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How I Came To Understand Why So Many Indians Have Lost Faith In The Legal System

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By Ali Abbas:

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Source: Flickr.

“Justice? You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.”
– William Gaddis.

On a very usual day in office, I got a call from my father. In a grim voice, he informed me that our 25-year-old tenant had filed a case against us. He accused all male members of the family of forcefully extracting rent, harassment and attempts to vandalise his belongings. Most absurd was the claim that we had leased our property to said tenant for 100 years. We were left with no option but to fight back. It has been four years now.

Though I had already started feeling frustrated and helpless, it was far less than what one of my relatives had to go through who fought for more than 20 years to finally win his case, or far less than what thousands of other citizens face when their cases go on for years.

But people in India have more trust in the courts than their democratically elected governments. With a history and reputation of taking bold decisions, courts are the hope and strength of commoners in the country.

The following are some judgements from the recent past which left me in awe of our judiciary.

The Supreme Court banned the open and common usage of red beacons on cars by politicians, bureaucrats and even by private individuals. The Court said the it reflects a Raj mentality.” Now, only high dignitaries holding constitutional posts can use red beacons when on duty while those engaged in emergency duties can use blue or multicolour lights.

In another landmark judgement, the Supreme Court recognised transgender people as the third gender for the first time. It also directed governments, both at the centre and at the states, to recognise them as educationally backward and consider reserving seats for them. Hopefully, this will help to end the discrimination against transgender individuals.

In 2014, citing the auction process as illegal and arbitrary, Supreme Court cancelled the licences of 214 coal blocks. This was done even after the private miners’ argument that cancellation will cause an estimated loss of 4.4 lakh crores and will hit investors’ confidence.

And Sahara India Chief Subrata Roy is still wasting away in Tihar Jail for the failure to pay a bail amount of 10,000 crores.

The humanistic approach, free legal aid to weaker sections of society, public interest litigations (PIL) and low fees to fight cases are some of the features which make our judicial system strong and approachable.

Never Ending Hope For Justice

However, even with the best features, Indian judiciary is far from the best. People perceive courts as the long route to justice and think of it as the last resort. According to the National Judicial Data Grid, as on 16th February 2016, there were 2,09,11,662 cases pending in Indian courts out of which 69,55,415 are civil and 1,39,56,246 are criminal. Considering the enormous amount of pending cases, in 2010, Andhra Pradesh High Court judge V.V. Rao said it will take 320 years to clear the backlog of pending cases.

Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied

Many exploit this weakness of our justice system as a tool to harass the justice seeker. Consider the never ending pursuit for justice even after 32 years in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots case. Nearly 3,000 members of the Sikh community were killed after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Or the Babri Masjid demolition case, the aftermath of which claimed the lives of more than 2,000 people, mostly from the minority community.

Or take the Uphaar cinema fire case in Delhi. It took 18 years for the case to reach its end. Annoyed by the number of years it took and the unsatisfactory judgement the court pronounced, Neelam Krishnamoorthy, the mother of the young victims of the tragedy got back at the Indian judiciary with her comment, “Looking back, I think I made a mistake. I should have picked up a gun and shot the culprits, pleaded insanity in court and I might have been out by now. Maybe that would have been justice.”

While these are criminal cases, the condition of civil cases is equally bad. For example in my case, there has been no hearing from the last one year. It was the fifth time we pleaded with the judge to take the case forward.

Highlighting this weakness of Indian courts, many movies are made in Bollywood. One such epic movie was Damini, where it’s the rapist’s lawyer who finds it more convenient to defend his client in court. That’s because in a court of law, it is easier to mould and twist facts, and pressurise, influence and break witnesses. If not anything else, one can keep delaying the proceedings hence delaying the judgement. As the famous dialogue of Sunny Deol goes, “tarik pe tarik milti rahi hai, lekin insaaf nahi mila my lord, mili hai toh sifr yeh tarikh (we keep setting dates for the next hearing, but do not get justice delivered).”

Ye Andha Kanoon Hai

Last year, the judiciary surprised most of us when actor Salman Khan got acquitted by the High Court in the 13 year long hit and run case. Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalitha was cleared of all corruption charges after 18 years. Ramalinga Raju, founder of Satyam, got bail after one month by the sessions court after being convicted in a trail court for an accounting fraud of 7000 crores.

It casts doubt in our minds. Does our judicial system behave differently for rich and influential people? A study conducted by National Law University students with the help of the Law Commission reveals that out of 373 death row convicts over 15 years, 75% of them belonged to weaker sections of society. A shocking 93.5% of those sentenced who recieved the death sentence for terror offences were found to be Dalits or from religious minorities.

A court of law does not work on emotions or popular sentiment. Neither does it matter whether you’re rich or poor. It pronounces judgement based on facts, logic and the evidence produced. All you need is to get a sharp lawyer on your side and support from police and witnesses to get the desired judgement.

So, it was on a usual Sunday recently, when my father got a call from one of the respected members of our locality who is also part of the local peace committee. He arranged for arbitration between us and the opponent. After a few negotiations and certain compromises, our opponent handed the keys to us, with which we got our property back after four long years. Referring to the courts, or ‘ada-lath’, as an addiction (‘lath’), he prayed, “may God save people from hospitals and courts.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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