Mahila Panchayats

Women Helping Women- A community redressal mechanism to prevent domestic violence.

The concept of Mahila Panchayats is based on a traditional form of community organisation for social justice. These women’s courts have radically changed the caste, and gender discrimination found in the structures of our “Biradari and Gram Panchayats”, with a women’s perspective. The Mahila Panchayat is not an alternative to the legal system. It is an effective forum for dispute resolution preventing the need for legal intervention. In the case of divorce or property dispute, legal aid is needed to legalize the procedures. Started in 1994, the Mahila Panchayat provides a space to concerned parties to speak openly and negotiate settlements on their own terms. The women speak without fear knowing they are not alone. The men also respect and comply to the agreement made mutually in the presence of the Mahila Panchayat. The women’s court is known to be impartial and fair to both men and women with a firm belief in gender equality.

More recently (2014)  the Wajood project  has focussed on the implementation of the PWDVAct,2005 taking 59 cases to court on intimate partner violence with the aim to enable survivors of violence to access justice using the DIR given by the law to gain relief and “stop violence” injunctions. 900 Sampark Families Engaging Men and Boys to Create No Violence Homes – The “Sampark program” aimed to build “No Violence Homes” is rooted in the concept of changing attitude towards women from “Womb to Tomb”. Through discussion we understand the causes of son-preference and daughter aversion which is one of the major causes of discrimination and violence against women. Changing attitudes to GBV begins at home, not limited to intimate partner’s violence. PWDVAct, 2005 is the most comprehensive legislation addressing VAW.

Implementation Of Protection Of Women Against Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA)

Enabling access to women to seek legal justice.

2003-3004, Action India had initiated a three-year national level advocacy campaign across 8 states in India. We collected    2,50,000 signatures and voiced the demand from the grassroots for an early passage of the bill. Thereafter, Action India organized the first and second National Women’s Conference on legislating and enforcement of the PWDVA,2005 to continue the dialogue on the role of the Centre and the State with women representatives from 23 states.

National Secretariat on PWDVA Act – Action India set up the secretariat for the Domestic Violence Act forum after receiving the mandate from the First National Women’s Conference in 2006. Combined with the efforts of the National Commission for Women, Lawyers Collective and the Secretariat the PWDVA was notified and brought into operation in mid-October 2006.

2016, A decade later women’s organizations are struggling to bring the benefits of this revolutionary law PWDVA,2005 to the victims and survivors of violence. On the 26th of October 2016, at the Women’s Press Club, Delhi, we raised a demand that 26th October be declared as a National Day to protest against domestic violence. You may refer to the links below for the media coverage of the day.

Our report on RTIs filed in Delhi shows that the courts in Delhi have not sought the assistance of any welfare expert in the last    9 years ever, nor have the 18 Protection Officers ever prepared a single Safety Plan for any survivor of domestic violence.  The Domestic Incident Report (DIR) which was meant to be simple and women friendly is not being taken on record in all cases filed under PWDVA in Delhi. The Protection Officers are not filing the DIRs on behalf of the woman to reach the Magistrate directly for an injunction. They wait for the full case to be filed in court, after which they file the DIR only if the Magistrate orders them to do so. Welfare experts have never been consulted by the Magistrates. Cases under PWDVA have become like any other case in the courts of law.

We were fortunate to have the judge from DLSA, Monika Saroha, who has suggested the following in terms of way forward:

  1. Working in the New Delhi district and with partners such as FICCI to position that DV is prevalent even among the economically well to do classes and the educated.
  2. Planning workshops where we can take up actual court  cases to understand what the woman got, what was missing and what could have she done to ensure that she got better reliefs from courts of law.  This we feel will be very useful and help our para-legal workers understand and be enabled to get better justice to woman suffering from violence.