Saturday, October 27, 2007

First time in 3rd year :)

As with most people (a convenient assumption without any attempt at accuracy) in Law School who are participating in a Legal Services Clinic trip for the first time, I ventured on my first trip with some scepticism and not much enthusiasm. In fact, the prime reason for my going on this trip was because in conversation with Vikram (Hegde) a few days prior to the trip, I had mentioned to him in passing that I too would like to get involved in the activities of the Legal Services Clinic. Therefore, when he happened to see me about fifteen minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave, he told me to come along, and having raised the idea myself a few days before, it would have been very impolite for me not to consent.

Thus began my trip to the Murphy Town Corporation School, a Government supported girls only school in Bangalore. As with most Legal Services Clinic projects, this one too involved the enactment of skits and the introduction of several not so simple legal concepts through drama. My initial scepticism rapidly faded when I saw the immense enthusiasm which the members of the LSC, like Gowthaman and Khulali had for the trip. As soon as the bus departed from campus, the "practices" began and roles were quickly assigned. Since most of the members knew the "drill" very well, newcomers like yours truly had to be given a few lessons. That the LSC members handled with aplomb, and very effectively taught us how to tailor our parts in the drama so that the audience, (here the Girls of the School) could appreciate the legal concepts we were teaching them, including the fundamental rights, the right to succession, the right against discrimination and importantly, the right against sexual harassment. Once we got there, the members enthusiasm and commitment showed in the spirited (and judging by the reactions of the girls, effective) performances. It was clear that when we left, the children had been empowered with knowledge that would help them to tap into the arsenal of guarantees which have been provided to them.

But what was more important was the sense of change I felt in myself after the trip. The trip made me, for perhaps the first time, realise that there was a world outside the cocoon which the National Law School teaches most of its students to live in. Divorced from the world of sections and articles that is Law School, I felt a sense of involvement with the practical realities which come into play when the rights which we so vigorously debate (at an intellectual level) have to be employed by the citizen. What was heartening was that some of the girls in the School were in fact aware of several rights and guarantees available and the rest who were not were eager to learn. The receptive faces greatly enhanced the pleasure I got from acting in a few skits at the school. It also added to my thankfulness for shooting my apprehensions and witnessing first hand the remarkable project of empowerment which the Legal Services Clinic has embarked upon.

Hrishikesh Datar (III year)

Friday, October 12, 2007

More Questions...

I was told by a few regular readers of my rants said that the last post seemed like one of the Tamizh mega serials- where at the end of an episode, at a critical juncture- it says thodarum (to be continued) and then had disappeared for a while. So, here goes.

As Gow has pointed out in the previous post, the 2nd day was quite interesting and so were the 3rd and the 4th for that matter. As listing out the topics we addressed seems rather repetitive, I’ll just list out a few questions and general comments.

One of the things that hit me the most was the kind of questions. They were testimony to the fact that they thought about the law- in ways very different from how many of us did. All these questions were asked in earnest and from a very practical standpoint. I am translating some of them from Tamizh and hope it conveys atleast half as much in English.

  1. Sometimes we have heard that 3 or 5 judges decide a case and one of them writes against what the other 4 write. What’s the point of this dissent? Is there any value at all?
  2. Can a lower court judge be punished for deciding a case wrongly if his decision is reversed on appeal?
  3. Isn’t it a fact that a lawyer’s job is to establish the truth? If so when a criminal comes to him and confesses about a crime, shouldn’t he report the matter immediately?
  4. Why is it that we hear no instance of a lawyer being made to pay compensation for wrong advice?
  5. Can I send a FIR through registered post in case they refuse to give me an acknowledgement?
  6. Are Panchayat decisions banned? Why does the court discourage it?
  7. Isn’t it ridiculous that if someone is taken into custody and not produced in front of a Magistrate within 24 hours, I have to go all the way to Madras to the HC to secure the writ of habeas corpus? Why do I have to spend money to do something that must happen as a matter of right? How does it matter if my costs are ordered later on? I might not have money even then and you think I can be running around to get legal aid at that moment? Talk some sense!
  8. The police DO NOT register my FIR…unless I use all possible presurre. You live in an Utopian world if you tell me it’s my right. Its not.
  9. Some employers don’t recruit people against whom an FIR is filed. So anyone can use this to give me trouble? Again, how can I run around to court fighting for my right to equality when my immediate job is important? Maybe they must think before they register it?
  10. It all depends on which political party you belong to at the end of the day- for anything to happen in this state.

