JAIPUR

In Rajasthan, tribal body acts as family court for ST couples

Pratibha Meena received an order from Rajasthan Advasi Meena Sewa Sangh, a family court of the community, on February 27, 2018 informing about her divorce from husband Bhawani Singh Meena and ordering that she will get monthly maintenance of Rs 3,000 from her husband for education of her child.

Meena has now filed a complaint with the Rajasthan Human Rights Commission claiming that the order was issued without listening to her even though she replied to the Sangh’s notice that she will not be able to appear for the hearing on January 21, 2018. Meena had to appear for an examination on the day, when the hearing was slated at a temple of a Meena deity in Jaipur.

This is one of the several divorce orders that this organization has passed since its inception in 1958. At least three women, including Pratibha, who feel the body has encroached upon their human rights, have approached the commission (RSHRC), which on July 6 issued a notice to the Rajasthan government and state police asking how a caste panchayat can be allowed to run like a parallel court.

The chief secretary and the director general of police have been asked to respond before August 6.

Legal expert Tanvir Ahmad, who is a lawyer in Rajasthan High Court, says because scheduled tribes are not governed by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, this tribal group exploits this legal lacuna to become custodian of tribal personal laws.

The STs can file civil suit in civil courts for divorce, he added.

Sangh’s state president Ramkesh Meena, who is a Congress MLA, defends the body’s actions and denies that it acts as a quasi-judicial system. “The scheduled tribes have their own customs for marriage and divorce. We only try to keep our societies glued to our roots and follow our customs,” he said.

According to 2011 census, STs are about 13% of Rajasthan’s population; of these, Meenas are the biggest group with around 7% of state’s population. After the ST reservation, Meenas have become upwardly mobile because several of them are in government jobs, including the elite Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service.

According to the constitution of the Rajasthan Adivasi Meena Sewa Sangh, it can hear cases related to engagement, gauna (a ceremony in which a girl, married when minor, is sent to her husband’s house for consummation), marriage and divorce. Section 20 (a) states the Sangh’s jurisdiction in hearing these cases, and section 20 (b) details actions it can take.

According to the Sangh’s constitution, it has a three-tier quasi-judicial system. There are committees at the tehsil/ block, district and state levels. The tehsil committee is like the trial court and the district and state committees act as appellate authorities, according to the Sangh’s constitution.

The orders passed by these committees are similar to court orders, documenting proceedings of hearings and the decision at the end.

“It was appalling for me to see a parallel judicial system running in Rajasthan for such a long period. I wonder why no one has ever tried to stop it, especially after the Supreme Court order banning caste panchayats, also called khap panchayats in some states,” said RSHRC Chairman Justice Prakash Tatia in his order.

The tribal Meena community has a tradition of ‘nata’ in which a woman can walk out of a marriage after her new husbands pays the former some money decided by caste leaders. If a man brings in a new wife, the first wife can walk out of marriage without her new husband having to pay this amount called ‘jhagda’.

Former professor of Sociology at University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, Dr Rajiv Gupta said the state needs to intervene in issues related to social or caste organizations which challenge or curtail human rights and dignity of citizens. “However, it appears there is invisible protection from the state to these informal groups because of vote bank politics. The caste and religious groups have been converted into identity and vote bank groups by the state,” he said.

There’s awakening in some sections against such groups and they are questioning their powers to infringe into their personal lives. But that is also resulting in these groups becoming more rigid and violent in their diktats, Dr Gupta added.

The STs can file civil suit in civil courts for divorce, he added.

Sangh’s state president Ramkesh Meena, who is an independent MLA supporting the Congress government in Rajasthan, defends the body’s actions and denies that it acts as a quasi-judicial system. “The scheduled tribes have their own customs for marriage and divorce. We only try to keep our societies glued to our roots and follow our customs,” he said.

According to 2011 census, STs are about 13% of Rajasthan’s population; of these, Meenas are the biggest group with around 7% of state’s population. After the ST reservation, Meenas have become upwardly mobile because several of them are in government jobs, including the elite Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service.

According to the constitution of the Rajasthan Adivasi Meena Sewa Sangh, it can hear cases related to engagement, gauna (a ceremony in which a girl, married when minor, is sent to her husband’s house for consummation), marriage and divorce. Section 20 (a) states the Sangh’s jurisdiction in hearing these cases, and section 20 (b) details actions it can take.

According to the Sangh’s constitution, it has a three-tier quasi-judicial system. There are committees at the tehsil/ block, district and state levels. The tehsil committee is like the trial court and the district and state committees act as appellate authorities, according to the Sangh’s constitution.

The orders passed by these committees are similar to court orders, documented proceedings of hearings and the decision at the end.

“It was appalling for me to see a parallel judicial system running in Rajasthan for such a long period. I wonder why no one has ever tried to stop it, especially after the Supreme Court order banning caste panchayats, also called khap panchayats in some states,” said Justice Tatia in his order.

The tribal Meena community has a tradition of ‘nata’ in which a woman can walk out of a marriage after her new husbands pays the former some money decided by caste leaders. If a man brings in a new wife, the first wife can walk out of marriage without her new husband having to pay this amount called ‘jhagda’.

Former professor of Sociology at University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, Dr Rajiv Gupta said the state needs to intervene in issues related to social or caste organizations which challenge or curtail human rights and dignity of citizens. “However, it appears there is invisible protection from the state to these informal groups because of vote bank politics. The caste and religious groups have been converted into identity and vote bank groups by the state,” he said.

There’s awakening in some sections against such groups and they are questioning their powers to infringe into their personal lives. But that is also resulting in these groups becoming more rigid and violent in their diktats, Dr Gupta added.

First Published:
Jul 07, 2019 19:10 IST

Article source: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/in-rajasthan-a-tribal-organization-not-courts-gives-divorce-decrees/story-kAU0nQnORMI5O80aVMeMdJ.html

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