| 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The Nari Adalat was innovated within the MS programme to create a justice forum for women who could not access justice in either formal or traditional judicial systems. The Nari Adalat is guided by certain principles which make it stand apart from the other judicial mechanisms. The Nari Adalat was aligned to the MS philosophy that “all processes and activities within the program must be based on respect for women’s existing knowledge, experience and skills”
• It was ensured that the program creates an environment where women can seek knowledge and information and thereby empower themselves to play a positive role in their own development and development of society.
• The Nari Adalat is an institutional structure yet was totally kept informal in nature so that it becomes instrumental in empowering women by creating an environment where women are aware of their rights and have an understanding of laws that can lead to gender equality.
• The intensive capacity building program on legal literacy helped in building knowledge base of the Nari Adalat and the legal committees. These institutions at the community level then became empowered to actively shape local institutions and society towards gender equity.
• To have a deep understanding of their clients and the community in which they reside, its local customs and traditions. With this knowledge, the Nari Adalat is able to arrive at a “solution” that can be both in the best interest of the woman and also has the legitimacy and ownership of the community. In several cases, the woman may want to return to the community and her family, but without the harassment or abuse, while in other instances, she may not. Either way, the priority and the pace of the decision making process is set by the woman herself.
• In Gujarat, basic legal awareness begins in the legal committees. Para legal training was given to selected legal committee members in four phases, who then formed the Nari Adalat. This course covers laws related to women like dowry, female feticide, divorce, and property rights. Later when the Domestic Violence Act and the Right to Information Act was passed, training was imparted on that as well.
The Nari Adalat operates with the woman at the centre stage. Even after the enforcement of the Domestic Violence Act, the judicial system, with its patriarchal functioning is not completely in tune with the spirit of the Act. However, when a woman approaches the Nari Adalat for justice, she is confident that this group of women would base their judgement and give weight to the circumstantial evidence, substantiated by the community. Thus, having suffered injustice, the woman is not further burdened with the need to “prove” her point as is often expected in formal systems. Nor is she subjected to further victimisation as in the case of patriarchal traditional caste and Panchayat judicial systems. Unlike all other systems, the Nari Adalat would resolve the case starting first and foremost with a pro-woman perspective.
Although the Nari Adalats are trained in legal aspects, their process of resolving cases is not particularly legalistic. For the Nari Adalat, solving a case is about reaching a solution for the woman. Therefore, for an outsider, it might seem that there are cases where the Nari Adalat does not strictly follow the law but their decisions are based on the woman’s need and survival, rather than on the law alone. While the Nari Adalat tries to uphold the framework of family and marriage intact, the most important parameter is what the woman wants. In most cases, it is often seen that the woman seeks resolution to her problem rather than vindication of justice.
| 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Government of Gujarat – Govt. of Gujarat played an important role right from conceiving of the idea of MS and then making it an autonomous organization. The government extends its funds to facilitate the creation and establishment of Nari Adalat at block level and it’s their vision to extend Nari Adalat to the entire state. They also provide monitory help to Sahayoginis who invest their time in Nari Adalat and let go their daily wage work.
MS Sahayoginis – These are the real enablers, motivators and mentor at the grass root level. They interact with women in village and motivate them to become part of the MS sangha. They also help them break the shackles of silence and come out to claim what is rightfully theirs.
MS Sangha – These are women collectives at village level. The Sahayoginis mobilize the women to form this collective so that all the aspects of areas where women are suffering in one form or other is discussed and localized solution can be crafted. They also promote open interaction of women and proactive participation so as to have in-depth information of any prevailing issue or suggestions to improve the lives of women.
MS Mahasanga – These are typically formed at the block level and builds on cluster and village levels structures of sanghas and the legal committees within these sanghas. Also known as federations they serve a variety of functions including handling issues which cannot be handled by the sanghas at the village level. The members of the Nari Adalat are chosen from the most capable leaders from the legal committees at the block level. The Nari Adalat is at the block level along with the Federation. Federations and sanghas act as conduits to the Nari Adalat to reach out to women facing injustice as well as to support the Nari Adalat in solving their cases.
