A 20-year-old woman in West Bengal was gang-raped by 13 men on the orders of a village court as punishment for having a relationship with a man from a different community. It is the latest instance of the sickening kind of ‘justice’ meted out by illegal courts or khap Panchayats, as they are known in certain places.

Even though the 13 men who raped her have been nabbed, that is small solace. It is time to look at the bigger picture. While the rapists must pay — including the village headman who ordered this crime, giving it ‘legal’ sanction so to speak — the government needs to move on these regressive kangaroo courts, which terrorise people with their sweeping powers.

For years now, kangaroo courts have pronounced punishments ranging from rape to death, and are designed to humiliate and subjugate swathes of people who supposedly live in a free country. India has functioning law courts; there just cannot be a parallel system of ‘justice’ pronouncing arbitrary punishments on people. This is a Taliban-esque system, which needs to be wiped out with immediate and absolute force.

At a time when Indian society is forced to re-look at sexual crimes against women and internationally India’s image has taken a beating (justifiably) for the way women are targeted, kangaroo courts are particularly vicious when it comes to women. A spate of honour killings are ordered by these courts, because, in their minds, this is the only way in which family honour can be ‘restored’ once their laws have been violated by the women. In some edicts, women were stopped from wearing Western clothing and mobile phones had been ‘banned’. These courts are patriarchal, with men holding the power in the councils and using their clout to repress women.

This is surely the India of the dark ages, where a woman can be raped as punishment. It is the lowest form of degradation and it is time to strike at the very roots, by uprooting these de-facto courts that are endemic in rural areas all over the country. Now is the time to use iron political will and start crushing this parallel justice system with ruthless force. So many women and men have suffered immeasurably because of it. It is a matter of great shame that the world’s largest democracy still has these kangaroo courts. It is time for the government to show that it is the ‘baap’ of khap and all other kangaroo courts.