One highlight of our week in Kalleda happened while picking Ram's (Vandita's husband) brain about what the biggest problems in the village are, how they are settled, and who might be important people for us to meet. Ram was telling us about one of the village elders, Malesh, who used to be president and whose mediation skills are still sought although he no longer holds a title. In the middle of conversation, Ram pulled out his phone and called Malesh, then asked if we wanted to see a dispute. Two minutes later we were in the car and five minutes later we were sitting in Malesh's backyard along with everyone involved in the latest village scandal! I felt like I had stepped into a V.S. Naipaul book, beginning to comprehend what living in a village means and that I will be a part of this life (as much as a foreign, white girl can be) for the next several months. If you're wondering, the scandal initiated when a man's wife had an affair but the most recent development occurred when he abused her caste, an act which is against the law. The woman took her estranged husband to court but in order to avoid the high legal fees, jail time, and the price of bail, the two parties sought Malesh's assistance in a local settlement. When we arrived both parties and witnesses had just signed a document stating that they agreed to allow Malesh to oversee the dispute settlement.
The following day we met Malesh at Kalleda Rural School (KRS) where he had just finished final meetings regarding this particular dispute. The husband (I don't think they are divorced yet) had agreed to pay a certain amount of money in damages to the wife. In turn, the wife signed a document to be given to the court stating that she retracted her suit and wished to close the case. No mention is made of the local settlement because it has no legal standing beyond the village perimeters. Then she must go to the police station where they will receive her statement in person and ensure that the decision was made on her own without pressure from the other party. Now the settlement is entirely in Malesh's hands and he will actually front the money for payment to the wife while the husband raises funds from his family.
We thanked Malesh for taking the time to explain the process of dispute settlement to us and he agreed to call our mobiles as soon as there is another dispute so we can actually sit in and observe from the beginning!