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Nari Adalat: Justice For Women And Women For Justice

Serving as a bridge between victimized village women and the formal legal system, the Nari Adalat plays a vital role in resolving conflicts within families and ensuring the woman's voice is heard, allowing her to live a life of dignity. India's judicial system consists of various forms of proceedings, creating a decentralized structure of justice. Local dispute resolution in the realm of social justice has been a practice since ancient times.

In 1950, the concept of nyaya panchayats emerged alongside traditional panchayats, but unlike the latter, nyaya panchayats were designed to adhere to statutory laws rather than indigenous practices. Additionally, Public Interest Litigation (early 1980s), Lok Adalats (1982), Family Courts (1984), and Legal Services Authority (1987) have gradually emerged as other significant mechanisms in the country's pursuit of justice and equality.

As of February 1, 2023, there are 59,87,477 pending cases in high courts across the country, as reported by the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG)[2]. The total number of pending cases amounts to over 4.92 crore or 4,92,67,373 cases. In the 1990s, the concept of Nari Adalat was introduced through the Mahila Samakhya programme[3], implemented by the central government. Launched in 1988, this program extended its reach to various states.

One such state is Uttar Pradesh, which unfortunately continues to witness a high incidence of gender-based violence, including domestic abuse and sexual crimes against women. However, in Uttar Pradesh, the Nari Adalat has proven effective in reducing domestic violence in rural areas. The programme has successfully raised awareness and empowered women at district and block levels.

The Nari Adalat operates as a parallel system of social justice, relying on women's collectives to ensure marginalized women have access to fair social and legal remedies. Despite its significance, the Nari Adalat remains relatively unknown in India's rural regions. These courts are presided over by women who possess only a basic understanding of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and primarily resolve cases through mediation. For women in rural India, the Nari Adalat poses another challenge to overcome in their pursuit of justice and equality.

The Nari Adalat, an innovative initiative of the Mahila Samakhya, emerged as a grassroots response to the increasing violence against women, encompassing women from diverse backgrounds based on age, caste, marital status, religion, region, and occupation. This court plays a crucial role in addressing issues related to violence against women and ensures their access to fundamental rights as citizens. Initially introduced in 10 districts of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Karnataka, the program has expanded its reach significantly. By April 2014, it had spread to 11 states and was operational in 126 districts, covering approximately 42,000 villages.

In its current phase, the Nari Adalat is part of the Sambal sub-scheme of Mission Shakti, which operates under the Ministry of Women and Child Development. This new initiative focuses on empowering women, enhancing their safety and security, and fostering their overall development. Drawing inspiration from the Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalats,[4] which were previously administered by the National Commission for Women until 2014-15 and dealt with family and matrimonial disputes, the Nari Adalat is now poised to make a broader impact in promoting women's rights and well-being.

The Nari Adalat in each village comprises 7-9 members, with half of them being elected members of the gram panchayat (known as Nyaya Sakhis or legal friends), and the other half consisting of women with social standing, such as teachers, doctors, and social workers, nominated by the villagers themselves. The initial phase of this pilot project is set to begin in August, covering 50 villages in Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, with plans for later expansion across the country.

The head of the Nari Adalat, known as the Mukhya Nyaya Sakhi or chief legal friend, is selected among the Nyaya Sakhis and typically serves for a term of six months. Although the Nari Adalat does not possess legal authority, its primary focus lies in reconciliation, grievance redressal, and raising awareness about women's rights and entitlements.

Over the past fifty years, our nation has experienced significant changes and faced various challenges. The world has undergone socio-economic revolutions and global transformations, with science and technology playing a crucial role in reshaping the way we live and work. In this dynamic environment, the legal system cannot afford to remain static. As a result of these socio-economic shifts, new legal jurisdictions are likely to emerge, along with the birth of new value systems.

To adapt effectively, the judicial administration and legal profession must not only fulfill their current responsibilities but also prepare themselves to confront the challenges of tomorrow. By embracing change and staying ahead, they can navigate the ever-evolving landscape of justice and continue to serve the needs of the society.

Legal aid should not be viewed as a charity or favor but rather as an obligation of the state and a fundamental right of its citizens. The paramount objective of the state should be to ensure equal justice for all, and legal aid plays a critical role in fulfilling this constitutional promise by providing access to justice for the marginalized and weaker sections of society.

One of the main challenges is the lack of awareness among the disadvantaged sections about their legal rights. To address this, legal education must be imparted at the grassroots level. Legal services authorities should conduct frequent and successful legal awareness programs to bridge this knowledge gap. The judiciary must also focus on studying and addressing the widening gaps between the set objectives and their actual achievements in legal aid provision.

To achieve distributive justice and eliminate social and structural discrimination against the marginalized, legal aid should be utilized as a potent tool. Emphasis should be placed on the effective implementation of existing laws rather than passing new regulations. Alternate Dispute Resolution methods should be provided to expedite the resolution of disputes at pre-litigative stages, and the involvement of law students in ADR can aid in speedy disposal of cases.

Ensuring quality legal aid requires employing experienced lawyers and providing them with proper training. Both the legal fraternity and society should take responsibility for safeguarding the interests of the vulnerable population. Non-governmental organizations should play an active role in creating awareness about rights and facilitating effective justice delivery.

To enhance legal awareness, India could introduce a 5-year plan to educate people about their rights and laws, akin to the initiatives in developed countries. Monitoring the work of Nari Adalats should include a feedback approach, where people can provide input on the counselors' work, and progress reports should be generated for each session. This will help in evaluating the effectiveness of the Nari Adalats in providing justice to women in rural areas.

The absence of legal status for Naari Adalat could pose significant challenges and potentially lead to the initiative's failure. Legal recognition is a fundamental requirement for any institution to function effectively and achieve its objectives. Without a legal framework, Naari Adalat may struggle to enforce its decisions, secure necessary resources, and gain the trust of the community it serves.

Lacking legal status might also hinder Naari Adalat from accessing essential funds and resources. Government grants, donations, and partnerships with other organizations are often made available primarily to institutions with legal recognition. Such funding and resources are vital for the smooth operation of the initiative, including volunteer training, awareness campaigns, and support services.

By obtaining legal status, Naari Adalat would strengthen its position, enhance operational efficiency, and ensure its long-term sustainability. Having a legal framework in place would enable the initiative to function more effectively, establish accountability, and gain the necessary support from various stakeholders. This legal recognition would play a pivotal role in elevating Naari Adalat's impact and empowering women in the communities it serves.

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Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.PVS Sailaja, Assistant professor DR. BR Ambedkar law College.
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: AG322414071245-12-0823

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