“Workshop explores village judicial practices”

The Hindu  24/11/2011

The French Institute of Pondicherry along with the University of Pondicherry organised a two-day exploratory workshop on village judicial practices recently, a release said.


To read the full version of our press release, please see below:

Tamil village judicial bodies

The University of Pondicherry and the French Institute have jointly organized a two day Exploratory Workshop on village judicial practices. The workshop was inaugurated on the 14th of November by Professor D.Sambandam (Dean of Social Sciences, PU.). Over these two days, Justice David Annousamy, Dr Eric Denis of the French Institute, Professor V. Rogotham (Head of History), Professor K.Rajan, Professor Chellaperumal, addressed a team of over 20 elders from south central Tamil Nadu who discussed the procedures and practices as knowledge-holders of caste-based village judicial customs.

The objective of the workshop was to explore the contemporary practices of village judicial assemblies and thereby gain deeper knowledge on Tamil customary legal procedures which have been largely discarded by academic research and misrepresented in the media.

During the colonial period, Tamil customary law was never codified and by and large, the British judicial administration took the view of caste as a self governing body entitled to adjudicate according to custom.. Following Independence and the coming into being of the Constitution, the Indian State did not actually interfere with that age old arrangement.

Though there have been several attempts to set up government-sponsored local judicial assemblies (nyaya panchayat) as a door-step access to state justice, these have largely failed to be functional  in most Indian states. Instead, the traditional or non-state caste-based judicial assemblies have continued to adjudicate conflicts in a wide number of rural areas. The judgments passed by these traditional panchayats have not only co-existed alongside state courts but in many instances the decisions and judgments taken ‘under the banyan tree’ were recognized by the judges sitting in the courtrooms.

However this arrangement is under challenge in several parts of the country without suggesting any viable substitute. In Tamil Nadu, since 2003, several court cases have indicted ‘panchayattars’ that is the men who adjudicate in village judicial assemblies which have come to be labelled ‘katta panchayat’. Many of the participants in the workshop expressed their disagreement with this negative labelling and explained over the two day workshop how their judicial practices are based principles of natural justice, on evidence on deliberation among members. They aimed at helping the parties reach a reasonable compromise and in default to give a just decision based on reason which was in general well accepted.

The participants insisted that they should not be confused with occasional self styled panchayats working in semi-urban centres whose practice may be objectionable and intimidating

Justice David Annousamy, former judge from the Madras High Court and author of a number of publications in Tamil, French and English, who gave an insightful opening speech for the workshop opined that village panchayats were doing a yeomen service in solving a large number of cases quickly, that what they needed was an exposure to modern Human Rights.


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