The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

typescript 'Village Organization Among the Central Nzemi Nagas', M.A. thesis by Ursula Betts

caption: Chapter four - The village admininstration
caption: the influence of the Magistrate's court
medium: theses
ethnicgroup: Nzemi
person: Betts/ U.V.
date: 1950
refnum: M.A. thesis, University College, London
note: footnotes indicated by boxes within square brackets
text: 4. The influence of the Magistrate's Court.
text: The policy of the administration as it existed prior to August 1947 was to support the village court, to reserve to it all cases it was competent to judge, to refuse to admit such cases to a magistrate's court, and to disallow appeals from the village court to the magistrate's court unless so great a miscarriage of justice had been perpetrated that it was necessary for the District Officer to intervene. The degree to which different officers followed this policy varied. Some (99) in fact permitted appeals to their court from the village courts and in some cases the village court's decision was altered or reversed, or the case was reheard and an award made which was not in accordance with Nzemi traditional practice. The effects upon the village courts were unfortunate. They lost the power of final award which had been so powerful a factor in enforcing their decisions of compromise and conciliation, and though trouble and expense prevented many appeals and by no means all officers would allow them, still the position of the village courts in their own acknowledged jurisdiction was undermined. The position was worsened by the difference in procedure between the village courts and the magistrate's court. At a public village hearing it was nearly impossible for a serious misstatement of fact to go unchallenged. The numerous spectators were familiar with at least the outlines of Nzemi custom and often with the facts of the case, and it was open to any man among them to express his opinion or to adduce independent evidence. In the magistrate's court, although such cases were almost all heard on tour and in the vicinity of the village involved, there was less publicity than in a village hearing, fewer spectators gathered, interruption was discouraged, the procedure was unfamiliar, and the spectators with views to offer were often uncertain of how to intervene and unwilling to risk reprimand by doing so wrongly, and it was thus sometimes easier to conceal inconvenient facts (100) than at a village hearing. There was no written guide to Nzemi custom which the magistrate might consult, and the court proceedings were conducted through interpreters who were frequently not Nzemi and who were by no means proof against bribery. The magistrate's court was therefore an opportunity for the unscrupulous and made the task of administration more difficult for the headmen and council. The fact that the magistrate's court was concerned with the principle of justice and not with conciliation and that, in a case over property, such as land, it usually awarded the property outright on one or the other party instead of dividing it, made an appeal a 'double or quits' gamble and tempted even honest litigants to flout the village court. It was, too, the existence of the magistrate's court which rendered stillborn the few Central Nzemi attempts at the settlement of inter-village disputes before a joint court composed of elders drawn from both villages. Litigants showed the greatest reluctance to accept the joint court's conciliatory awards, and repeatedly tried to take their cases to the District Magistrate in the hope of receiving the disputed property outright. This happened even when, as in 1946, the District Magistrate was attempting to create a regional court to hear such inter-village disputes, and was refusing to hear such cases and referring them back at once to the joint court. A number of litigants decided to leave their cases in abeyance in the hope (101) that the next District Officer would be more ready to hear them.