I leave it at this for now. I hope some of you would tell me what answers you would have given. Meanwhile, I will continue with more on why this trip proved that law in the abstract is not interesting at al, but associating law with real people to whom it makes a difference is what makes it real :)


The matador halted at the courtyard of the farm house where I was staying . Sixteen men within the age group of 40 to 60 stepped out of the matador. Khulali and I had just got ready after we got up from a deep sleep. Day one was quite tiring, the bus trip to Tiruvanmiyur, the car journey to the farm and the impressive bike journey to Madhur and back, then the preparation for the LLP the next day, till 2 in the night, induced such good sleep, something that I didn’t have for a long time.

Sixteen men marched into the well-equipped training centre of CIKS at the Sukkankollai farm. Having done a good number of LLP’s, there was no nervousness or any sort of hesitation to get onto the stage and get started. An hour of talking by Khulali and me on the difference between civil and criminal law, structure of courts, FIR, COPRA, RTI was followed by a tea break and a question – answer session for another hour. In the first hour, the apt attention from most of them motivated both of us to do a better job. The question answer hour was also quite satisfactory as they were willing to try and use the laws and the cynicism that we encounter generally was quite low. One possible reason could be the fact that, we did not portray law as the panacea for all their trouble. I am sure Prof Nagaraj will be happy that we spoke about ADR methods and the need to not approach the court when talking with each other could solve the problem.

At the end just before lunch, which was delicious, the farmers thanked us and as usual I was in cloud nine :)

The lunch got to be mentioned again, it was good organic food, and absolutely sumptuous- another good sleep inducer apart from a day’s hard work.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

On the Organic Trail- Day-1 Madhur Village, Achirupakkam Taluk, Kancheepuram District

If something is meant to happen- it will somehow happen, however hard you try to avert it. What the last few days has turned out like, is testimony to the above prophecy. A month back I called up the programme co-coordinator , who also happened to be a good friend of mine at this organization called the Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems (CIKS) and told him that these vacations, I wanted to spend some time in the rural areas and I did not want to do any law related work. He gave me a few options as to which NGOs or groups I could tag along with and the conversation ended there. Then a week later he sent me what was a very professionally done “program schedule” and said- there was no need to visit any other NGO when the CIKS option existed and said that I could travel to various of their field offices and visit farms, temples in the area but also do a few legal literacy programmes for some farmer groups. To quote from the Godfather, it was an offer I could not refuse and hence…

As this is not the forum to talk about the miracle that is organic farming, I will leave that to another place. For the keen ones- gives all the information you need about the work this organization does.

So yesterday evening we set out to Madhur Village near Melmaruvathur on two motor bikes- Gow and me the happy pillion riders. Oh..I forgot to mention Gow the ever enthusiastic LSC PR person :) We reached the village by 7:50 and the people had already gathered. The first 45 minutes were spent in discussing farming and we were curious on lookers and then the usual embarrassing introductions followed- “Students from India’s No.1 law college..etc.etc”. We weren’t really prepared and since there was not much time, we decided to make it a question answer session after given them a quick session on RTI.

The questions which followed covered a wide spectrum of issues. Validity of a will, insurance claims and hire-purchase agreements, indignant people who couldn’t understand why women were coparceners under the new amendment, whether someone could get a patta under a different name when the title deed was under a different name! The important realization of the day was the potential power of RTI. Many of the queries centered around non-sanction of loans, arbitrary reasons given by the officials of the same, demand of money in excess of what is officially prescribed and so on. And for someone who has been involved in such things for a few years now, the two heartening lessons were that the cynicism regarding institutions dispensing justice had not yet set in very deep into the psyche and the villagers seemed inclined to put these laws into use and derive results. The fact that they were organized groups seemed to give them more resolve and strength.

We began the journey back on the bikes with several jumbled thoughts. Had we helped in any way? Is the “law” as we understand it, something alien to them and does it work contrary to the traditional dispute resolution mechanisms that exist within their communities? An hour was too short a time to find answers to these deeper questions in life. Little did I realize that the very next day had answers for many of these.