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Justice for disenfranchised women - The ‘Jan Sunwai’ Way

© UNICEF/India/Sharma/Wadhwa/2005
Rural women accompanied by their family and children register for the "Jan Sunwai" (public hearing) at Jaipur, for sharing their problems and grievances.

by Vichitra Sharma and Shikha Wadhwa


August 2005 - The Rajasthan State Commission for Women for “Jan Sunwai” (public hearings at block and district levels) is a major empowering endeavour for hundreds of disenfranchised women, as was evident at the two recently held sessions in Jaipur and Udaipur.

The “open hearings” give women an opportunity to air their views, grievances and seek redress on the spot. UNICEF has lent support to a unique opportunity that bridges the gap between the government and the civil society.
This was not just an opportunity to speak out about the discrimination, atrocities, and violence they faced in their everyday lives but also a chance to get justice, with the guilty being punished. The women came in hundreds, with relatives, friends and children from villages as far as 90 km to participate at a “Jan Sunwai” (public hearing) at Udaipur’s Sukhadia Rangmanch. This was not just an opportunity to speak out about the discrimination, atrocities, and violence they faced in their everyday lives but also a chance to get justice, with the guilty being punished.

Ganga Bai complained to the Commission, presided over by Dr. Pawan Surana, that the local nurse (ANM) had not been to their village for the past three months, as a result of which no one had been vaccinated. The Chairperson asked the Chief Health and Medical Officer to look into the matter. “If the ANM is on long leave find someone else to fill in. The PHC should have an ANM soon,” she pronounced a quick verdict. Among those present at the hearings were senior officials from the administration and representatives from the private sector.

Champa Bai from Sarla village sought protection from the village powerful as she had been declared a “dayan” (a witch) by them. She feared for her life and that of her children; Somli Bai of Jamun village lost her twins due to the “negligence” of the medical officer and wanted action against him. To add to her woes both the Sarpanch (Village Head) and the medical staff wanted a percentage from the allowance provided to her by the government for her transportation to the hospital.

In another village the local school had been closed for months yet the teacher had promoted all the students to the next class; elsewhere a group of girls wanted to continue with their education but could not do so as the village school was up to the VIIIth Class only. The District Magistrate was asked to look into these two issues and report back to the Commission with “action taken” feedback.

 

© UNICEF/India/Sharma/Wadhwa/2005
Champi Devi at the "public hearing" in Udaipur, informs the meeting that the ANM (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) had not visited her village for the past three months and therefore should be dismissed.

Majority of the representations related to failed matrimony because of violence, alcohol, abuse and dowry-demands. Two Muslim girls wanted child support according to the law of the land and not by a Shariat decree. The narrations were often punctuated with muffled sobs or complete breakdown.

The Commission holds three types of hearings  - i)at the Commission’s Office in Jaipur for a personal hearing, ii) at the district or block level, iii) through a note by hand or through the mail for drawing attention to a particular problem.
“…. as UNICEF is committed to monitoring the violation of rights of women and children, the Women’s Commission becomes a trustworthy platform for sorting out issues on the spot.” The Commission, empowered to call for official records to assist in its inquiry, is an autonomous body set up by the Government of Rajasthan, and has the status of a civil court. It has the power to investigate complaints and recommend actions and the line of punishment. The government on its part is bound to look into the matter brought to its notice and inform the Commission within three months on the action taken.

Dr. Satish Kumar, UNICEF State Representative, speaking on the role of UNICEF, says, “…. as UNICEF is committed to monitoring the violation of rights of women and children, the Women’s Commission becomes a trustworthy platform for sorting out issues on the spot.” UNICEF, working closely with the Department of Women and Child Development, helps in identifying NGOs working at the grassroot level, who then assist and encourage the women to come to the hearings.

UNICEF also provides funds for the transportation of the women, for hiring the hall and food for the day. Besides, UNICEF has provided the Commission some infrastructural support in terms of funds for a staff person (project coordinator) who provides back-up support, and documents and collates cases.   

The “hearings” have been successfully strengthening the service delivery systems through administrative directions with minimal paper-work for implementation.

 

 

 

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