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The DAKSH podcast attempts to simplify the law and justice system for the regular Indian citizen. DAKSH is a Bangalore-based non-profit working on judicial reforms and access to justice. Through this podcast we want to explore the nuances of law and justice. We will talk to experts in various areas of this domain and discuss our own research. Join us in this journey to understand how the complex and often forbidding law and justice system affects our everyday lives and why we should care about it.
Many of us, consciously or subconsciously, are heavily influenced by popular media and film and legal court dramas are no exception. They, in equal parts, entertain and educate. In this episode, we spoke to Anushka Shah, the founder of Civic Studios and Chaitanya Tamhane,
the writer and director of the nationally and internationally lauded Marathi film, ‘Court’. Anushka Shah strongly believes in the power of entertainment to bring change. Her organization, Civic Studios, notes that “a good story and set of characters can bring attention to ignored issues, create awareness of rights and duties, and model exemplary actions to help ‘fix-the-system’.” Chaitanya, on the other hand, has created an exceptional piece of art through his movie, “Court”, that exemplifies the type of art Anushka has been rooting for. The film follows the trial of a protest poet and singer who is accused of abetting the suicide of a manhole worker to reveal the systemic issues of bigotry and injustice in society and the judicial system.
We chatted with Anushka and Chaitanya about the role of art in social change and the moral responsibility of artists, especially in the depiction of a courtroom drama. In the process, we explored the importance of empathy in building characters, realism in cinema and how conveying the fragility of the individual in a complex and unpredictable system transcends the courtroom.
In Episode 9 of the DAKSH Podcast we discussed “de-notified tribes” or “vimukta” communities and what they show us about policing culture in India. They are communities that were notified under a colonial legislation –
the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 – as people who, by birth, are “addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences.” Though this Act was repealed after India gained independence, discretionary powers of the police coupled with social stigmas of the judiciary continue to haunt these communities, many of whom are subject to oppression, surveillance and imprisonment, sometimes without even being convicted by a court of law. We talked to Nikita Sonavane, co-founder of the Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project in Madhya Pradesh about her work with these communities, the origin of the idea that some people can be labelled criminals by birth and how this prejudice and injustice lives on in the India of today. More importantly, Nikita asks some crucial questions about our tendency to look to the police for solutions to problems that have little to do with law and order. In the wake of the pandemic we are experiencing, she dares us to reimagine legal and policy responses to public crises rather than let only some marginalised groups take the fall.
In Episode 8 of the DAKSH Podcast, we discussed custodial violence and the broader issue of access to justice for women in the background of the movie Jai Bhim and Justice Chandru’s book Listen to my case.
Widespread custodial violence has become an accepted feature of our policing system. The issue has been spotlighted in the recent film Jai Bhim which is based on the real-life story of Parvathy, a woman belonging to the Irula tribe who approaches the Madras High Court to find her husband who is falsely arrested for theft and after severe custodial torture purportedly escapes from prison. The film also highlights the obstacles faced by women accessing justice. According to the data from the DAKSH Access to Justice Survey 2016 only 15% of the litigants interviewed were women. Justice Chandru’s book Listen to my case describes the stories of 20 women who approached the Madras High Court for justice.
Our guest today is Justice Chandru, former judge of the Madras High Court who has one of the most prolific rates of disposal for any judge in the country. He has also written a book called Listen to my case which has twenty short accounts of bold and courageous women who have approached courts for redressal of a range of injustices. More recently Justice Chandru has been in the news as the inspiration for Suriya’s character in the Tamil movie Jai Bhim. Jai Bhim is based on the real-life story of Parvathy, a woman belonging to the Irula tribe who approaches the Madras High Court to find her husband who is falsely arrested for theft and after severe custodial torture purportedly escapes from prison.
According to surveys, public procurement, access to public services, and regulation in India are prone to high degrees of bias, corruption and misalignment with public welfare. An ideal at the heart of good governance reform is “public accountability”;
we frequently hear calls for greater accountability of government actors – both within public institutions and to the public at large.
In Episode 7 of the DAKSH podcast, we speak to Dr. CK Mathew, a former bureaucrat and current academic, researcher and author with an interest in challenges before the Indian administrative state. Dr. Mathew weighs on how he thinks about public accountability – who owes it, to whom and how; how it affects the morale and functioning of administrators, and what elements are necessary for ‘accountability’ to drive towards improved development indicators. Drawing on his experience working with politicians and civil society, Dr. Mathew explores institutional and public experiments with accountability and unpacks what this concept means to him.
