a Public Culture in Surat City, 1852-1928, Douglas E. Haynes, University of California Press, 1991, p. 77-79]
  7. ^ [3] Short Ethnographical History of Aror Bans [panchayat]: According to the Questions, Issue 2 Volume 756 of Tract (India Office Library) Virajananda Press, 1888]
  8. ^ Crooke, W. Natives of northern India.(Native races of the Brit. empire). p. 70. 
  9. ^ A Jain hospital exclusively for birds, D.N.Jha, MeriNews, 20 May, 2008
  10. ^ Kumaran, K.P. (1992). Migration settlement and ethnic associations. New Delhi: Concept Pub. Co. pp. 56–90. ISBN 9788170223900. 
  11. ^ Jain Panchayat Frames Regulations to Check Lavish Weddings, Kiran Tare, The New Indian Express, 19th December 2014
  12. ^ Panchayat: Indian caste government (article 9374468), Encyclopædia Britannica, about "caste panchayats"
  13. ^ Randeria, Shalini (2006). Civil society: Berlin perspectives, Chapter 9, "Entangled histories: Civil society, caste solidarities and legal pluralism in post-colonial India". Bergahn Books. pp. 213–226. ISBN 184545-064-7. 
  14. ^ Kumar, Vijay (1989). Scheduled caste panchayat pradhans in India: A study of western Uttar Pradesh. Ajanta. p. 183. ISBN 8120202627. 
  15. ^ Dube, SC (1955). India's Villages (PDF). 
  16. ^ Robert, Hayden (1984). "A Note on Caste Panchayats and Government Courts in India : Different Kinds of Stages for Different Kinds of Performances:" (PDF). The Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law. 16 (22): 43–52. doi:10.1080/07329113.1984.10756282. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 June 2015. 
  17. ^ क्या है खाप पंचायत, क्यों है उसका दबदबा?, Atul Sagar, BBC 5 August 2009
  18. ^ Identifying The Centripetal And Centrifugal Forces Through Khap Panchayats In Haryana-An Analysis Satpal Singh, Dalbir Singh, IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) Volume 16, Issue 4 (Sep. - Oct. 2013), PP 109-116
  19. ^ अब उतपति श्रावकनु के, षांप गोत की जेम |
    भई सु पोथिनु देषि करि, वरनन है कवि तेम ||६८२||
    आगैं तो श्रावक सवै, एकमेक ही होत |
    लगे चलन विपरीति तव, थापे षांप अरु गोत ||६८३||
    थपी वहैतरि षांप ऐ, गांम नगर के नांम |
    जैसैं पोथनु मैं लषी, सो वरनी अभिराम ||६८४||
    Describes the 84 Jain communities, Buddhi-Vilas, Bakhtaram Sah, Samvat 1827, (1770 AD)
  20. ^ Haryana’s biggest khap panchayat scripts history, allows inter-caste marriages, Manveer Saini,TNN | Apr 21, 2014,
  21. ^ The Jats of Northern India Their Traditional Political System—II, M C Pradhan, Economic and Political Weekly, December 18, 1965
  22. ^ खाप पंचायतों का हृदय परिवर्तन! अंजलि सिन्हा, Sahara Samay, 26 Apr 2014
  23. ^ Kaur, Ravinder (5 June 2010). "Khap panchayats, sex ratio and female agency | Ravinder Kaur". Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  24. ^ Muzaffarnagar riots: A Jat family protected 70 Muslims in Fugna village, India Today, September 14, 2013

Further reading[edit]