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Judicial CP - July 2004
OneWorld.com, 29 July 2004
Kangaroo Courts Hold Sway in Nepal Hinterland
By P.C. Dubey
BHARATPUR (Nepal), July 29 (OneWorld) - Even as the local administration in Nepal remains virtually paralyzed, Maoist rebels are reportedly running parallel courts in rural areas, which dispense rough and ready justice, much to the satisfaction of the poor.
The contrast couldn't be starker. While the Nepalese army and police have spurned the Supreme Court's directives on human rights violations, contending that the court lacks jurisdiction, in Nepal's remote villages where Maoist writ prevails, none dare defy the rebel courts which the authorities derisively call "kangaroo courts."
Kangaroo or not, their numbers are clearly jumping. According to observers, rebel courts are in full swing in 25 of Nepal's 75 districts, and especially in districts in the rebel heartland, where state law has almost abdicated.
The government doesn't deny the existence of this parallel administration either. Devendra Satyal, an official in Nepal's Law and Justice Ministry concedes that the Maoist courts are running in the nine mountainous mid-western districts of Rukum, Rolpa, Salyan, Pyuthan, Jajarkot, Kalikot, Dolpa, Dailekh and Achham, while pockets of influence are growing elsewhere.
Shanti Rana (name changed), a lady government schoolteacher in a southern district village, says the state courts are "totally paralyzed" in the region.
"It's not just because of the fear of militants that the Maoist courts are successful. In a criminal justice system that is brazenly pro-rich, for the poor chasing justice is like chasing a mirage," voices Rana.
To be sure, the Maoist judges, though not legal experts, are local people who have grassroots appeal. "They dispense prompt and impartial justice. There's the fear of harsh reprisals so people avoid legal machinations or lies, ensuring fair play and quick justice," explains Rana.
The Maoist courts mainly deal with ordinary people, marginal farmers and laborers. "The rich landlords have abandoned villages and their lands are now in possession of the actual tillers, thanks to the Maoists. So land disputes are literally non-existent now," says an official in a southern village.
Harish Choudhary, 40, a tribal leader, who claims to head the rebels' justice administration in some 50 villages of Chitwan district, some 230 kilometers off the capital Kathmandu, says, "Our courts mainly deal with disputes regarding crop damage by cattle, stealing of goats or chicken and social evils."
The Maoist courts award a variety of penalties. In case of crop damage, the cattle owner pays double the loss incurred.
Says Choudhary, "Once when a man stole a small hen, the culprit not only had to give two hens to the victim, he was made to spit on his palm and lick it in the open court. This robs his dignity. He cannot dare repeat the offense."
Of course, in the case of serious offenses, the punishment is more severe. Roshan Gurung, 42, a member of Al Sadai Christian Church, who ran a health awareness program in the area, says Maoist courts are very harsh in cases of rape and polygamy.
For instance, if a married woman is raped, the rapist is thrashed in public by women squads of the Maoist People's Army who use leather shoes soaked in water.
"It is the worst traditional stigma. The accused has to pay a fine too. Sometimes he has to give some of his land to the victim," says Gurung.
In the case of an unmarried girl, the rapist has no option but to marry her. "The state courts never dispensed such justice, but the Maoist courts are doing that," claims Gurung.
Support for such rough and ready justice is trickling in from unexpected quarters. Says Sudhi Rautar (name changed), a woman rights activist who ran a nongovernmental organization called Bahini (Sister) in Chitwan district, "The greatest gift of the Maoist courts is the eclipse of polygamy which has plagued Nepal's tribal women for centuries."
Rautar makes it clear she doesn't believe in the Maoist ideology. But since she works for women's empowerment, she appreciates any kind of work being done to kill polygamy.
Once a victim approaches the local zone chief, the villagers and all those affected by the case are informed, the court is held within a week and the judgment given on the spot.
Advocate Mandal acknowledges the Maoist courts are eliminating social evils but he warns that their judgments in land disputes and marital cases have the potential for tragic repercussions once the insurgency wanes.
"Then a whirlwind of violence and legal battles could engulf these villages," he says.
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