“Education should prepare our minds to use its own powers of reason and conception rather than filing it with the accumulated misconceptions of the past” – Bryant H. McGill
This quote by B.H. McGill rings true for all of us in Azim Premji University. We are encouraged to come out of the misconceptions of the past and experience the present. But in our everyday life not everything is tangible, not everything is precise. Yet we take a stand, based on what is the question?
We hear of state everyday but what is this state?. Not even a single day in our life is independent of state. But do we have an opinion on state? The idea of this invisible but all pervasive state was exciting. Out of this excitement and intellectual curiosity, a group of six of us embarked on a journey to capture citizen’s perception of state. For this study we chose Gujarat and Haryana considering group dynamics. We travelled in and around Gujarat and Haryana to view the State through the eyes of its citizens. The interviews, conversations and observations of the people of different culture, communities, profession’s forms the major chunk of our study.
The observations were eye-opening. Suffice to say that it served to destroy many of the misconceptions that we harboured regarding those states we visited. A prominent example of is the concept of Khap Panchayats. The image of Khap Panchayats has suffered greatly at the hands of the media. Sensational stories of caste-based murders and male domination have found their way into most of our homes through the new channels or news papers. While the fact that Khap Panchayats follow an archaic set of principles may be true, the benefit of such institutions in rural communities has been ignored. As a result, the rest of India where this system is not prevalent fails to understand that it is an essential feature of the community in which it exists, woven into its very fabric. We realized the important role Khap Panchayats play in the society during a conversation with the Superintendent of Police at Karnal,as part of the study. We learnt from the SP that Khap Panchayats were not viewed as a parallel system of law enforcement, rather as a supplementary system which was even more effective in facilitating the laws. He brought to us the fact, that the constituent members of the Khap Panchayat are localities and the community is more receptive to their voice than the police. What is interesting here is not what they do but what they are capable of doing. What they are currently doing as community bodies, may not be acceptable in the modern society but can be deal with, by improving the education of members of the community and sensitizing them to modern ideas of justice. However, from the perspective of the working of State machinery, it was interesting to note how this community body garnered more respect and commanded more obedience than the police force. Apart from dispelling the negative notions we had of Khap Panchayats, as students of social sciences we realize that the enforcement of the law is as important as the creation of good law. Thus, this experience provided a valuable insight into how the law is to be enforced. This is just one instance to mention.
In the end, the study was in away like a trip that it dint force us to open our eyes but it so happened. Awareness of certain ground realities, like how in spite of all that has been done to alleviate the gender differences, it was still easier to build rapport with strangers and get information out of them if you were a man.
All in all, the experience taught us that our duty as students of social sciences was to clarify the notions of the community that have been thrust on us by the so-called informed society that we have devoted our academic lives to.