May 22, 2010

Symposium with Judicial Officers on "Women Rights and Access to Justice"

Note: The author expresses his heartiest thanks to Justice D K Basu for his cordial invitation to attend the Symposium. 

The National Committee for Legal Aid Services – India and Centre for Social Research, New Delhi in collaboration with Legal Aid Services – West Bengal (LASWEB) organized the 2nd Symposium with Judicial Officers of West Bengal on “Women Rights and Access to Justice” on 22nd and 23rd May, 2010 at the Conference Hall, Bijan Bhawan, Salt Lake, Kolkata.

The Welcome Address was given by Mr. Gitanath Ganguly, Executive Chairman, Legal Aid Services – West Bengal (LASWEB). The inaugural lamp was lighted by Hon’ble Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly, Judge, Supreme Court of India, Hon’ble Justice Mohit S. Shah, Chief Justice, Calcutta High Court, Calcutta and Dr. Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre for Social Research, New Delhi. The Introductory/Opening Remarks were advanced by Justice D. K. Basu.

Speech of Dr. Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre for Social Research, New Delhi

  • Domestic Violence Act – first of its kind to acknowledge that violence against women is a matter of state control and public concern
  • Domestic Violence – not wife battering but gender violence directed by men against women.
  • Domestic Violence enjoys social sanction and victims suffer physically and psychologically.
  • Human Rights are denied, there is ever present threat of violence
  • There must be training of protection officers and there terms and conditions must be well-defined
  • Usage of counseling and family expert is required.

Speech of Hon’ble Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly, Judge, Supreme Court of India

  • We need to attend such programs to sensitize ourselves and re-dedicate ourselves to the cause of justice
  • Preamble to the Constitution: Dignity of the individual is dependant upon the dignity and integrity of the nation.
  • Importance of the Constitution lies in “individual autonomy” and “respect for others”. Examples: Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Constitution speak about persons and citizens.
  • Statistics on Women – Women living in poverty, female genital mutilation, Women deaths, Illiteracy Rates, Production of services.
  • Duty of a Judge – If one Woman comes to Court, there are thousand who are behind due to political barriers. Largely restrictions on access to justice are placed from known quarters viz. fathers, friends, and friends of relatives.
  • Myth: It is a myth that sexual crimes are committed against women because they dress in an appealing manner. Because, women in Burquas are the most affected today. It is wrong to deny women autonomy on such mythological reasons.
  • On section 498A, IPC – it is wrong to suggest amendment. This section may have been misused or can be potentially misused, but which law is free from misuse in India? Also, it is the lawyers and members of the fraternity who make the laws, so how is the victim responsible? The vices are raised only because this section is an “empowering section”.
  • On section 354, IPC – this section can be appreciated on an analogy. Section 307 IPC punishes for attempt to commit murder. Section 354 IPC punishes outraging modesty of women and amounts to an attempt to commit rape. However, the former section is non-bailable but the latter is bailable. However, Andhra Pradesh and Orrissa have made it non-bailable. Justice Ganguly expressed his concerns on making section 354 IPC a non-bailable offence while his tenure at the Calcutta High Court as a Chief Justice.
  • Implementation: It is because of the gender bias that is so rampant and deeply rooted in the society, we can only discuss such issues in Seminars but fall short in implementation.
  • Judges should be neutral and impartial
  • Ingredients of a Decision: - Facts, Law, and the most important the Judge’s Perception. The decisions seem to be different although the facts and laws are identical. This is because of the difference in the perception of the Judge’s perception.
  • Problems in Access to Justice – there is a lack of empathy in judges i.e. they do not place themselves in the shoes of the victims. A judge is not a mere umpire in the cricket field but is an active social transformer. Access to Courts is difficult but Access to Justice is much more difficult. If one women comes to a judge, there are some thousand behind and one judgment which furthers the cause of women, gives strength to a thousand of women behind.
  • Conclusion – Keep the flame of freedom and liberty alive. Never change the never-changing standards to liberty in ever-changing situations. Justice Cardozo stated that as a Judge one is supposed to see things objectively but although honest efforts have been made, one cannot see things from eyes of others. Therefore, mental perception should be free from social barriers.

Speech by Hon’ble Justice Mohit Shah, Chief Justice, Calcutta High Court 

  • The task becomes difficult when both the parties to a dispute seek justice from the Court. This is when the role of a judge comes into play. The problem is not in violation of any specific right. There is discrimination against women because she is a woman.
  • There are plethora of laws – CEDAW (adopted in 1993 by India), Articles in the Constitution (Part III), Fundamental Duties (Part IVA). However, these laws are not implemented in practice.
  • FIR Reporting – Problem of reporting/registering FIR becomes much more difficult when the accused/suspect is known/acquainted to the victim. The reasons advanced by the authority are that it is a question of family honor and family honor has to be placed on a higher pedestal than individual honor. This signifies that honor of the victim is not at all considered or taken into account.
  • Sensitization of the judges: Babu Lal Case (2008) decided by the Supreme Court.
  • Strenghtening of Women Will – women pity themselves. They fee apologetic for being housewives. They fail to consider that merely because she is not earning or is a house wife does not mean that the property is in the name of the husband. However, the work that the women do at home is far more productive and onerous than what their husbands do outside in the public sphere. In the United States, both the spouses get equal property at the time of divorce.
  • Education and Women: In the State of Rajasthan, child marriages are very prevalent and rampant. This is because the literacy rate is only four percent. Education can empower women and they shall deserve the respect they merit in the society.
  • Judges and Women: The judges should always try and encourage lady litigants in order to enhance their statute in the society. However, this does not mean they shall decide all the cases in their favour without considering them on merits.
  • General attitude that we show towards the women needs to be changed. There is an urgent need that role models, opinion makers like the actors and sportsmen play a decisive role in the empowerment of women through advertisement and other medium.

Speech by Hon’ble Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose, Judge, Calcutta High Court and Executive Chairman, State Legal Services Authority

 Domestic Violence Act is not necessary if people change their outlook and mindset. Justice can be done anywhere in any aspect of our life and it is not important to preside over a Bench. Delivery of justice is the duty of every man, irrespective of status and influence.

Vote of Thanks – Justice Moloy Sengupta, Vice Chairman, Legal Aid Services – West Bengal presented the vote of the thanks.

May 16, 2010

New Contributor : Professor Sarfaraz Ahmed Khan

We feel immense pleasure in announcing Prof. Sarfaraz Ahmed Khan as a new contributor to our blog. A brief note on Prof. Khan -

Professor Sarfaraz Ahmed Khan is presently Assistant Professor at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, India. He was awarded British Chevening Human Rights Scholarship in 2004 from British Council, India for studying LLM in International Human Rights at University of Essex, UK, during 2004-05.

His official link can be traced here.