I finally attended my first Women’s Court session this Tuesday. I will be focusing on it through a series on its various features and strengths in the upcoming blog posts. This is the first entry in the series, and contains the basic facts that I’ve gathered till now.
The goal of the women’s courts is to empower marginalized populations, particularly the Dalit community and women, to access their legal rights through an alternate dispute resolution mechanism.
What: Nari Adalat (NA) is the organization responsible for the women’s court in Padra, Gujarat. It is made up of approximately 100 women from surrounding 20 villages, most of whom are from the Dalit community. The complainants are a diverse array of marginalized communities including oppressed castes, low-income group, and religious minorities.
Where/When: The Nari Adalat meets every Tuesday under a neem tree in the midst of a government compound in Padra. The hearings are open to the public, and often have a sizable crowd, including men, watching the procedures with interest.
- Registration: The court registers the names and addresses of the complainants, fixes a day and time for hearings, and invites other relatives and family members who are party to the dispute.
- Hearings: After listening to the problem, the judges probe for more details, information and accuracy. They encourage the women to express what they think would be the best outcome of the conflict. Often, other members of the family will speak on behalf of the female complainant- this is discouraged by emboldening the complainant to express her wishes. The nature of the public hearing alters the situation of power and helps in coming to terms with the situation.
- Fact finding / follow –up visits: In case the other side does not present itself at court teams of advocates undertake fact-finding visits to ensure objectivity, and to understand the contradictory viewpoints inevitable in the disputes. They visit the person/family in the village and speak to the neighbors (everyone knows everyone’s business in such close-knit communities) encouraging a settlement bearing in mind the woman’s perspective.
- Reaching resolutions: After the hearings and fact-finding visits, the agreement reached is documented on a stamp paper and signed by the village elders, the panchayat head, as well as all the parties concerned. This in itself is a major activity as the agreements are read out aloud before everyone and then written out as per the participation of the concerned parties, giving the agreement a crucial social validity in the community.
- Legal norms: The women courts cite state laws in oral and written form to assert legality of women’s rights. In certain cases, the courts also utilize state-based mechanisms such as such as filing a First Information Report (FIR) at the police station, medical examination in case of injury, seeking security from the protection officer in the Domestic Violence Act, as well as writing letters to the Human Rights Commission, the State Women’s Commission, and the National Women’s Commission to appeal for protection and justice.
Perhaps this post answers some of the questions raised in the comments section – feel free to discuss. However, I intend to offer my perspective on some of the themes raised, including the strengths and weakness of the women’s court, its quasi-legality, and relationship with the State.
Posted By Jasveen Bindra (India)
Posted Jun 14th, 2013