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For A Legal System In Dire Need Of Reform, Here’s Why The Delhi HC Can Lead The Way

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Had the Indian legal system a provision of the ‘Man of the Match,’ the title would have rightly been accorded to the two unflinching Justices S. Muralidhar and Vinod Goel of the Delhi High Court for delivering much-needed justice to the dispirited victims of the two gruesome tragedies: anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 and Hashimpura massacre of 1987.

On December 17 2018, the two Justices convicted Sajjan Kumar, the former Congress parliamentarian, who has hitherto been getting around the Criminal Justice System of India that is riddled with numerous flaws and shortcomings with no systemic reform in sight, ever since the largest anti-Sikh carnage happened in the modern history of India.

While indicting Mr. Kumar, the duo came down heavily on the police who failed to carry out the fair probe in the mass violence and rather shielded the perpetrators either by not registering the First Information Reports or conducting a pretentious or perfunctory probe.

This is not enough! The two intrepid judges termed the mass killings of 1984 as crimes against humanity, drawing a parallel from the joint condemnation of Britain, Russia and France against Ottoman administration for its complicity in the massacre of Armenians by the Kurds and Turks in 1915. On the other hand, the two Justices depicted the Hashimpura massacre as “the targeted killing by armed forces of the unarmed, innocent and defenseless members of a particular community.”

Time and again, Indian citizens raise their apprehensions about the inaction, inadequacy of the police, institutional malaise and indifferent law enforcement authorities who often fail to enforce the law in the face of a communal flare-up or mob violence.

On December 17, these concerns found judicial endorsement and were echoed in the snide remarks made by Justice S. Muralidhar, “A majority of the perpetrators of these horrific mass crimes, enjoyed political patronage and were aided by an indifferent law enforcement agency. The criminals escaped prosecution and punishment for over two decades.”

State Complicity, Impunity, Inaction And Perfunctory Investigation

The Indian state has failed time and again in reining in communal and mob violence. Worse, in many cases, it has been the dominant engineer of violence for political gains or to teach a community a lesson as happened in cold-blooded mass killings of Sikhs in 1984 engineered by the then Congress regime and Muslims in Hashimpura, a locality in Meerut, in 1987. The policemen, in the latter case, turned beast and killed as many as 42 unarmed and defenseless civilians to teach the community a lesson.

According to Paul R. Brass, violence in India is produced through systematic means and is often painted as spontaneous even though it is planned in advance and is essentially made to go through the following three phases: preparation/rehearsal, activation/enactment, and explanation/interpretation.

This is an open secret that violence in India is orchestrated by actors who have an active interest in instigating it and the administration abets it by not responding swiftly to thwart it. The violence, then, is followed by assignation of blame and the ordinary public remains elusive with the real causes which led to it.

This pattern lingers on and can be observed in a spate of mob lynchings in the recent past in which the coercive apparatus of the state either seemed to be complicit or indifferent with the plight of the victims.

Similarly, this framework was most starkly manifest in the most recent violence unleashed on a police post in Siana in Bulandshahr by the marauding mob offended by the sudden discovery of cow carcasses lying in some fields and the Yogi regime’s blatant concerns of the cow slaughter more than the tragic death of the Police Inspector Subodh Kumar. Initially, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister dismissed the murder as an accident and later dubbed it as a conspiracy.

The Misery Of Trial Courts And Mockery Of Justice

The flagrant exoneration of Mr. Sajjan Kumar by the Delhi Trial Court in May 2013 and the outrageous acquittal of 16 policemen of the 41st Battalion of UP Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) in March 2015 exposes the deep malaise in the lower judiciary and stares mockingly in the face of justice.

In a bid to revive public trust in the judicial system, the Delhi High Court, in less than two months, delivered two historic judgments indicting the guilty ones and sending them behind bar after they were allowed by the subordinate judiciary to roam free in the wake of want of evidence or giving them benefit of the doubt. The two Justices S.Muralidhar and Vinod Goel, however, differed and scrutinized the clinching pieces of evidence more astutely and set right the grave miscarriage of justice meted out to the dejected victims.

It is noteworthy that the two Justices adopted a judicious approach in order to find Mr. Sajjan Kumar’s role, one of the most influential accused of the anti-Sikh butchery of 1984, in the five deaths occurred in Raj Colony and the burning of the Sikh temple in the wake of Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards.

This write-up appreciates the extraordinary courage shown by the two Justices S.Muralidhar and Vinod Goel who took a course corrective measure and applied much-needed balms on the wounds of the victims. But this is a partial justice due to the long agonizing wait of more than thirty years.

Reforms In Legal And Judicial System

The Indian legal system is in dire need of immediate reforms. A fledgling legal and judicial system needs to look into and rectify what ails it and can ill-afford to turn a blind eye to the most pressing corrective measures. The judicial system should come out of its deep-seated pendency of cases. Otherwise, we will continue to see the travesty of justice and flagrant disregard for the pain of litigants.

One needs to ask how long our political stakeholders allow the overburdened judiciary to crumble under the appalling backlog of the cases and to allow political elements to meddle into investigative affairs and justice delivery system.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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