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Judge nivedita mishra and her sense of justice

COMMENT By PREM CHANDRAN IT REQUIRED THE great sense of mental balance on the part of a woman judge in .....




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11-01-2017
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COMMENT

By PREM CHANDRAN

IT REQUIRED THE great sense of mental balance on the part of a woman judge in Delhi to call the bluff of India’s self-styled crusaders -- or selfish men and women -- who are out to “protect the dignity of women” in the country. Balancing is the base concept around which legal systems are built around the world over centuries, as judiciary’s emblem signifies, though this balancing is not necessarily practised by one and all among those engaged in justice dispensation. The judge in Delhi stands out among the others in the judicial system.

By a simple statement as part of a judgement this week, Special Judge of POSCO Act court in the capital, Nivedita Anil Sharma, has stressed that men in this country too have “dignity and honour” though no one, as she rightly noted, “discusses about it.” Indian media, activists and the politicians who are always out to fish in troubled waters and make segments of the society their vote banks, have in recent times gone too far, wherein there was a unilateral stress on the need to protect the honour of women – even as this worked in several cases to the grave disadvantage of men, of husbands harassed at home and of colleagues cornered in offices often to settle personal scores, with many of them taken to police stations and courts by women even on flimsy grounds.

It looked like, for a period, that a word from a woman could bring down a man’s reputation that was painstakingly built over the years, be it a judge as in the Justice Ganguly issue in the Supreme Court or a spiritual entity like Asaram Bapu, or a media personality like Tarun Tejpal. What was essentially a human weakness for a moment spoilt the reputation of these individuals for life, even granted that sexual exploitation in the real sense of the term is criminal in nature. Teachers are ending up in jail for the reason that they have been accused of “inappropriately” touching a student; street walkers have been put in prison for the reason that they have had a physical brush or contact with a woman coming from the opposite side (as has happened in a recent case in Hyderabad), and hundreds of thousands of men have been hauled up before law across the country in recent years for sending a sexually loaded text message on the mobile. It is true that in each of these cases, women made a hue and cry, even though in several cases they were game, to begin with, over a chat via the mobile phone or while engaging in a friendship.

There, for instance, is little reason for a woman to complain if and when she walks into a male-alone residence, spends time, and ends up facing a physical advancement. Law or no law, it is in the nature of human beings to have an attraction to the opposite sex. It started with Adam and Eve and remains as the foundation of human existence till today. A sensible way is to avoid landing up in such situations. But, several complaints and cases of rape today are based on such consensual sex or related advancements. (“He raped me for two years”, and a court takes note!) If a sense of shame prevented women from making public what’s essentially a personal matter, today it would appear several women take it as a matter of pride to target men with such insinuations. Note that even in the US, a week ago, a young actress has come up with a charge that former, ageing, President the Bush senior had inappropriately touched her while standing by him during a photo session. It gave her a thrill to coo, and brought her new publicity in the media waiting for sensational bytes.

What has led to the present situation of naming and shaming men in India was the coming into being of a new law promising protection to women in public places, which was enacted through a bill in Parliament after the gang-rape of a para-medic in Delhi that came to be known as the Nirbhaya case five years ago. It having happened at the time of the UPA II and there arose a public uproar in Delhi, Sonia Gandhi or those behind her saw an opportunity to use women as a vote bank by bringing in a new law for their special protection. It ensured that even a touch of or a sharp look at a woman can end a man up in jail if the woman makes a complaint thereof. Her word itself would suffice for evidence.

Sonia Gandhi, who lived in a glass house and cut from the realities of life in India, had little of exposure to the realities of crowded streets or public life thereof in this country. So with Sushma Swaraj, then leader of Opposition, who lent her able shoulder to see the bill through. She started public life as a leader, leading from the front, not having a chance to experience life in the ordinary public hangouts. In effect, what these two women leaders joined hands to introduce was a law that matches with the laws in fundamentalist Saudi Arabia or other sheikhdoms that still live with a Stone Age mindset in respect of social life. The Indian media, led mostly by spineless and senseless men who derive special pleasure in siding with all the right and wrong causes of women, as one sees day in and day out in TV prime time, predictably backed the new law to the hilt.

The media spared no thought, till this day, as to how this law’s overzealousness would adversely impact social life. Little wonder, a leading light in the media known for his crusading spirit on social issues, himself was among those who got caught in the implementation of the new law. The woman who accused Tarun Tejpal of sexual advances in a lift was known and dear to him for years as a co-worker. Her accusation broadly was that Tejpal misbehaved with her in a lift, on two occasions, while they were in Goa to participate in a conference. A natural question that arose then was how a victim of such misbehaviour would choose to join him again in a lift while ascending or descending, and then choose to file a complaint in public or a police case against him? No further discussion is required as the matter went to court and Tejpal continues in jail till today.

No society respects women the way Indians take care to do. This is common knowledge, though as in every society there are the rash, rowdy, aggressive male here too. It is true also that lots of women are at the receiving end of harassment by an essentially male chauvinistic society that dictates its own rules on how women should live. The scenario is worse with Muslim societies but Hindu women too are at the receiving end of male persecution especially in the lower rungs of the society. The educated, financially well-off women, on the other hand, generally do not put up with such harassment and would take matters before the law. Fact remains that most Indian men give respect to women both in society and in their homes even as they, by tradition, seek to effect controls in their women’s lives. European and other advanced societies have outlived such restrictions, and it is just a matter of time that women in India too would gain more freedom in their lives. It, for a fact, is already happening. Large numbers of them are now working women and the money they make for the family, or the positions they hold, gives them an added strength and respect.

There was no need for draconian laws as in Saudi Arabia or the other Gulf sheikhdoms to protect women here. The Indian Constitution accords every individual, male or female, poor or rich, equal rights and equal freedom. More of introduction of new laws, as was done during the UPA II period, were simply gimmicks to create vote banks out of women. The Nirbhaya case has come as an excuse for Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj, among others, to prove their commitment to the cause of women. At the same time, such an enactment of law resulted in a grave situation across the country and many men are seen ending up in jails for even minor indiscretions in public life, and not just on charges of rape. Where an admonition would do, as was the case in the past, prison is the answer today. There are several instances of consensual sex getting branded as rape due to failure on the part of the women to own up their actions or their unwillingness to face adverse situations. Several men are being framed across the country with ulterior motives. We are simply standing back and blinking at the way men as a tribe are getting framed into such situations. There is no one to talk up for them.

Nivedita Mishra, who took note of the helplessness of Indian male and stressed on the need to care for men too in the society –while she was acquitting a rape accused in a 20-year-old case as the charges against him were not convincing – deserves praise for her urge to remain true to the very spirit of the legal system and for her desire to build a just society by balancing the justice dispensation system by her own judgement. What of the struggle the youth underwent for the past 20 years, over unsubstantiated (possibly false) charges, the judge asked. Judge Nivedita Mishra, after all, does not survive by vote banks unlike a Sonia Gandhi or Sushma Swaraj. She survives by the strength of her learning of law. Let there be more judges in this country who live by the strength of their learning and convictions! premcee@gmail.com INDIA HERE AND NOW
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