Growing up first in the confines of her father’s house and then in her husband’s, Nimbukali from the Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh had never known what it was like to step out of the house and to be heard. Though not educated, Nimbukali was always curious about what was going on in the world and wanted to be part of it. But every time she tried to ask questions or protest against minor infractions, she was slapped and beaten into submission by her male relatives. “I would look at the outside world from my windows, not allowed to step out with no one to report the violence I faced daily,” Nimbukali recalls. Now in her late 40s, Nimbukali says those days are behind her. Today, she is one of 14 women who are part of the Nari Adalat committee of her district, through which she not only works for empowering women but also helps rural women come out of abusive marriages and stand on their own feet. “I will never be cowed down by a man in a position of authority again,” she tells Outlook.
Nari Adalat is a concept that was conceived in the 90s through the then central government-run Mahila Samakhya programme. Launched in 1988, the programme spread its roots across several states. In Uttar Pradesh, which continues to record a high incidence of gender-based violence (GBV) including domestic abuse and sexual crimes against women, the programme has been instrumental in reducing domestic violence in villages and creating consciousness and empowering women at district and block levels. The Nari Adalat is a parallel system of social justice that relies on women’s collectives to ensure equitable access to social and legal remedies for marginalised women.