Taking justice to women’s doorstep in Kerala

September 28th, 2008 - 11:58 am ICT by IANS  

Kozhikode (Kerala), Sep 28 (IANS) Justice at the doorstep is a much espoused cause but remains a dream. For women in Kerala justice may not be at their doorstep, but they can at least seek it in their neighbourhood.The Jagrata Samithis (Vigilance Committees) in local administrative bodies is slowly turning into sanctuaries of justice for them. The committees have come up in 832 local administrative bodies out of around 1,200 in the state.

It was in 1997 that the government first ordered constitution of the committees. But lack of clear guidelines made the idea languish till 2007, when a comprehensive guideline for constituting them was issued.

The vigilance committees take up cases of atrocities against women and children and help them get justice. They proactively involve in issues connected with women. At present Kerala has around 120 active committees.

A committee that is led by the panchayat president has nine members, including women panchayat members, a sub-inspector from the local police station, women social workers, a woman advocate and the doctor from the village health centre.

The State Women’s Commission is the apex body which monitors the functioning of the committee. “The Jagratha Samithis are the eyes and ears of the women’s commission. It brings the services of the commission to the grass root level,” says K.B. Madanmohan, the programme associate at KILA (Kerala Institute of Local Administration), which works closely in implementing the scheme in the state.

One of the villages where the scheme was pioneered is Pananchery in Thrissur district, where it was implemented as a pilot project in 2005.

“In the last three years we could settle around 600 cases,” Lissy Chacko, a nun and the woman advocate on the committee, told IANS.

Though the committee entertains all complaints, those connected to crime are referred to the police. “Police also refer cases to us for settlement,” says Lissy.

In Pananchery, the panchayat has a separate office for the committee with two members on its staff.

“When we get a complaint we secretly inquire about it. After the inquiry the samithi summons both the parties. The sittings are held two days every week,” said Saramma Varghese, a staff member at the committee office.

A key feature of the system is that issues which cannot find easy solution in a courtroom could be settled at the committees. “The societal and political intervention plays a role in finding an amicable solution in many complaints,” says Madanmohan.

Kumily in Idukki district is one village where the committee has been working for the last two years. It has been successful in settling around 70 cases. “Now, we have 11 cases on our hands,” says M.S. Vasu, president of the Kumily panchayat.

When the committee takes up a case it studies the issue in depth. “We had a complaint from a woman saying her husband has ditched her and is planning to marry another woman. Relatives cited many reasons for their discord. But after three sessions of counselling it became clear that some sexual incompatibility was the real issue,” said Vasu.

According to the women’s commission, the work by the committees will help slow down the flow of complaints to the commission. “The commission often finds it difficult to do meaningful work as we are deluged with petitions. Samithis help solve many issues at the grassroot level itself,” Justice D. Sreedevi, the chairperson of the commission, told IANS.

The commission is also in the process of installing a software to closely monitor the work of the committees across the state.

“This software is a web-based tool. It is in the final stages of preparation and will be implemented soon,” said H. Krishnakumar, a commission official.

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