Wednesday, 24 February 2016

An Open Letter to Justice C. S. Karnan

Dear Hon’ble Justice C. S. Karnan,

I know it, sir.  Writing to a judge on his views expressed in court about a case coming up before him is not good manners. But one may say things to a judge on what he says outside the court on other matters – for example, on music or on the condition of court buildings.

Sir, last week you came out of your hallowed seat of the Madras High Court, addressed press persons at its gates and became the centre of news stories across India. They made a sad reading, particularly your accusations against your brother judges, the Chief Justice of the High Court, the Chief Justice of India and some judges of the Supreme Court. I wish to say a few things, in grief and in goodwill. I would just touch upon a thing or two from what you spoke.  What I say here is relevant, though not central to what you were announcing that day.

       By now everyone knows you are a member of the Scheduled Castes, as you said to newsmen.  A lawyer arguing before your court or his client in the case would not be concerned about that fact.  The reason is simple.  The most important thing for any such lawyer or client in any court is this: he should get a judgement that pleases him. If a litigant’s case has merits and he gets a final judgement favouring him the winning party and his lawyer will admire the judge, but the losing party, or at least his lawyer who should know better, will also have respect for the judge for a fair judgement.  So a good judge – man or woman, of any religion or caste, of any region in India – is really liked by lawyers who are active in the courts.  That way, a judge is perhaps better placed than the holder of a political office like a minister in government.  A minister may have opponents, from his own caste or from any other, from his own party or from the Opposition, constantly scheming and trying to pull him down.  A judge, especially a High Court judge, cannot be ousted easily and he has only to deal with lawyers who appear before him – and not battle with opponents trying to trip him or see him out of office.  A judge is less hamstrung in his work by his religious, regional or caste backgrounds.

     So lawyers doing their cases in a court, especially a High Court, cannot have antipathy towards a good judge, whatever his background.  Since their work in courts brings them their daily bread they cannot feel otherwise – except for those not serious with their work or not seen much inside court rooms.  Like, for example, when I buy apples I would get good ones from a seller, whoever he is, rather than go for bad ones from a seller who belongs to my caste. Also, why have the founders of Microsoft and Google, who are Americans, employed Indians – Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai – rather than Americans as chief executive officers in the US?  Because those businessmen feel that, at this time, their Indian officers would deliver best.  Lawyers who contest cases in courts think likewise, expecting results from judges hearing and deciding their cases.

     Those who fight predominantly about race, religion, gender or caste of a judge, pushing merit and good work in the background, are politicians who look for votes in a bickering about those issues.   But lawyers and clients concerned with cases in courts would care less about those things as they look for good judgements.  It is essential to see this difference – and to keep polluting effects of politics away from campuses of law colleges and law courts.

      Yes, sir.  Caste exists for real in Hindu society, with its wide baneful fallout on public life.  Solutions have to come from within that society, not outside. If at all we can solve them little by little, people should first see examples in the conduct of men and women at the top in many places, who talk less about caste differences, ignore some irritants here and there and go about their work gently with a smile – that is an art like writing a judgement. 

      Sir, there is yet another side.  When one parent seriously faults and fights with another in front of their children, the children feel left out and distressed.  That is how the lawyer community should feel today.  I think every parent must take care.

        Very warm regards.
R. Veera Raghavan

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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2016

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Electing Women to Panchayats – 50% Reservation is 100% Farce

This is recent news – the central government will take steps to amend the Constitution to increase reservation of seats for women in elections to panchayat bodies from the present 33% to 50%.  Who benefits if that happens?  Not anyone.

Compulsory reservation for women among elected members and Chairpersons of panchayat bodies has been followed in several states of India – for twenty years in some, and less in others. The Indian Constitution mandates it, since 1993, at a minimum of 33% of contested seats.  A proposal to hike it to 50% was approved by the Union cabinet of an earlier government in 2009, but the Constitution is yet to be amended for the purpose.  A different ruling party now running the central government cannot drop that idea and invite political peril.   

But we should ask : Can we believe that the existing 33% reservation has toned up governance at village levels and enhanced women’s prestige in village areas, and so making it 50% will brighten such results even more? Or have we found that a mere 33% is not enough to get expected benefits and that a minimum 50% reservation is needed?  “No. None of it” should be our answer to both questions.

More than women, men desire, grab and enjoy power in politics.  Males are one half of our population, and more than half among elected representatives in our legislatures.  Without their approval the present 33% reservation would not have happened, nor can it go up.   That is not because our male politicians are generous and sacrificing.  It simply points to a ground reality – this reservation serves as a cloak for clever men to project their obedient wives, mothers or daughters as contestants for reserved seats in panchayat polls, secure their election and rule by proxy.  Those women know this and are happy to help their men folk by just being name-lenders.  And all – including government officials supervising local administration - who deal with or pay purposeful respect to those controlling men behind the mute elected women in panchayats know this.  This is a great farce in our politics and government.

