Ask An Expert: Anil Xavier

Anil Xavier, President of the Indian Institute of Arbitration & Mediation and practicing advocate in India, speaks about community mediation and the creation of People’s Mediation Centres (PMCs) across India.

What is community mediation and how does it work in India?

Fundamentally, community mediation is a system where neighbours help neighbours to solve problems and resolve disputes. The Indian Institute of Arbitration & Mediation (IIAM) formulated the IIAM Community Mediation Service (IIAMCMS) with the motto “Resolving Conflicts; Promoting Harmony” designed “for the people; of the people and by the people”. The mission of IIAMCMS is to bring justice to the doorsteps of the people and provide an opportunity to participate in prevention and early intervention in conflicts as an alternative to institutional mechanisms. It is intended to promote social harmony and access to justice for the ordinary citizen in a consensual and humanistic way against the background of an adversarial system.

In essence, People’s Mediation Society (PMS), a charitable society formed for promoting mediation and a partner to IIAM, will establish People’s Mediation Centres (PMCs) in all parts of the country. The members of the society sign a Pledge to Mediate, by which they would consider mediation as the first option to resolve their disputes. Once a fixed number of members in a village signs the pledge, a PMC is then established in that village. We hope to establish at least 300 PMC’s in the next two years.

How did you first become involved in this field?

Even though India had a tradition of consensual dispute resolution through the Panchayat system of “mediation”, the modern mediation system established through courts or private ADR institutions did not go to the grass-root level. Establishing community mediation at the grass-root level was the only solution to this problem.

I wanted to implement an IIAM community mediation service to create a culture of resolving conflicts in a collaborative method founded on traditions of dialogue, interests and needs. It would ideally promote peace and harmony in the society and empower the people to deal with conflicts. I believe that empowering people through this mission can collectively produce spectacular results, developing a new dimension to social welfare and thereby creating stable families and healthier societies.

Why are consensual dispute resolution tools so important at the community level?

A study conducted by the Ministry of Law reveals that currently, it will take 324 years to dispose of the backlogs of cases in Indian courts. The denial of justice through delay is the biggest mockery of law. Through Community Mediation Centres, people would get a platform near home to air concerns that a court would rightly ignore when evaluating a legal claim and settle their cases without the trappings of a court. In addition, community mediation allows courts to deal with more serious cases by addressing situations more appropriate for mediation.

It further promotes restorative justice through a variety of its approaches, helping to restore the offender into the community through correctional practice. Sometimes victims of crime need answers and apologies more than they need the perpetrators to be punished; likewise, sometimes offenders need to find out just who they’ve hurt to realize what they’ve done is wrong.

Community mediation also offers a platform for dialogue and interaction. Whether as family members, neighbours, friends, or citizens, people are virtually disconnected from one another. Community Mediation Centres are intended to build bridges between communities and transform society into being more tolerant and understanding.

What are the key challenges in conducting community mediation?

The main challenge is establishing centres for effectively promoting community mediation in villages. Apart from the awareness and familiarity of mediation, people should have access to such centres within their neighbourhood.

To promote the concept of IIAM CMS, organizations that promote peace building or conflict resolution have to partner in an effort to support peace and harmony. To make our world a safe, sustainable, peaceful and prosperous place to live, corporate houses can make an important contribu