They function as vigilante courts which act ruthlessly and swiftly to punish those who defy their orders, largely on issues of caste. Khap panchayats or caste councils are common in Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab; 200 of them convened in Kurukshetra in Haryana on Tuesday to discuss their strategy in the face of new criticism and penalties imposed by courts against them.
That strategy seems to centre on upping the ante in self-interest. So khap panchayats are demanding that marriages within the same sub-caste or "gotra" be declared illegal by the government. They've asked that the Hindu Marriage Law be amended to implement this.
''We can't let our traditions get diluted. We have to uphold them,'' says Bhola Ram Baniwal, President of the Jat Maha Sangh.
Repudiating warnings by the government and court orders, the maha khap panchayat held on Tuesday also expressed its unwavering support for the people who were found guilty earlier this month of executing a young couple who defied the orders of a khap panchayat in Haryana to marry.
A court sentenced five members of the bride's family to death and sentenced the leader of the khap panchayat to life imprisonment for killing the couple. (Read: Death sentence for 5, life for 1 in Karnal honour killing
After they were married, Manoj and Babli were persecuted at the orders of the Kaithal Khap Panchayat, which labelled their relationship incestuous. Babli's family opposed the marriage on the grounds that their daughter was from the same gotra as Manoj. Villagers were warned that they would be heavily fined if they were found speaking to the couple.
Manoj asked a local court for help which ordered the police to protect the couple. Despite this, Manoj and Babli were abducted and then found floating in a canal barely a week after the court had intervened.
The maha khap panchayat has asked villagers to contribute Rs 10 per household to help those found guilty in the case to appeal against their sentence.