Women Leaders Bringing Justice and Reconciliation
Over the last decade, Seva Mandir has set up Women’s Resource Centres (WRCs) in many rural villages to give women a structured space for resolving the problems facing them, especially domestic violence. The WRCs are run by experienced and trained leaders who offer effective and sensitive help to women facing violence, by involving a variety of different stakeholders, including the police, government officials and caste panchayats (non-government decision-making bodies set up by communities along caste lines). The WRCs provide much-needed space for women to deal with issues which are commonly difficult or controversial for them to raise in their communities, notably gender-based discrimination and violence. Here they can come together with their peers to voice their suffering, seek support from one another, and unite to challenge gendered violence and economic inequality. These centres are especially important given the often ineffectual, time-consuming and costly processes associated with bringing cases to the police or courts and the likelihood of sentencing delays or bribery.
Seva Mandir offers the women leaders training on the laws relating to domestic violence, sex selection, the role of the police, the process for reporting crimes, and counselling. All the WRCs now have a standardized case documentation system with regular follow-up of registered cases.
Often, a combination of sensitive counselling and opening up a private dispute to public view (with the resultant risk of public shame in the event that one does not accept a fair settlement) succeeds in resolving cases that have caused misery for years. The skill of the WRC women leaders lies in knowing how to bring together opposing members of a family or a village and how to use a combination of persuasion and threat to achieve a lasting peace.
A total of 260 women approached WRCs for support in the last year. 196 of these cases have been resolved and 64 are ongoing. 77% of these cases concerned spousal and family-based violence, 19% cases violence against young girls, 15% property disputes, 7% witch accusations, and 4% fell into other categories.
A Typical Case Brought to a WRC
Rani (name changed) was married to a man from Sagwada village of Kherwara block for five years. Her parents lived in Futagarh village of Jhadol block, which is near Madri where the WRC is located. Rani approached the Madri WRC to register a case against her husband in January 2015. She complained that he had brought home a second wife and as a result she had become an easy target for abuse and threats. He did not treat her properly and even asked her to leave his house. Finally she moved to her maternal home in Futagarh. She told the WRC that she no wanted to live with her husband.
In the days that followed, the women leaders from the WRC approached her husband with a notice. After hosting several meetings with both parties, the WRC leaders drew up a list of items that had been given as dowry at the time of their wedding. At the end of the negotiations, which went on for five months, Rani divorced her husband. She received from her husband monetary compensation of Rs 10,000 along with all the other items listed.
Rani has remarried and is happily settled with her second husband.
Men too Seek the Aid of the WRCs’ Women Leaders
It is a testament to the increasing recognition of the value of the WRCs that men too are now turning to them for help.
Vaktaram and Homaram, two brothers from Chali Bhilwara, had been arguing for four or five years about how to divide up two bighas (approx. 2/3 acres) of land. Vaktaram was unwilling to share the land with his brother, so Homaram sought help from the caste panchayat and the police to resolve it, but without success – Vaktaram had bribed the caste leaders as well as the police. Once, he even tried to kill his brother with an axe. Homaram and his wife ran away and hid in nearby pastureland for a whole night. The next day they went to the caste panchayat leaders, who told them to resolve the dispute amongst themselves.
Finally, Homaram approached Chandribai, the leader of Chali’s WRC. She asked him to visit the Centre and promised that they would help the couple. The next day Homaram’s wife registered their case at the WRC. The four leaders of Malariya WRC then went to Chali Bhilwara and talked to both brothers. Vaktaram was initially hesitant, but later agreed to the meeting. The WRC leaders visited the disputed land and, using a rope, divided it into two equal parts. All those who had gathered to witness the proceedings approved of this decision. At last, Vaktaram too acepted this equal division of the land.
Property disputes are complex and challenging, but the WRC leaders of Malariya found a way to resolve this case equitably.