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Courts outside pale of law

Courts outside pale of law

Author: Special Correspondent
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: August 1, 2008
URL: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1080801/jsp/bengal/story_9631273.jsp

Lack of education and poverty sustain shalishi sabhas in the state, economists and sociologists said in the wake of the beheading in Murshidabad.

Most of the disputes that are brought before the kangaroo courts, being held for decades, have to do with marriages and property disputes.

On July 14, a shalishi in Murshidabad pronounced the death sentence on a 30-year-old man because he had married a girl from another community and the groom had hidden his religion from her family. He was beheaded.

The poor and the illiterate in villages want to stay away from the legal apparatus, said sociologist Baishali Sinha.

The Murshidabad village of 1,200-odd people had one primary school, one graduate and eight or nine villagers who have cleared Madhyamik.

The government had introduced the West Bengal Block Level Pre-Litigation Conciliation Board in the Assembly in 2005 to settle disputes before moving the judiciary. Through this step, the government wanted to put a legal stamp on shalishi sabhas.

But the bill was withdrawn after the Left parties and the Opposition failed to reach a consensus.

Asked today about the continuation of kangaroo courts in villages, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: "Shalishi sabhas have been operating for several years in our state. What else can I say?''

Economist Kalyan Sanyal said shalishis continued in the state because of economic reasons and also because the Left did not want to interfere with the practices of village communities.

"In Bengal, the government is allowing shalishi sabhas as it wants the parallel system of customs and pre-modern society to continue," Sanyal said.

CPM leader and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, however, found nothing wrong with shalishi sabhas. "Village people care for others and believe that a shalishi sabha will render proper justice. Even courts had at times paid respect to decisions taken by such sabhas. If an inter-caste marriage can be settled through a shalishi sabha, what's the need of a poor family to spend money in court?" Mollah said.

Lakshmanpur, the village where the 30-year-old man was beheaded, has witnessed many shalishi sessions. People there feel shalishi sabhas help establish the "rule of society''.

"We encouraged shalishis to keep people from defying societal norms…. We may be less educated but our village society has to be kept intact through informal courts. We had lots of such sabhas," said a resident of Lakshmanpur.

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