Other departments – Other government departments like police, transport etc have started extending their help in which ever manner required facilitating effective functioning of Nari Adalat.
| 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The government of Gujarat has taken Nari Adalat as a project and handed it to Mahila Samakhya, Gujarat. The government of Gujarat is providing all kind of financial support for Nari Adalat to Mahila Samakhya, Gujarat. The Government of Gujarat in its effort to further promote Women community courts across the State of Gujarat is keenly involved in promoting Nari Adalat by organizing Women conferences across the block level. The respective district officials, the grassroot workers are also involved in making these conferences a success.
The Mahila Samakhya has opened up 63 Nari Adalat so far in Gujarat. The government of Gujarat envisages starting Nari Adalat procedure in all blocks of the state. Mahila Samakhya is working in 75 blocks of 12 districts with 87000 women belonging to very –very marginalized groups.
Basic requirement for Nari Adalat:
• There should be Sanghas in the target villages
• Women should be organized at cluster level
• There should be a need for a Nari Adalat in the area
• Women should be mentally prepared to start Nari Adalats
It is important to note that all the Nari Adalat members are themselves women who work as wage laborers and are themselves in an economically marginalized status. Therefore when they come to sit as judges and lawyers in the Nari Adalat they would be giving up their daily wages unless their honorarium is funded by other sources. On an average, it was found that one member would have to contribute two days per month for work related to the Nari Adalat. Besides the cost of documentation and stationary, Nari Adalat members would have to travel and will have food expenses when they have to go on field visits to collect evidence or resolve an issue. In order to minimize these costs, they often plan such that the Nari Adalat members closer to the village, go for the visit, or request the client to make arrangements for their travel and boarding, if they can afford it. In Gujarat, the Gujarat State funds a sitting fee of 75 rupees for each Nari Adalat member for two days in a month. This is an honorarium amount given to them for their services. Beyond this, the Nari Adalat charges a fee ranging from 100 rupees to 1000 rupees, depending on the ability of the client to pay. This amount is used for their operational expenses, like stationary, travel and food expenses during field visits.
The registration fee is not charged out of a profit motive but rather to finance the operational expenses. The fee mechanism began when MS started withdrawing from the area and their support is not available. In case a client cannot afford the registration fee, they would also make an exception for her. The registration fee mechanism is not cast in stone which confirms that the original objective of the Nari Adalat to provide affordable justice to women is still intact.
| 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
As the Nari Adalat develops credibility in the community in solving women’s cases, the members gain the status of leaders in the community. They experience the recognition of an individual as well as that of a Nari Adalat woman who has the capacity to deal with cases and resolve them. People say that such cases should be taken to the Nari Adalat because it gets solved and make life better rather than at the police station where no solution will come through. In Uttar Pradesh, Sumitra, a Nari Adalat member even had the honor of being one of the Nobel Prize nominees, in 2005 when a group of women were to be nominated for the prize.
Empowerment – Through the Nari Adalat, the members have acquired a number of life skills and functional literacy and numeracy skills. In their case dealings, the Nari Adalat members develop skills of record keeping, documentation and arithmetic. The capacities built in the members by MS in situational analysis and critical thinking is further enhanced as they continuously apply their mind to resolve cases.
The Nari Adalat members travel across villages and districts to collect evidence, to the block for the hearings and to the state offices for training programs and for other workshops. For women, who had never left their homes, this kind of extensive travel as part of their role in the Nari Adalat is very empowering.
Attitude of family towards them – The Nari Adalat members reported a growing respect at home and that their views were considered on important issues. They testified to changes in their own families where the husbands share the household work. Several Nari Adalat members interviewed also reported that insurance titles were now in their names as well. Several Nari Adalat women are also elected as head of village.
Impact on State – In 2010, the state government of Gujarat has declared that it will establish a Nari Adalat in every block. This recognition given to the Nari Adalat is testimony to the state’s confidence in this community based women centric judiciary system. Institutionalizing this innovation across the state has meant that a justice system with a woman perspective is slowly finding its space in the mainstream judicial system.
