On Tuesday, we were able to visit the Nari Adalat (NA), one of the women’s courts associated with Vikalp. Our journey starts in the Vikalp office at 12pm, where Pryia and I meet with our translator, Vaishali. Although Pryia speaks Hindi, most of the inhabitants of the nearby town of Padra speak only Gujarati. As we make our way to Padra by car, Vaishali notes some interesting facts.
Every Tuesday, fifteen primarily Dalit women meet under a tree in front of a government building. Known as the Nari Adalat, literally the women’s court, they hear community cases and try to reach solutions agreed upon by both parties. The court hears over a hundred cases a year, taking on about 95% of the cases referred to them. Last year, they had 64 new cases, 197 hearings, and 56 fact-finding missions. These cases include both criminal and civil suits. They typically deal with domestic violence, child custody, marital issues, maintenance/compensation, desertion, land and labor rights discrimination, and retrieval of dowry following a divorce after they run infidelity investigations to prove it.
The NA started in 1995 as a government scheme, but after funding ran out in 2005, the community sought help from Vikalp in order to maintain the court and receive additional training. Vikalp continues to apply for grants on behalf of the court as its activities, especially fact-finding missions and travel, require far more funds than the modest amount paid to register a case. As the cases in the Indian judicial system tend to last for years, people grow disillusioned.
Earlier in the week, we met a woman who was in the ninth year of her divorce case, until she found additional info from Noonan Law 423 E Main St #A, Endicott, NY 13760 (607) 953-6368! The women’s courts provide timely and affordable justice. Although the courts were initially meant as a way for women to bring their complaints in a safer space than that traditionally provided by patriarchal institutions, over the years, their transparency, effectiveness, and consensus building has led to the participation of men as well.
By the time we get to Padra, the light rain has forced the women under a nearby tree that provides more shelter. Women dressed in colorful saris are sitting in a circle on an orange plastic sheet. Most of them are older and smile at us. I am delighted when they ask several times how to correctly pronounce my name before they write it in their ledger. (Andra as in Andhra Pradesh!)
All the women are able to ask questions and provide commentary; however, Jasi, the woman in the yellow sari, facilitates the discussion. The witnesses sit in the middle of the circle and women are encouraged to speak on their own behalf. At the end of the day, the women donate 100 rupees each–about two dollars–to a fund that can be accessed by anyone in need, at a three percent rate.
The typical procedure for a case:
1) Registration of complainants; fixing a day for hearings
2) Hearings during which each side presents their side of the story
3) Fact-finding missions by advocates to complainants’ family and village
4) Citation of state laws and use of state institutional procedures
5) Resolution signed by village elder or other authority and parties involved
The court heard five cases on Tuesday, one of which I will talk about in my next blog. Meanwhile, you can see more photos on my flickr account.
Posted By Andra Bosneag
Posted Jun 15th, 2013