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‘Women see Deputy Mayor as their guardian:’ Sunita Gupta Baish

‘Most cases that come to the judicial committee are related with dowry violence, dowry abuse and sexual violence committed by husbands.’

Kapilvastu: The office of the Deputy Mayor of Kapilvastu Municipality Sunita Gupta Baish is crowded with service seekers, most of them women. They come to her when they are in problems because they consider the Deputy Mayor as their guardian and a justice giver because the Deputy Mayor is a woman and she is a coordinator of the judicial committee which adjudicates disputes at the local levels.

According to her, most issues that come to the judicial committee are related with dowry violence, dowry abuse, women being abused because of not bringing enough dowries and so on. Husbands beating wives, husbands not making citizenship of his wife and so on. 

“A man marries a woman and leaves her for not bringing enough dowry. She already may have children from the man but their births are not registered. Marriage is also not registered. Women have to bear the brunt of this all because when the husband does not register her marriage, she cannot get citizenship certificate and she gets no share of property even if the divorce is opted for. Her children face the risks of being stateless,” Gupta said.

According to her, if there were provisions in law to register marriage right after marriage and register birth right after birth, these problems could be solved easily.

As a deputy mayor she has faced a number of emotionally trying situations.  A woman comes to the office crying, with a child in her arms, and complains that her husband abused her and pleads for justice. “In such situations, sometimes  I become speechless. I cannot decide what to say or what to do.” 

So how does she handle such a situation then? First, says Gupta, I ask them to calm down and tell me what has happened to them in detail. “Having listened to them,  I then figure out whether their issues can be settled by the judicial committee or some legal course has to be taken.”

The trust of the people in deputy mayor is so high that even if they go to the police, the police suggest going back to the judicial committee, which tries to settle the matter through reconciliation. “But sometimes the dispute is so complicated and neither party agrees to the suggestion of the judicial committee. In that case, the case is referred to the police and the court,” said Gupta.

So far only a couple of cases have been referred to the court, otherwise most cases are settled by the judicial committee, she informed.

Maintaining work-life balance is a major challenge faced by deputy mayors in Madhesh according to Gupta. “You see, I am a deputy mayor here but I am also a mother, wife and homemaker,” she explained. Sometimes she has to attend a meeting early in the morning at seven or eight. “But I have to take care of the household chores, send children to school and then only I can leave. Work life balance is a big problem for a deputy mayor in all municipalities,” she said.