Nari Adalats are now slowly but steadily getting support from the police and judiciary system as when required.
| 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The mechanism of supervision and monitoring is done two ways:
Three Samata (Equity) committees are formed in each district and each committee has
• Twelve to fourteen members from village sangha
• Members of Federation (Block level collective form of Sanghas)
• Cluster resource persons of Mahila Samakhya (one Cluster resource person looks after programmatic activities of 25 villages and field work)
• Saheli (looks after five villages in the Mahila Samakhya)
• Members of Kishori (Adolescent) sanghas
• Members of Nari Adalat.
Members of Samata committee do the cross supervision and monitoring on a quarterly basis. If any problem occurs, the members of committee guide them sanghas and Mahasanghas. If the problem is not in their previews, they approach the officials of the district and state office to find apt solutions. Special MIS tools are developed for the supervision and monitoring with the help of dashboards and reports. The field staff visits Nari Adalat, monitors its activities like agendas, meetings, rulings etc and loads this data for the tool to access. The Samata committee then evaluates at the district office every month. Moreover, the meeting of main members of Nari Adalat is held every month at the district level and quarterly at the state level.
Mahila Samakhya has National Resource Group consisting of well known academicians and experts on women’s issues at the national level. The members of National Resource Group evaluate performance of Nari Adalat twice in a year and submit the report to the national office. Based on the evaluation, all state teams sit with the experts at the national level and have a discussion on various facets of the evaluation report. The same member/members do/does the follow up too and check the performance of the Nari Adalat (the empowerment process).
Best Practices foundation of Bangalore had done evaluation of the Nari Adalat in convergence with the DFID (The Department for International Development, of the UK government) at the national level in 2010 too.
| 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The government of Guajrat has given the reorganization by giving the status of project and Mahila Samakhya is working hard to reach to last women of the society. However the women who are victim of domestic violence were not coming forward to share their suffering in a large proportion due to many reasons. It takes lots of time to convince them and is a time consuming process. Furthermore, many women wanted to fight for their right through Nari Adalat, but, their financial insecurity acted as a hurdle for them.
Women faced financial difficulties because there is no incentive given for running Nari Adalat because the Nari Adalats is being run by the women who are coming from the deprived classes.
In many areas, Caste Panchayat, local leaders opposed Nari Adalat and created problems for Nari Adalat because they believed that a parallel system (Nari Adalat) which would be run by women, would try to rein in their power. Moreover, Nari Adalat are run by women belonging to deprived classes and their status is inferior in the society because of existing very rigid caste structure.
Competing organizations were harassing the members of Nari Adalat. Some of the Non Governmental Organizations were duplicating the Mahila Samkahya model of Nari Adalat and their objectives to run Nari Adalat was only to get financial assistant from the various funding agencies.
The strategy for the mobilization depends on mainly religious, social and political scenarios. The scenarios changes constantly, therefore, the strategy for the mobilization has be to redesigned constantly and it is areas specific. Therefore, one has to constantly be in touch with grass root level and keep evolving the strategy. It is difficult to do so for all employees who are heading at the districts and blocks level to run the Nari Adalat.
When Nari Adalat used to go to get back Streedhan (gifts to broom from brides family) or on child custody cases, they faced economic, physical and mental problems and were threatened. This is one of the major issues where other influential people do not let members of Nari Adalat smoothly.
Training – Localized training material and training design was done with the help of experts. The training procedure is on-going process after 2005-06. Material on various legal aspects and for the members of Nari Adalat was made in such a manner that it can be used by both literate and illiterate members.
Developed understanding of voluntary spirit – The concern staffs of the Mahila Samakhya tried to develop their understanding of voluntary participation and spread the spirit of this message by “Nari Adalat is for the women of deprived class, by the women of deprived class and of the women of very deprived class.” Nari Adalat started solving cases which were difficult for the court and the caste Panchayat and therefore got recognition
Networked with government and got space. With zeal to serve and connect better and effective interventions from the departments they also started interacting with police station, Sarpanch and community
Frequent meetings and trainings with Nari Adalat members developed their feminist perspective and trust.