An Indian child bride
An Indian child bride Reuters

A caste council in the northern Indian state of Haryana has sparked outrage for attributing the recent increased incidence of rapes to “vulgar” films and TV programs.

The caste council, also known as Khap Panchayats, also advised girls to marry as soon as they reach puberty in order to prevent getting raped.

(Khaps, informal tribunals, still wield great power and influence in rural communities across northern India and have existed since the beginning of recorded history.)

"Lowering the marriage age could be a solution to the negative influence spread by vulgar programs on TV and cinema on our youth,” said Khap leader Mahender Ghimana.

“They have been tremendously influenced by the vulgarity on TV, which leads to early puberty and some of them are unable to handle it, which results in such incidents.”

Another member of the Khap, stated: “After the children attain puberty, it is normal for them to have sexual desire. They stray when the desire is not fulfilled. Thus it is ideal that they are married off when they turn 16.’

The declarations followed the tragic case of a local 16-year-old Dalit (Untouchable) girl named Sharmila who committed suicide by self-immolating after suffering a gang-rape by her higher-caste neighbors (including a policeman).

A senior official of the local Dalit community rejected the Khap’s directive on marriage.

"Reducing the marriageable age won't make a difference. It's not the age, but the mind-set of the culprit that's responsible," Dhanik Samaj leader Jongi Ram Khundia said, according to CNN-IBN.

In an editorial published in the First Post newspaper, columnist Akshaya Mishra also condemned the Khaps.

“The Khaps in north India never cease to amaze,” he wrote.

“Their rulings range from the silly to the obnoxious to the regressive. They reflect the mind-set of an insular world cut off from all change outside.”

However, Mishra conceded that Khaps remain an intransigent power in northern rural India.

“Their influence in the social-scape where they exist is overwhelming,” he noted.

“The writ of the government does not work here neither does the long arm of the law. The reason is simple. The community institutions represent a mind-set, a world-view steeped in medievalism. Punitive action will work against persons but not against a mind-set which allegedly sanctifies honor killings and reaffirms the traditional caste and community-based segregation and discrimination. “

Meanwhile, a perceived rising incidence of rapes in Haryana has women's groups very worried.

Shanta Sinha, the chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, told the Hindu newspaper: “We … are demanding that the State Government [of Haryana] take up the issue of security for women in a serious manner. The State has one of the worst sex ratios in the country and there is an urgent need for an emergency awareness drive to bring the State and civil society together to work for the protection of girls.”

She added: “We are very concerned over the spurt in incidents of rape of teenaged girls in Haryana and will seek an explanation from the State Government… There is an urgent need for a public awareness campaign in favor of the girl child. There should also be a fear amongst those who indulge in such activities. They should be punished so that the girls are safe.”