Himachal to witness campaign for autonomous Nyaya Panchayats



The fight against social inequalities and gender bias seems to be snowballing into a major movement in Himachal Pradesh with women emerging as flag-bearers in this crusade. Following the historic march by single women recently that drew participation from thousands of women from across the state and culminated with the government accepting most of the demands set by them, these foot soldiers are again ready with yet another mass campaign for social transformation.

SUTRA, an organization that had steered this movement, has now launched a people-centric campaign to create political will for re-establishing Nyaya Panchayats in Himachal Pradesh. The campaign aims at involving large number of women’s groups to discuss the process for establishing autonomous gender sensitive Nyaya Panchayats to provide transparent justice to women who are victims of domestic violence, involve Panchayat representative to debate the issue and make a demand for separate Nyaya Panchayats and create an army of paralegal activists who can be Nyaya Sahayaks for Nyaya Panchayats so that the institute functions not only within the framework of the Constitution but also decides cases with gender and class, caste  sensitivity.

SUTRA coordinator Subhash Mendhapurkar informed that in the first round of the campaign, women’s groups spread across Himachal will be motivated to make a demand on the state to establish Nyaya Panchayat to deliver gender justice.“Given the difficult topography and hostile climate, the forefathers of Himachal Pradesh felt it was necessary to have judiciary institutions at the doorstep of people and as such in 1952 the then government of Himachal Pradesh established autonomous Nyaya Panchayats. These Nyaya Panchayats were empowered to hear and decide cases regarding domestic and inter-group discord and revenue cases.  People accessed these Nyaya Panchayats regularly and the institution proved very beneficial to the sections of the community which belonged to have-not’s. There is ample evidence that these Nyaya Panchayats have decided the cases of divorce on the request of women,  rightful share of parental properties for  unmarried women, rightful share on in-laws property for the widows etc,” said another SUTRA activist.

To fulfill this, 400 camps will be held in eight districts of Himachal Pradesh involving 8 to 10,000 women. “The state government has consistently denied the existence of domestic violence in Himachal citing the number of cases filed under DV Act (Only 220 odd cases have been filed till October 2008). But, we all know, number of cases that are filed under DV act doesn’t reveal the true picture. In support of this, we have decided to ask women participating in the Camp to draw pictures/drawings of `violence’ as they have experienced. Selected pictures/drawings shall be exhibited later on as a part of campaign against domestic violence,” said Subhash.At the end of the camp, women will write a petition to the Chief Minister requesting him to initiate the political process for establishing Nyaya Panchayats.The campaign will run till February 2009.

In the second round of the campaign, meetings would be organised for Panchayat members to discuss with them the problems that they face whilst discharging their duties as member of Nyaya Panchayats and to motivate them to demand Nyaya Panchayats.
Along with this, women’s rallies will also be organised under which they will collectively visit the offices of local tehsildar and submit a joint memorandum to the Chief Minister.Once the state government initiates the process for establishing Nyaya Panchayats, suggestions will be invited for its construction/composition from all sections of the society.

Other organizations involved in the campaigns include ANKUR, EEG, SAVE (UNA), NISTHA (Kangra); SRDA, PARA (Mandi); HJVSS, SEWA (Solan); SARTC (Bilaspur) and SHEY (Lahul & Spiti) along with Himachal Ekal Naree Shakti Sangathan.

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