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Citizens’ trust and politics in Judicial Committee

Laxmi Bhandari

January 5, 2021

13 MIN READ

Citizens’ trust and politics in Judicial Committee
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SURKHET: A skinny woman with a pale face tries to cover her body with torn clothes near Ghantaghar. Carrying a six-month-old baby, she looks all around with both hope and curiosity as she shivers due to cold and weakness.

Finding this 22-year-old Rita Poudel in such a condition, advocate Geeta Koirala took her to a nearby office, offered something to eat. Koirala’s eyes fill with tears as she listened to Rita’s woes.

According to Rita, it has been a month since she barely escaped the violence against her and happened to reach this place. The lockdown enforced to curb and control the COVID-19 pandemic made her confused as to where she should go to seek justice.

Her painful story starts with love. A few years ago, Rita came to Kathmandu from Nepalgunj, Banke with the dream of pursuing her higher studies. She met a young man. They soon became good friends and fell in love.

The youth she was in love with a person who belonged to a Dalit community while Rita was a Brahmin. Both of them decided to get married.

A girl deprived of motherly love, Rita was easily tempted by the man’s showering love.

“I have been suffering since I was a child,” Rita started her story, “I decided to get married without any regard for caste. We were in a relationship like living together before we got married.”

“I have lived with my father since I was a child,” she said. As she had taken to an inter-caste marriage, Rita became estranged from her relatives.

Her relationship with her husband also deteriorated. She could not live with her husband as she was continuously at home. She didn’t even get enough food. She was repeatedly beaten at her husband’s house.

After being evicted, Rita moved to a nearby church. “They started torturing me daily at home, sometimes my husband and sometimes my mother-in-law beat me,” Rita narrated her painful days at home, “Being beaten continuously, I had to leave the house.”

With the help of advocate Koirala, Rita has lodged a complaint at the District Police Office, Surkhet.

Likewise, a 35-year-old pregnant woman of Birendranagar-4 was evicted from her house last April. During pregnancy, she was given no meal. After giving birth to a daughter, her husband kicked her out of the house. She reached the streets.

She endured such torture for quite long. If some people asked her if she had some problems, she did not want to bother them with her painful story; hence, merely told she was not feeling well.

“I am begging for food after I being kicked out of the house for giving birth to a daughter,” she said. “I don’t know where to go to seek justice.”

She left home with her three daughters. Some locals took her to the police. They also provided her with other necessary assistance.

For 32-year-old Ramsara BK (name change) of Birendranagar, there was not a day when her husband did not drink alcohol and she was not beaten.

“I did housework all day, and in the evening he would come drunk and beat me,” Ramsara shared her grief. There were no limbs left to be injured, she had only bruises everywhere.

She endured such torture for quite long. If some people asked her if she had some problems, she did not want to bother them with her painful story; hence, merely told she was not feeling well.

One day, when it was too much, she lodged a complaint at the police station. Police called both sides and held a discussion.

At the police station, she backed away from taking action against her husband. She said she wanted to “reconcile” with her husband. Police did not proceed with the case.

These are just some of the representative cases. Many victimized women and children in Surkhet are unaware of where to go to seek justice. Many are not even aware of the judicial committees at the local level.

Local JC received no complaints during lockdown

During the lockdown meant to reign over the coronavirus pandemic, the local judicial committees saw a relaxation in the complaints pressure.

The Judicial Committee of Birendranagar Municipality, the capital of Karnali Province, did not receive any complaint in three months.

According to Binita Dhungana, an employee of the Judicial Committee of the municipality, a case was registered only in June. According to her, out of fifty-three cases registered in the fiscal year 2019/20, thirty-one cases were disposed of. Twelve cases have been registered so far in the current fiscal year.

“Judicial committee cases do not come regularly. Most come to say verbally. If you ask them to bring it in writing, some cases will not come up at all,” Dhungana talked about the trends of cases in the judicial committee, “There is a provision of legal advisor to look into their cases but there is no provision of a legal assistant to write the case.”

The Judicial Committee deals with the disputes of civil nature like the issues of borer, water channel, sharing of water, loss and damage of other’s crops, grazing, hay, firewood, non-payment of wages, loss or discovery of domestic animals, etc.

According to Bir Bahadur Chunara, an employee of the Judicial Committee of Bheriganga Municipality the committee also receives cases related to negligence towards the senior citizens as well.