Yes, there is a question to be answered. What is wrong in husbands, fathers or sons helping out women in their families when the law requires that women alone can contest some panchayat seats?  Two counter questions get us the answer.  When women in panchayat areas are not so elected, in what ways and for how long are they helped by men in their homes?  Will a straight-thinking man who respects his wife, daughter or mother, consent to proxy for her illegally in government work, and do the things done by a good number of 33% or 50% male proxies?

Let me not leave out this question.  Why should anyone – here a woman – agree to hold an elected office but let her official power and add-ons lie in the hands of another person – here a man?  Man or woman, if one is dependent on another in many ways or if one is indebted to another for reasons they know best, this fronting or proxying in varying extent could happen anywhere.  If the names of Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi, or Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, suddenly cross your mind now you will have some good reason.

Compulsory reservation for women in panchayat bodies, and the way it is worked, do not really help women among the public.  Women everywhere look for their physical safety and security foremost, and if their elected representatives can ensure that while they govern, women would be glad and relieved even if all or a vast majority of those representatives are men.  But if they have to live amidst an unsure sense of safety and security, holding and concealing their fright, it makes no difference to them that 33% or 50% of their elected representatives are also women.  Horror stories in newspapers every other day about unfortunate female victims tell us how insecure Indian women feel on our soil.

Women voters are not really yearning for reservation in panchayat positions.  If they really do, they can act in unison and elect a female candidate pitted against male candidates from an unreserved constituency. That would surely happen if they wish it since they make up about 50% of voters.  Just as, in a free-for-all election, a candidate of the same caste as a good chunk of the voters in his constituency wins.  Then why do our dominant male politicians play out this farce?  Perhaps they think they are placating women voters by this false concession.  And perhaps women voters feel that if it pleases men on their pet political pranks let it be – why raise questions, dissatisfy ambitious political men and possibly have a dent in women’s overall sense of safety and security, whatever it be?  Indian men who pioneered and backed this reservation have failed our women by making puppets out of the latter and degrading their dignity in a public sphere. 

Want some more proof that our male politicians are cooking up this farce of espousing women’s cause? Well, if men truly believe that more of women should be elected to political offices – as high as 33% or 50% - and make decisions to run governments, men would have first asked women to take up top posts within their political parties at village level or district level everywhere.  Men don’t do it because they wish to be widely in charge of party affairs (rightly, as they fit those roles better), but when it comes to elected political offices in government they make it appear they would let women fill up those offices  – 33% or 50% of them – while they still run those offices from behind.

We have also powerful examples to prove that men and women do not bother much if their elected rulers are men or women.  We had Indira Gandhi as prime minister, she and her party were defeated massively throughout the country in elections held after she lifted her Emergency, but later she was also voted back to power – without reservation of any kind for women.  Now Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu in the South, Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal in the East, Anandiben Patel of Gujarat in the West rule their states as chief ministers.  And in the North, Mehbooba Mufti Sayeed of Jammu and Kashmir could get sworn in as chief minister if she just wants it.  This is the spectacle in the four corners of India with no reservation helping these four women – and men voters in huge numbers in the four states wanting them at the helm.  Likewise, male chief ministers presently ruling in other states enjoy the support of women voters in large numbers and those voters are not longing for woman chief ministers. It is again clear that 33% reservation is a plain farce, and any increase of it will heighten its effect.  Sadly, it has been elevated as a Constitutional compulsion – not only for panchayats but for municipalities too, and the farce gets enacted in more theatres than one.

If women are inclined to politics and have the guts for it they would come out on their own, lead and shine, like they do now in the four corner states of India. On that some may take inspiration from their fathers or spouses, which is understandable as it happens with all, man or woman.  At national levels too, apart from India's Indira Gandhi, Srimavo Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka, Golda Meir in Israel, Margaret Thatcher in the UK and recently Angela Merkel in Germany rose to head governments on their own strength and leadership qualities – that is natural and welcome in a democracy.  But to stipulate that some electoral constituencies across India at village or municipal levels  - or  in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures - shall only have women candidates (or only men, if law says it), that too at high percentages of 33 or 50 is no good, and in any case an overdose that maims or kills.  This enforced reservation leads to several ills and it would be difficult to remove them as they get entrenched.  And it will have a sinister side effect too – of creating a needless men-versus-women issue and all the acrimony that comes with it.

So, as an Indian, if you object to a good slice of our elected political offices being reserved for women, it doesn’t mean you have malice toward the reservees.  It means you love your homeland. 

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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2016