No criminal case recorded in Bihar village for seven decades

Ms Parwati's house in West Champaran's Katraw village in Bihar was not locked for four days when she was at the hospital to treat her fever and chills recently. When she returned home, everything was intact - no one had broken in.

"The villagers here do not prefer to lock the doors when they go out for a few days," said Mr Sunil Garhwal, the chief of Jamuniya panchayat that governs the village.

"Locking the door is construed as a great disservice and disregard for fellow villagers."

Katraw is located about 285km from Patna, the capital of Bihar, which is notorious for its high crime rate in India. It has about 1,500 people from various communities, such as Tharu, Muslim, Mushar and Dhangar.

The village falls under the Sahodara police station, whose officers have registered only one case since India became independent in 1947.

"Touching others' belongings is a crime here," said Ms Hansa Devi, a villager, adding: "It is not as if altercations or disputes do not take place in Katraw, but we resolve it among ourselves."

Superintendent of Police (Bettiah) Upendra Nath Verma said: "To the best of our knowledge, except for one road accident case, no other complaint has been registered in Katraw."

Former Bihar Director-General of Police Gupteshwar Pandey said: "Everyone should draw inspiration from Katraw. This model deserves to be emulated by other villages so that India can shine."

The peace in Katraw emanates from its unique judicial setup called Gomastha Bayawastha, which was formed in the early 1950s.

It was the brainchild of Bihar's first chief minister Shri Krishna Sinha.

It is essentially a patriarchal judicial authority (Gomastha) - passed from father to son - which delivers amicable solutions to small disputes.

The village has followed the verdicts delivered by the Gomasthas for the past 75 years.

"In Katraw, a Gomastha is virtually regarded as a demi-god, whose order is invariably accepted by all," said Mr Shailendra Garhwal, the president of Bettiah district council.

The Gomastha is not recognised by the government, although the local administration is aware of its prevalence in the Tharu tribe.

"The system has been followed by the Tharu community for long," said Mr Garhwal, a Tharu.

"It underscores the people's firm belief in the democratic system."

The Gomastha usually sits under a tree and dispenses justice after hearing the warring sides.

For instance, in July last year, villager Mukesh Kumar was asked to pay a fine of Rs5,000 ($92) for slapping his sister-in-law.

The Gomastha also demanded a written apology saying that Mr Kumar's actions had brought "disgrace to the women in a civilised society".

A person who does not follow the Gomastha's verdict is excommunicated by the village. The fine collected is spent on weddings or other social obligations.

The weddings are a community affair, with invitations sent out to every villager, who is then bound to contribute rice, pulses and vegetables for the feast.

Such social harmony is a matter of pride for villager Rohit Kumar, who said: "We fix our own problems and we want to pass this legacy to the next generation."

Indo-Asian News Service

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