The Women Courts, Nari Adalat initiative in India is a significant advancement in empowering women within the realm of justice. These specialized courts provide an alternative avenue for resolving a wide range of disputes that disproportionately affect women in patriarchal societies, including issues like domestic violence and property rights. The scheme embodies the principles of participatory democracy, allowing citizens to actively engage in decision-making processes and directly influence policies affecting their lives. This approach emphasizes the involvement of the general public in political decisions, empowering them to shape the direction of their communities and societies.

It encourages solidarity among women from diverse backgrounds, empowering them to collectively challenge patriarchal norms within the formal legal system. This model of alternative dispute resolution stands out for its cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and unwavering commitment to addressing the needs and aspirations of women. In addition to resolving disputes, Nari Adalat also educates women about their legal rights, facilitating their access to government programs and services.

The upcoming launch of the women-only arbitration initiative as a pilot project in 50 villages each in Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, starting in August, marks an important step forward. Plans are underway to expand and extend the coverage of this initiative nationwide within the next six months, signaling a commitment to broader empowerment and access to justice for women across India.

Constitution of Women Courts

The concept of the ‘women’s court’ or ‘nari-adalat’ or ‘mahila mandal’ has emerged relatively recently but is becoming increasingly prevalent in contemporary India. This alternative dispute-resolution forum is specifically tailored to address women’s marital and related family issues. Its primary objective is to offer a safe and supportive environment where women can voice their grievances, negotiate satisfactory resolutions with their husbands and in-laws, or explore ways to escape from challenging circumstances altogether. The women’s court promotes the informal resolution of domestic disputes, steering away from recourse to the formal judicial system. Typically, these courts are operated by women’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs), often receiving financial backing from foreign donor agencies, and sometimes from governmental or semi-governmental bodies such as State Women’s Commissions or Legal Aid Societies.

They are specialized courts composed of 7 to 9 members, half of whom are elected gram panchayat representatives, and the other half are influential women from the community. Supported by Nyaya Sakhis, who serve as legal counselors, these courts aim to resolve women-centric disputes using methods like negotiation and mediation. Although they lack legal authority, Nari Adalats promote women’s rights and access to justice, addressing issues like domestic violence and property rights. Integrated into Mission Shakti’s Sambal sub-scheme, they play a vital role in advancing gender equality and creating supportive environments for women in villages.

Need for measure

Women Courts aka Nari- Adalats in India offer an alternative to both the formal and informal justice systems, aiming to bridge the gap between them. The formal justice system is often inaccessible due to high costs, lengthy procedures, and insensitivity to women’s issues. Conversely, the informal system, represented by entities like khap panchayats or caste councils, is biased, regressive, and entrenched in patriarchal norms. Khap panchayats, traditional social institutions in rural India, wield significant influence over local affairs, particularly in matters of social norms and disputes. Despite lacking legal authority, their strong social sway sometimes impedes the proper enforcement of law and justice, especially when their decisions clash with principles of gender equality and individual freedoms enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Consequently, the establishment of alternative forums like Nari Adalats becomes increasingly vital.

In this context, Nari Adalats offer a crucial third option that is more responsive, effective, and progressive for women. They provide a platform to address disputes peacefully, reducing violence and conflict in society. By empowering women and challenging patriarchal structures, these courts actively promote gender equality and social justice. Moreover, Nari Adalats play a significant role in driving social change and development. Through their work, they raise awareness and sensitize communities to important issues, fostering respect and harmony among different groups. By uplifting women’s status and safeguarding their rights, these courts contribute to the overall development of communities and society. Their efforts pave the way for a more equitable and inclusive future, where women’s voices are valued, and their rights are respected.

Challenges in the present system

The enthusiasm and active participation of women in Nari Adalats, aimed at their own liberation, are truly commendable. However, they face numerous obstacles imposed by society and authorities, hindering their progress. Initially, convincing village women, often illiterate and confined to their homes, to unite and address issues of law and order exclusive to women was challenging. Societal biases and discouragement added to their difficulties, making each step an uphill battle.

Despite these challenges, a few women who understood the significance of Women courts started promoting the institution and underwent rigorous paralegal training. However, they encountered further constraints, including demands for bribes from authorities and even force when seeking assistance. Moreover, the Adalat itself had some shortcomings that required urgent attention. Delays in trial procedures and inadequacy of jury members have raised concerns. Influential individuals attempting to manipulate ignorant members and instances of betrayal within the Adalat have shaken its credibility. To address these issues, efficiency must be improved to avoid trial delays, and the frequency of Adalat sessions should be increased. By tackling these challenges head-on, Nari Adalats can continue their important work in empowering women and delivering justice to those who seek it.

Suggestion & Conclusion

A comprehensive examination of Women Courts / Nari Adalats reveals valuable suggestions to enhance their effectiveness and expand their influence:

  1. Promoting the institution: Utilizing various media channels such as newspapers, television, radio, and distributing pamphlets in rural areas can increase awareness and reach a wider audience for Nari Adalats.
  2. Rigorous training of paralegals: Regular and comprehensive paralegal training sessions can improve the efficiency of court members, enhancing their knowledge and skills to contribute more effectively to women courts.
  3. Regular meetings: Organizing frequent meetings among members can facilitate open discussions on challenges faced by women courts, allowing collaborative solutions to be found.
  4. Proper monitoring: Implementing monitoring mechanisms, particularly during the initial years of establishment, is crucial for ensuring that such courts operate effectively and fairly. Professionals can be recruited to oversee sessions and uphold the integrity of the institution.
  5. Coordination between government and NGOs: Strengthening coordination between the government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can yield positive outcomes. Collaboration with specific NGOs can further the objectives of such courts and ensure comprehensive support.

By implementing these suggestions, Women Courts or Nari Adalats can improve their efficiency, extend their reach, and better serve women seeking justice and empowerment within their communities. While they face societal and authority-imposed hindrances, a concerted effort is needed to overcome these challenges and uphold the sanctity of the institution. Ultimately, such courts contribute to fostering a more equitable and inclusive society where women’s rights are upheld, and their voices are heard and respected.

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