Here are some initial FAQs about the Nari Adalat court. I would love to answer your most burning questions!
How are the judgments enforced?
First, both parties are eager to resolve the case. They might have been stuck in the Indian judicial system for years, are ready for a divorce, or want to negotiate compensation. For the sake of closure, the willingness to commit to the final judgment acts as a strong motivator in enforcement. Second, people attending the courts are doing so in front of their community, under the scrutiny of public pressure. I was surprised by the number of bystanders watching the entire court session. In many instances, fact-finding missions require the stories and signatures of neighbors in order to establish the truth, therefore adding another layer of accountability. Lastly, when judgments are reached, they are notarized and signed by the local elder.
Are the judgments recognized by the state?
The women’s court utilizes legal norms and cites state and national laws. They employ state-based mechanisms: filing First Information Reports (FIR) at the police station, getting medical examinations in case of injury, seeking security from a protection officer, and writing letters to the Human Rights Commission, the State Women’s Commission, and the National Women’s Commission. According to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act of 1996, cases settled in panchayats and other community courts can be recognized in judicial courts.
Does the court act as an alternative to the legal system or complement it?
In many ways, the court acts as both an alternative and a supplement to the legal system.
Alternative: When the judicial system fails to address issues in a timely manner, people utilize the court to speed up the process. Additionally, the court deals with issues in a more holistic manner, often times employing its participants’ knowledge of village life to examine various causal factors. For example, if a husband cites suspicion of his wife’s activities, the women’s court know this often times refers to a sexuality issue and can encourage deeper discussions.
Supplement: The court can also be seen as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, complementing the Indian judicial system. India has a long tradition of these mechanisms through panchayats. This assembly of the panch (five) elders, traditionally all men, is in charge of settling disputes at the community level. Similar to a voluntary arbitration procedure, the council deals with issues on which agreements between the parties can be reached. In trying to find a middle ground, the court attempts to ensure a successful compromise for both parties. In panchayats, the women typically sit outside the circle allowing men to speak on their behalf. The women’s courts enhance this tradition by providing much needed spaces in which women are encouraged to present their case and articulate their wishes.
Vikalp sees the court as providing several benefits to women and their communities:
1) Ownership of justice mechanisms by marginalized community
2) Subverting gender norms
3) Providing restorative instead of retributive justice for both sides
4) Trauma healing for women who can present their stories in a safe and supportive space
5) Transformative potential for the women participating in the court: some of the women bringing cases eventually became part of the court while others continue coming every week to see court cases and learn about their rights.
Looking forward to your questions about the courts and their procedure!!
Posted By Andra Bosneag
Posted Jun 19th, 2013