Nari Adalats: Changing Lives at the Community Level

In my last blog, I briefly discussed the system of Nari Adalats (Women’s courts) run by a few non-governmental organization in India. In this blog, I will be elucidating the working structure and commendable impact of the Nari Adalat mechanism in Kangra and Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh.

(Nari Adalat case proceeding at Jagori Grameen. Image Courtesy: Austin Cope)

Nari Adalat is a gender-sensitive, informal Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) platform, an innovation of the Mahila Samakhya of the Ministry of HRD, in response to the rise in the number of cases of violence against women.[1] These panels of women are usually from socially or/and economically backward sections who understand the matrix involved at the grass-root level. In order to further strengthen the functioning of this system, they are given paralegal trainings.

Amongst the general public and the legal community, sufficient awareness or information regarding the existence and functioning of the Nari Adalats is absent. Despite being an advocate, I was first introduced to this system by my AIF Clinton Fellowship host organization – Jagori Rural Charitable Trust or Jagori Grameen, Dharamshala. Jagori is registered as a service provider under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. The organization runs four Nari Adalats in the Kangra district and one Nari Adalat in the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. Across India, Nari Adalats may differ on some level depending upon the geographical location, facilities available, socio-economic factors amongst others but the essence remains the same. At Jagori, “the process of resolution is achieved through dialogue and negotiations with the voices of women as central to decision making. Everyone, including men, is free to seek help, in an open and transparent environment. A cadre of 12 women and 3 male Legal Justice Activists are actively engaged in addressing cases of violence against women.”[2] Here, the resolution doesn’t focus on sending the aggrieved females to the house of the perpetrator after resolving the conflict but at providing the relief that she wants ensuring her physical and mental safety.

These Adalats, exclusively dedicated to women, attempt to balance the scales of justice, by-passing social evils and stigmas.[3] The panel of women adjudicators who are commonly known as Nyaay Sakhis (friends of justice) at Jagori adjudicate the complaints filed either by the aggrieved women herself or by her family or friends. These courts strictly follow natural justice principles and both the parties along with the key family members, witnesses, and other people of interest are given an opportunity to put forth their statements in an amicable manner. Aggrieved parties are given an open platform to comfortably narrate their story both in the absence and presence of the other party. These hearings are later followed by fact-finding visits.

(Aggrieved woman narrating her story to the adjudicators at Jagori. Image Courtesy: Jagori Grameen)

A common trait amongst domestic violence cases has been the “hope of change.” Women who experience domestic violence often continue to allow the perpetrator to inflict violence on them, thinking that he will change someday. Only after suffering for years do they usually approach the police, panchayat or the Nari Adalats.

This mechanism of the alternative dispute resolution has resolved the problem of access to justice for hundreds of women in the Kangra district, Chamba district, and nearby districts. The majority of the cases, in Jagori, were referred by some women who heard about the Nari Adalats through a word of mouth or referred by the police, panchayat or other government authorities. Jagori is also actively involved in finding and helping aggrieved females who are either not aware of these Nari Adalats or are scared to voice out. For this, the Nyaay Sakhis run several awareness campaigns, sessions with the panchayat, ask around about domestic violence incidents in the neighbourhood, forms groups of aggrieved females, and ask them to assist Jagori in finding other aggrieved females in other ways.

This has been significantly improving the self-worth, confidence, happiness and, mental and physical well-being of the aggrieved females. At the family level, it has increased acceptance and freedom from maintaining social imagery of an ideal family. At the community level, more and more women are speaking up about violence and providing support to one another. There is an increase in the awareness amongst the males, and the perpetrators are now more conscious about their words and actions.

(Nari Adalat case proceeding. Image Courtesy: Jagori Grameen)

The Nyaay Sakhis are the backbone of this system. Many of the aggrieved parties, especially the women and their families, felt relieved during the Nari Adalat hearings even before the relief sought was provided. If either of the parties seeks divorce or wishes to initiate legal proceedings, the Nyaay Sakhis assist them with the process and in certain cases, they find female advocates for them. Further, after providing the desired relief, the Nyaay Sakhis do a regular follow-up to ensure the aggrieved female’s safety and affirm their consistent support. The follow-ups continue even after the closure of the case.

Additionally, the lives of the Nyaay Sakhis and their family members are also improving. These female adjudicators are seeking and obtaining equal status in the family and society, increased income, better education of their children amongst others which is ultimately leading to their social, physical and mental well being. This has led to zero tolerance for any kind of violence against any female member of their families. They are also breaking the glass ceilings carved with multiple social stigmas and patriarchal norms.

During a conversation with a few of the Nyaay Sakhis, one of them shared an empowering story. Seema[4] said she belongs to a nomadic cattle rearing family and lives on a nearby mountain at her conservative matrimonial house, which follows strict patriarchal norms. She has three daughters and two sons; the elder daughter is pursuing higher education. All the families near her house believed in not educating their daughters. She fought with her mother-in-law and convinced her husband to send their daughters to school and then to college. Their family was the first family to allow education to females. Now, all the families send their daughters to schools and colleges. The elder daughter wanted a love marriage but the entire family was against it. Seema convinced her husband and mother-in-law and organized an engagement ceremony. After a few months, the daughter seemed unhappy with her fiancé and Seema called off the engagement. Seema added, “I have seen multiple women suffering in an unwanted marriage and I don’t want my daughter to suffer. I don’t believe in the social norms which will take away my child’s happiness.” Further, she shared that she ensures that both the sons share the burden of household chores contrary to the laid gender roles. Her husband also helps her in the kitchen.

The Nari Adalat system is thus bringing a significant social transformation by establishing a social equilibrium both, at an individual and community level in an unprecedented manner.


References:

[1] Raje, Namita. “Nari Adalat: A Beacon for Women in Distress.” Newsreach, May-June 2017: pp. 24. https://www.pradan.net/sampark/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Nari-Adalat-A-Beacon-for-Women-in-Distress.pdf

[2] Jagori Rural Charitable  Trust. https://www.jagorigrameen.org/awaj-violence.

[3] Raje, Namita. “Nari Adalat: A Beacon for Women in Distress.” Newsreach, May-June 2017: pp. 20. https://www.pradan.net/sampark/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Nari-Adalat-A-Beacon-for-Women-in-Distress.pdf

[4] This is a pseudonym. The real name of the person is not used due to privacy concerns.

Ayushi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Jagori Rural Charitable Trust, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. For her Fellowship project, she is assessing the implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 with respect to the role played by the Protection officers in the Kangra district and the Himachal Pradesh state government. Ayushi completed her B.Com LL.B. (Hons.) in 2019. She believes that the world would be a happier place to live in if we learned to treat all living beings with humanity and basic dignity, irrespective of our biological and psychological differences, belief systems, and distinct genetic makeup. Through the AIF Clinton Fellowship, she will be working with issues related to female education and child marriage. She wishes to help the women and the LGBTQIA+ in utilizing their innate power and channelizing that energy in breaking societal chains, gaining inner liberty, and happiness. In order to educate herself with the realities, she studied subjects such as law and social transformation, liberty, equality and justice, and completed a credit course on comparative human rights. She interned at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and at the Centre for Civil Society under Fellowship91 in New Delhi, and the Alternative Law Forum in Bengaluru. She visited villages in Madhya Pradesh to understand the difficulties faced due to water scarcity. She enjoys writing blogs and research papers and has written on several issues related to drug usage as a criminal justice problem or a health problem, lawyers becoming casualties of their profession, homosexual marriages, sin taxation analyzing the taxes payable by prostitutes in India, and hate speech and freedom of speech and expression. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music, singing, writing poems, and reading books.

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