Vridh Adalats: delivering silver wisdom in villages (Feature)

June 8th, 2008 - 11:43 am ICT by IANS  

By Azera Rahman
New Delhi, June 8 (IANS) The issue could be about an impending pension or about an aged person being thrown out of his home, but when five greying men and women sit together to deliberate, the solution may not be far away. In a novel initiative in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand, the elderly have been settling disputes at the village level through informal courts called Vridh Adalats.

Functioning in 15 villages, in some of the poorest districts of the three states, the Vridh Adalats came into being quite incidentally, during a programme organised by an NGO, HelpAge India, in 2005.

Avijeet Kumar of HelpAge India said: “In the programme, we were trying to sensitise the aged about their rights - if their pension doesn’t come, what they should do, instead of running to a middleman and wasting money.

“It was during these discussions in Ranchi (Jharkhand) that people came up with the idea of Vridh Adalats, whereby they form an informal unit and settle disputes. This was later adopted by the other two states as well,” Kumar told IANS at a conference organised by HelpAge India in the capital.

Rajiv Rao of Jharkhand who was at the conference said: “Vridh Adalat is not a formal structure. It’s not a registered body. When it began, people found the concept funny, but now they come running to the panel for all kinds of problems,” he said.

The adalat’s panel is formed by five elderly people, not necessarily from the same village. What is necessary, though, is that two to three members of the panel have to be women.

Rao said that although initially people found the concept of Vridh Adalats amusing, now they approach them for all kinds of issues.

Whether it’s a dowry-related problem, domestic violence, family problems, property disputes, the digging of a pond or even the malfunctioning of the panchayat, the cases coming up before the Vridh Adalat are varied. They even monitor the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).

“In the Vridh Adalat in my area, three of the members are women,” said Phulwanti Bai of Madhya Pradesh, her silver hair gleaming in the sunlight.

On an average, they have solved around 20 cases in two years.

The adalat - unlike regular courts it doesn’t sit for hearings - meets twice a month and has the support of pancahayat members. In fact, sometimes there are complaints against the panchayats not functioning properly, which is sorted by the panel.

In Ranchi and Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand, the Vridh Adalat meets within the premises of the local district court.

“The adalat solves all kinds of problems. Earlier the most common problems brought to the adalat’s notice concerned parents being thrown of their homes by children. On such issues, the panel sits with the children and counsels them,” Phulwanti Bai said.

“If they still don’t heed the advice, then they are threatened with being ousted from the village itself. More often than not, the social pressure does the trick,” she said.

One of the achievements of the Vridh Adalat was in the Chindwada village in Madhya Pradesh. The members there started an English medium primary school in two rooms of the village head’s house. Unemployed graduates of the village were roped in to teach the children.

Youth of the villages have now started coming up to help the adalat in its functioning. What started as an initiative of the elderly is now becoming a revolution in India’s hamlets.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at azera.p@ians.in)

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