Village Courts and the Police: Cooperation and Conflict in Modernizing Indian Communities

S. George Vincentnathan, University of Texas - Pan American

Informal community courts, known as panchayats in India, have been in existence throughout known history. In the absence of easy access to the formal criminal justice institutions, people relied on their panchayats to settle disputses. At this time modernizing forces are impairing the effectiveness of this institution at two levels. First, they are altering the traditional ideas, attitudes and behaviors of people, which incrementally disintegrate community togetherness and impair the peace-making abilities of the panchayats. Second, the political system is expanding its control over communities through increased employment of police, police presence, and police operations. In this context, the need to establish order sometimes makes the police utilize the panchayat to its benefit. Other times, the panchayat's abilities to make peace is disturbed by the police's political interests, economic concerns, formal justice requirements, and biases. This paper, based on ethnographic research, will address these aspects of cooperation and conflict between the panchayat and the police.

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Updated 05/20/2006