|Indian lawyer: the first to chuck stones for his own cause (pic courtesy: deccanchronicle.com)|
The litmus test of the Indian judicial system’s failure is the oft repeated threat between the litigants: “If you don’t behave, I shall take you to the court.” Whilst, on paper, the Indian law stipulates that a person is innocent until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt, in effect, as soon as your case is filed in any of the Indian courts, your punishment starts. Do you remember Mr. Bumble in Dickens’s Oliver Twist telling us that the law is an ass? What he meant was that the English law was stupid and very stubborn. I wonder what Mr. Bumble would have said after seeing Indian law in action: stubborn, stupid, archaic, chaotic, and suited to disgrace both the complainant and the defendant. Perhaps such an animal doesn’t exist but Indians are known to be beyond impossibility.
If your impression of the atmosphere in and around an Indian courtroom is based on Perry Mason novels or scenes in a Hindi movie, you are in for a shock when you go to an Indian court at the basic level. Even after the computers have been introduced, you would find disinterested court writers sitting everywhere like monkeys on a tree charging exorbitant sums for writing anything for you from an affidavit to a power of attorney. Most of them type with a finger each of the two hands. The reason why these johnnies earn their money is because the legalese in Indian court is kept as difficult as possible. It would remind you of a train arriving at the Chennai Harbour Terminus and stopping a hundred metres away so that people alighting would be forced to use the coolies. Fifteen minutes later, the train then goes right up to the concourse. Similarly, the great Indian judicial system makes it as inconvenient for you as possible until you learn through a painful experience that you could write the whole thing yourself and in better grammar than the court writers.
Indian lawyer is a hungry wolf. He has come far from the ideals of India’s most eminent barrister Mahatma Gandhi who left his office of profit to fight for India’s downtrodden. Nowadays, more often than not the Indian lawyer is hand in gloves with the lawyer of the other litigant so that both can usurp as much money as possible from both the parties. A friend of mine had a tenancy dispute in his house in Chandigarh. After years of paying fees and time dissipated one day he overheard his lawyer telling the wrongful tenant’s lawyer, “I think with a little bit of luck you can take the first floor of the house and I can take the ground floor.”
|Eminent Indian Lawyer Mahatma Gandhi; how far has the present Indian lawyer come from his ideals?|
Indian lawyers often tell the litigants, especially if they have spent life in a disciplined service like one of the armed forces, that they have no knowledge of the “intricacies” of the Indian legal system. One of the “intricacies” that the litigants learn about is that anything that sounds logical and reasonable is likely to be overruled. Very often, the litigants prepare the entire case, evidence, arguments etc themselves whilst the lawyers collect the fees.
Almost everything that you have to present in the court has to be typed on a stamp paper. This is the means by which the state is supposed to earn its revenue, say, from land deals. There is money for everyone here. It is only once in a while that a Rupees twenty thousand crores scam of counterfeit stamp papers involving one Abdul Karim Telgi is unearthed but, at the smaller level, hoodwinking people through stamp papers is an accepted practice. It is reputed that everyday more than Ten Thousand Crores are added to Indian black-money through under priced land and other deals. Who provides all these shortcuts to the people? The vakeel, who else? But, he/she never gives any shortcuts to his/her fees.
Whilst on the subject of land deals, let me tell you that if you steal some one’s money or other assets you can be jailed. However, in India if you steal some one’s land, you have the total freedom to use it for the next two decades or so until the court decides if it has actually been encroached upon or not. The Indian land-revenue record system, the ass that it is, actually encourages such a situation. Despite the urgent need to computerise land revenue records so as to do away with ambiguities, the land-revenue officials: the Patwari, the Tehsildar, the Kanungo, and the District Revenue Officer (DRO) get great powers and mischief value by keeping these records as flexible as possible. In my home state Himachal until very recently the records were kept on a latha (a thick white cloth) and the exact measurements on the latha to be compared with the scale would be subject to many interpretations.
|A ‘demarcation’ in progress|
The loopholes in the Indian legal system are the the bread and butter of the Indian lawyers; the more well versed one is in exploiting these to his client’s advantage, the better is his reputation as a successful lawyer. Thus, most of these “successful” lawyers get rid of the unwanted baggage of their scruples and ethics at a very early stage in their career.
That the Indian judicial system does not provide any hope to the law-abiding citizen totally escapes the attention of the law makers, judges, lawyers; indeed all those connected with the Great Indian Judicial System. As it is Indian cities now rank amongst the worst in the world in terms of quality of life. We certainly rank extremely low in our tortoise like judicial system. After a successful sting operation by Tehelaka, for example, it took a decade for BJP President Mr Bangaru Laxman to be convicted of bribery; and this when he was shot on camera taking bribe. The other day, in my hometown Kandaghat in Himachal Pradesh I went to see my lawyer and saw a folder with the title in Urdu. This was the prevalent language in this part of the world before Hiamchal became a state on 25th Jan 1971. At my query the lawyer admitted that indeed the land dispute case of his father’s client was taken over by him and had now become much complicated since both the litigant’s lands had been divided amongst the children, their spouses and grand-children. However, the lawyer assured me, as he must have done to his client, that “soon” there would be a decree in his favour. This, indeed, is the abiding faith of all concerned in the great Indian judicial circus: no matter how undignified it is now for you, no matter how many years of your precious life you have wasted fighting a meaningless case, no matter how much more you have lost than the original cost of your land; the future is still bright.
At one time the Indian judges were considered to be paragons of virtue and ethics. Nowadays, they too fall prey to the lure of quick money. Almost every third day in the papers one can read about some judge or the other facing Inquiry for illegal gratification and for usurping money. Therefore, whilst earlier despite all the delays the quality of Indian justice was somewhat lauded, nowadays, it is as suspect as the quality of any other Indian system.
One of the worst things that can happen to you is if you don’t reside in your hometown but your work has taken you thousands of kilometres away. In such a case, all that the other party has to do to bring you to your heels is to file a private criminal complaint against you. You will now be required to spend lakhs of rupees defending yourself. It would take years and years and finally even if you win the battle you have lost precious years of your life which no one can repay you.
Indian legal system is not just an ass; it is a complete circus of asinine animals.
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