Chunara revealed that the judicial committee belongs to has registered about 200 cases so far.

The local government is the first authority to resolve the issues and disputes ranging from food, shelter and cotton required for the normal livelihood of the citizens to the issues arising out of the new dimensions of rights.

Dila BK, the in-charge of the women’s cell at Surkhet Police shared that not only the Judicial Committee but also the District Police Office, Surkhet, received a small number of complaints during the lockdown. According to her, 155 complaints have been registered so far in the current fiscal year.

“Even though there were many cases of violence during the lockdown, many did not come out,” she told ahead, “When the violence is not brought to the book of the law, the depressed victims take to suicide.”

According to the police, 17 women have committed suicide in Surkhet in the current fiscal year.

Hasta Pun, a resident of Gurbhakot Municipality, revealed that many incidents of rape were also settled at the local level during the lockdown.

“Going out was not possible during the lockdown and also due to the lack of legal knowledge of the victims, the incidents of rape were also arranged in the village,” Pun told Khabarhub.

Politics in the Judicial Committee

The local government is the first authority to resolve the issues and disputes ranging from food, shelter and cotton required for the normal livelihood of the citizens to the issues arising out of the new dimensions of rights.

Citizens should have equal and easy access to all kinds of services provided at the local level.

However, Bal Bahadur Thapa, a resident of Birendranagar, says that some of the decisions of the judicial committee formed at the local level are not satisfactory.

At the local level, people’s representatives come from one party or another to contest elections. In such a situation, both the victim and the perpetrator are likely to distrust politically.

“As people’s representatives are political representatives, there are doubts and suspicions about them in judicial decisions,” Chandra Khatri, a teacher in Surkhet talked about the concerns related to the judicial committee, “hence, many do not go to the judicial committees.”

However, Advocate Geeta Koirala regards the tendency to see the people’s representative as a representative of a political party is also a problem.

“The main challenge for the committee is to rise above party interests, and to intervene when required to administer fair and independent justice,” Koirala talked on the issue, “only by abstaining the party interest (political interest) in the administration of justice can help in real justice.”

The local judicial committee has been set up with the objective of giving quick, apt, and efficient justice on the local disputes.

Small disputes should be resolved as soon as possible. The Judicial Committees emphasize reconciliation. Various non-governmental and community organizations have also been mediating at the local level for reconciliation.

According to Nisha Poudel, a psychologist at an organization called ‘Sthaniya Awaaz’, such organizations receive many complaints of violence against women every year.

It is often found that there is a lack of legal knowledge in the administration of justice and technical knowledge in deciding cases. There are rumors that decisions are made without considering enough evidence. There are also suspicions of political bias.

Sharmila BC, a local rights activist also agrees that such factors have affected the effectiveness of the administration of justice.

“It is important to work independently without feeling pressure or being influenced by anyone,” she told Khabarhub, “for this, the coordinator of the committee should be active, the committee should be allowed to be independent.”

Rights activists say that only after the judicial committees become capable and are well resourced the access to justice for marginalized communities at the local level can be ensured.

Rights activists say local judicial committees should be empowered and equipped with legal knowledge to make them exercise their legal rights. Justice will be easier if the Judicial Committee can work in a fair and efficient manner.

Rights activist BC opines that the committees should be made effective by using the right given to the local levels by the law and also by providing advisors and other necessary staff.

Justice must be administered using the universal principles of justice, the principles of natural justice and discretion. Citizens expect to get justice quickly and at a low cost.

Judicial Committee in confusion

The local level judicial committees themselves are found confused. Lack of legal knowledge has led to a lack of practical skills to exercise the authority provided to them.

Renu Acharya, the Deputy Mayor and the coordinator of the judicial committee of Bheriganga Municipality shares her experience that she could not work due to lack of information about the law.

“Various issues come up in the judicial committee, but we are confused as we do not have enough information on how to proceed,” she said.

Deputy Chief of Gurbhakot Municipality Maina BK said that they have been discussing the issues in the Judicial Committee.

She said that it would be easier for the deputy chief to work in the judicial committee if she has adequate training in law.

According to Yamuna Sapkota, a law student, the Judicial Committee has not been able to decide on the issues of jurisdiction given to the Local Judicial Committee by the Local Government Operation Act 2015.

Rights activists say local judicial committees should be empowered and equipped with legal knowledge to make them exercise their legal rights. Justice will be easier if the Judicial Committee can work in a fair and efficient manner.

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