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Rural Dispute Resolution in Bangladesh: Popular Perceptions about Village Courts
The rural poor and other marginalized people in Bangladesh are caught in a quandary. Neither the formal judicial system nor informal dispute resolution through local tribunals, called Shalish, is able to meet their needs. The formal system is hardly accessible and affordable to them and suffers from millions of pending cases. Informal dispute resolution through Shalish is notorious for unfair decisions based on local power structures and backward norms, as well as draconian enforcement practices. To remedy this situation, a 2006 law has reformed and redesigned Shalish under the guise of village courts. These village courts were introduced as an accessible, fair and affordable alternative to both the formal judicial system and traditional Shalish, but experience since 2006 has shown that they have their own flaws and require further reform. Drawing on popular perceptions in two Bangladeshi villages, this study finds that more attention should be paid to access for poor and otherwise vulnerable people, procedural fairness shielding litigants from local power structures, and matters of effectiveness. Only then can village courts truly fulfil their promise of providing redress for those most in need of social justice and human security.