In the absence of elected representatives, disputes over unmet development needs have to be resolved by the people themselves. The formal justice systems are not accessible enough, especially for the poor and the marginalised. Traditional conflict resolution mechanisms managed by community elites are too hierarchical.
Besides, when a third party intervenes to resolve a community dispute, it often results in a one-sided punishment to make winners and losers, sowing a new seed of long-term animosity in the community.
For the past two years, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been working with the Ministry of Local Development, DDCs and VDCs in Mahottari and Sindhuli to implement a project to strengthen dispute management capacity at the local level.
For each pilot VDC, 27 volunteer mediators (3 persons including at least 1 woman from each ward) are selected through a socially inclusive process and trained in dispute resolution.
Mediators focus not only on how to resolve contentious issues but also on how to rebuild relationships between two parties. This is particularly important because in almost all cases, community disputes arise among neighbours or family members who have to continue to live side-by-side.
There are lessons here for dispute resolution at the national level as well. Having observed the ways in which Nepali political leaders come to an agreement, they are more likely to fall back on a 'package deal' involving a series of different points, such as a 4-point deal or a 7-point agreement. When one contentious issue emerges, the leaders will not just focus on that single issue, but use the occasion to delve into past grievances or future concerns to finally come up with a multiple point resolution.
Curiously this pattern is also reflected in community mediation. The disputants, who are either neighbours or family members, revisit their past and explore their future together when resolving a dispute at hand by a multiple 'package' agreement which addresses issues in the past, present and future. The disputants realise that it is the only way to resolve a conflict between the two in a truly sustainable way.
Next time there is a clash in the national politics, the experience of the villages of Sindhuli and Mahottari may offer an inspiration for creating a win-win scenario and rebuilding a harmonious relationship for the betterment of all.
Naoko Kitadate is a consultant with JICA's Strengthening Community Mediation Capacity for Peaceful and Harmonious Society Project (COMCAP).
Three brothers were quarrelling in Sindhuli over the inheritance of family property while their elderly father was not willing to give it up as long as he was alive.
Mediators found out that the father, who was ill, was willing to divide the property to the sons provided that he and his wife, the mother of the three sons, would be well taken care of in their old age.
Finally the sons and the father came up with an agreement that incorporated the needs and wants of all sides: the partition of the property and the role of each son to take care of their parents. After each of them signed the agreement paper, the three sons bowed deeply and took the blessing of their father. The frail father, who was overjoyed, stroked the heads of his sons, a sign of restored family unity.