Married at 17, harassed by her in-laws and beaten by her husband, Megha Bimbal did not turn to the police or the courts to save her. Instead, the 19-year-old sought justice from Aap Ki Kachehri Kiran Ke Saath, the popular courtroom reality show on Star Plus. Just as some 30 other complainants before her, Bimbal mustered the courage to discuss her legal problems on prime-time television.
Swift justice: So far, Bedi has heard around 100 cases on the show.
As it nears the end of its first season, it is clear that Star TV’s big experiment with content has made an impact on viewers. The show, which airs at 10.30pm (Monday to Saturday) on the Hindi channel from the Star stable, is produced by Star TV and Synergy Adlabs Media Ltd and hosted by the respected former Indian Police Service officer, Kiran Bedi. The season will end in mid-March.
According to Audience Measurement and Analytics Ltd (aMap), about four million Indians tuned into the show in January to watch Bimbal find out that her two-year-old marriage was not legal as she was a minor at the time of her wedding. She says she felt liberated after appearing on the show, and had it not been for Aap Ki Kachehri, she “would have had to file for a divorce and be troubled by lawyers”.
Bimbal was advised to go on the show by a counsellor at New Delhi-based non-profit Navjyoti India Foundation, which works towards empowering women and children. She later trained in martial arts at a camp conducted by Delhi Police. These days, she earns about Rs2,500 a month as a martial arts coach.
While the government has been trying various alternatives to encourage out-of-court settlements of disputes, Aap Ki Kachehri seems to have created an innovative, and thus far successful, forum for mediation. The concept of the show, launched on 1 December, is simple: Host Bedi acts as a mediator to resolve real-life disputes. Other criteria: The dispute must be between individuals and not against the government; civil, not criminal, in nature; allowed to be settled through mediation under Indian laws; and not pending in a legal forum. For instance, matrimonial disputes, parent-child or spouse maintenance issues and family disputes are allowed on the show, but human rights violations, medical negligence or theft cases are not.
Siddhartha Basu, chairman and managing director of Synergy Adlabs, says his show has struck a chord with viewers: “There are conflicts out there that should never have to go to court, and the prospect of accessible and swift resolution is enormous.” In fact, so many calls started coming in to apply for the show that the channel set up a helpline in January and began counselling callers. The show has been earning top television rating points, too.
According to aMap, the show has featured in the Top 10 list of programmes aired on Hindi general entertainment channels almost every week since its inception. It was even in the list of top five programmes on Star Plus for the 1 December–24 February period. Also, the first season of 52 episodes was extended by another 52 episodes on 12 January. The show will return after the break with a more ambitious format.
Bedi says her experience of playing judge on the show made her realize that a credible and fair platform for people to resolve disputes is “seriously missing”.
Soranlal, a 49-year-old worker at a stove factory in Kishangarh, New Delhi, went on the show to sort out the strained relationship with his stepson, who had “fallen into bad company”. He says the show has brought about a change in attitude in his family. “My son’s behaviour has toned down. Unlike earlier, we now sit together, talk face-to-face and sort out our personal differences just as I was told to do on the show.”
Bimbal and Soranlal both say they prefer the show’s mediation format to the cumbersome and costly judicial process.
Bedi says that while her show exposes instances of prevalent social ills, it is “not even the tip of the iceberg”. She hopes that DVDs of the show will be used to educate people about their legal rights and promote mediation. “Just like in Western countries, where citizens are bound to volunteer time by being part of the jury in courts, let people volunteer their time (in mediation forums). Let’s go from aap ki kachehris (courts for the people) to apni kachehris (courts of the people) in schools, colleges and neighbourhoods... This will promote fairness, justice and self-resolution,” she says.
Priyanka Mehra contributed to this story.