Tribal eves seek justice under Indian legal system | india | Hindustan Times
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Tribal eves seek justice under Indian legal system

SUPPRESSED SINCE generations, tribal women have raised a demand to bring their customary laws under Indian legal system after making required amendments so that they could demand justice based on them.

india Updated: May 19, 2006 13:30 IST

SUPPRESSED SINCE generations, tribal women have raised a demand to bring their customary laws under Indian legal system after making required amendments so that they could demand justice based on them.

Although criminal and labour laws are applicable to everyone including tribals, it is their unwritten customary laws that decide their cases pertaining to property, marriage, sexual abuse and family fights.

The village Patel, who is usually the head of the tribe, delivers the judgements based on verbal laws by charging a fee of Rs 150-200 along with daru, tadi and murga (liquor, tadi and chicken). This has bred corruption and hampered justice.

“It’s the muscle and money power that influence decisions of the Patel. The person who offers more gets the decision in his favour. Moreover, women are not involved in decision making,” said Athava village (Jhabua district) inhabitant Rekha Dharwar, who along with 30 other tribal women completed six months of vocational training from Barli Development Institute for Rural Women, Indore, this week.

Like Rekha, her batch mate Reshma also belongs to Bhilala tribe. Two years back, Reshma’s 14-year old cousin from Burgaon village was married off against her wish in Umarali village. When she came back to meet her father a few months later, a handful of musclemen took her away to Thudjamali village (all in Jhabua district) much against her father’s wishes. A muscleman married her there.

Yet, no voices of protest were raised. The patels and sarpanchs of three villages succumbed to money and muscle power of Thudjamali.

“My cousin was asked to keep mum in order to avoid conflict among three villages. There are no written laws or book, which we can challenge when we are wronged. Women have no voice. Everything is at the mercy of patels and sarpanchs,” Reshma told Hindustan Times.

Institute director Dr Janak Palta Mcgilligan, who has been working for emancipation of tribal women for the last 20 years, insisted that the tribals’ customary laws need to be compiled, studied and amended so as to bring their women at par with men before the eyes of the law.

She said, “Then it should be brought under Indian legal system. At present, there is no legal base to demand justice, raise questions. It is difficult to hold legal literacy sessions for tribals, as their vaguely scattered, unwritten customary laws have no legal sanction.”

She said her talks with National Commission for Women and other agencies to intervene in the matter have proved infructuous so far.

The absence of codified personal law has deprived tribals, among whom polygamy and sexual abuse is common, to secure full benefits of Indian constitution and other legal provisions.

The reforms initiated for tribal community in last 50 years have been mainly directed towards their education, curbing liquor addiction and axing of trees.

When contacted, Tribal Welfare Commissioner Raghav Chandra said that he would place the matter before the Tribal Research Institute (TRI), which is a state government body that deals with all the aspects related to tribals.

“It’s a significant but sensitive issue. Bringing tribal customary laws under Indian legal system after required amendment requires academic study. We will certainly consider the matter,” Chandra told Hindustan Times over phone from Bhopal.