A sound judiciary is an indispensable need of every sovereign entity, and an emerging nation like India is no exception to that. There is a universal law and order equation – which involves rights, grievances, redressals and justice – and every judiciary strives to maintain harmony in this equation within its own jurisdiction. Any other law enforcing entity, outside the purview of the judiciary, does nothing but disrupts the purpose of the judiciary.
Recently, a kangaroo court (an unofficial court held by a group of people), at the Subolpur village in Birbhum district of West Bengal, had ordered a tribal woman to be raped by its members. It was a punishment for having an affair with someone from the other community. An un-affordable fine was first imposed on the woman and when she expressed her inability to pay such a large amount, a rape was ordered.
It is shocking that every villager – including the womenfolk – supported the verdict. For them, justice was to be done and the up-most body that they could seek help from was the kangaroo court in the village. But why do people have to rely on such unofficial courts when the nation claims to have a dependable justice delivery mechanism?
One reason could be: people do not have equal access to the court of law everywhere, and the other could be that people have lost their faith. It also shows how the Indian judiciary has failed to encompass a significant portion of India’s vast rural expanse.
The collective scepticism about the justice mechanism cannot be disregarded as our judiciary has hardly missed a chance to keep people waiting outside the courts for years. There are numerous examples where the aggrieved has either lost his battle with life before losing his battle at the court of law.
The kangaroo courts rely on the most irrational of the parameters to conclude their cases and, they believe, this is their traditional way of ensuring justice. According to them, the formal judiciary system is like a hegemony that dilutes the great Indian justice mechanisms. Most of the times, they do not let the judiciary intervene. They do this by making sure that the cases do not outreach the village boundaries. In the Subolpur chapter, they had a bad luck with the concealing part.
Such unauthorized justice institutes are not specific to any region. While the Khap courts in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have been involved in the worst instances of honor killing and other inhuman penalization, the village courts in neighboring Assam have earned a bad name for witch hunting. Addition of the caste and religious catalysts even make it worse.
In order to concrete its judiciary, the state must first ensure the abolition of such unauthorized courts through proper legal discourse. It will be a tedious task, but it has to be done. The bigger problem is that, the kangaroo courts are already unofficial, what makes them exist is a mass support in the rural regions. And such support is not just a result of decades of disbelief in the judicial abilities of the nation’s system of legal discourse but also a wretched outlook nurtured through decades of backwardness.
To invalidate the reliance over such unauthorized courts, mere legal steps will not be enough. Social attitudes need to change, and it is not a rapid process. If the nation is to become more gender-sensitive, then the new social attitudes should reflect more rational values, liberal values and human values.