Dispute resolution in India involves several actors and institutions – not only courts but also various other forums for alternative means of dispute resolution. While the judiciary is the sole authority responsible for redressing rights’ violations, the problems plaguing the judicial system contribute significantly to parties opting to settle disputes out of court. In this paper, we examine the functioning of some non-court forums, with a special focus on the question of women’s rights, autonomy, and agency in dispute resolution processes. We ask whether the working of such non-court forums is in consonance with the values of the Indian Constitution, especially the rule of law. In the context of women’s rights, we ask whether these forums take a legally neutral or gendered approach, and whether they speak they give primacy to rights or prioritise community and conciliation. To find answers, we analyse data from surveys and interviews undertaken by DAKSH to review the attitudes and approaches of such noncourt forums. We argue that valorising non-court forums as ‘quick, flexible, and effective’ while disregarding their subjectivity, arbitrariness, and lack of accountability – both to the individuals who approach them and to the society in which they function – amounts to a betrayal of constitutional values. We also argue that while all citizens, women included, must have the autonomy to choose any forum to resolve their disputes, that choice must not be governed by tradition, nor be influenced by lack of awareness of rights, or worse, failure of the state in ensuring speedy and effective dispute resolution.

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