The death penalty is a deeply polarising topic in India. People who justify and oppose it hold deeply held often emotional reasons for their views. Most of Europe has abolished the death penalty but India does not seem to be considering such a move.
In fact in recent years the clamour for capital punishment epecially for rapists has only grown louder. At the end of 2021 when this episode was recorded, the numer of prisoners on death row stood at 488, the highest in 17 years, according to the Death Penalty in India Report.
On Episode 6 we spoke to Dr Anup Surendranath who is the Executive Director of Project 39A (formerly the Centre on the Death Penalty) and an Assistant Professor of Law at National Law University, Delhi. His involvement with the death penalty our topic for today began in May 2013 by establishing and leading the Death Penalty Research Project that culminated in the Death Penalty India Report that was released in 2016. The project, first of its kind on the death penalty in India, interviewed all of India’s death row prisoners and their families towards developing a socio-economic profile of death row prisoners and also mapping their interaction with the criminal justice system. Today Anup joins us to help us unpack and understand how capital punishment plays out in India.
In Episode 5 of the DAKSH Podcast we discussed undertrial detention in Indian prisons. One of the tragedies of the Indian prison system is the high proportion of undertrial prisoners (around two-thirds).Undertrial prisoners are kept in prison while awaiting trial or during their trial.
The high proportion of such prisoners in our system has not budged in the last 3 decades since the issues started getting media and judicial attention. Prolonged undertrial detention violates their rights to liberty and fair trial, and adversely impacts their lives and livelihood. The overuse of undertrial detention effectively ends up punishing people before they are convicted, and makes a mockery of their right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. This week we chatted with Dr Vijay Raghavan about undertrial detention in Indian prisons. Dr. Vijay Raghavan is a Professor at the Centre for Criminology and Justice, TISS and the Project Director of Prayas. Prayas has been working for the past 30 years towards rehabilitation and social reintegration of persons in prison, women rescued from commercial sexual exploitation, and children in conflict with the law.
This womens’ day, we reflect on the contributions of the women members of the Constituent Assembly that framed our Constitution. The Constituent Assembly was formed in 1946, before India gained independence. The Assembly consisted of 389 members, out of whom 15 members were women.
Each of them had extensive experience in the national freedom struggle and local movements relevant to their place of operation. They also shaped the Indian womens’ movement and balanced these interests with nationalist goals. Along with this, they faced the challenges of sexism within the constituent assembly and patriarchal mores in their personal lives, all of which contributed to their ideas of what a future India would look like.
In episode 4 of the DAKSH Podcast we spoke to Priya Ravichnadran, an independent analyst in the field of politics and policy making who has written extensively about the women in the Indian constituent assembly in her blog ‘15 for the republic’. We explored with her, the motivations, experiences and rich lives of these women – both inside and outside the Constituent Assembly and mused on how far we are from the idea of India they had worked for.
Priya Ravichandran’s blog available at https://15fortherepublic.wordpress.com/
The Constituent Assembly Debates available in the Parliament’s digital library at https://eparlib.nic.in/handle/123456789/4
Speeches of the women members of the Constituent Assembly https://rajyasabha.nic.in/rsnew/publication_electronic/Selected%20Women%20Speech_Final.pdf
Priya Ravichandran, The Women Who Helped Draft Our Constitution, Mint https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/dLi6ZIdW6CgswZCGdOA9VM/The-women-who-helped-draft-our-constitution.html
In Episode 3 of the DAKSH podcast, we are joined by Chethana V, a family lawyer practising in Chennai. Family courts are interesting in many aspects and Chethana sets the tone for this insightful discussion on how these courts function.
In the context of family law, the citizens are often overwhelmed by the litigation process and so we discuss how we can improve access to information on family law related disputes. The hold of religion over the framing of family laws, the stigma attached with matrimonial disputes, the status quo of the LGBTQ community as regards family law – all come together in this interview with Chethana.
In Episode 2 of the DAKSH Podcast, we discussed public interest litigation in the higher judiciary in India. A PIL or public interest litigation is a petition that an individual, group or organisation files in a high court or the Supreme Court that has a larger public interest. PILs are central to how Indians view the higher judiciary in India.
They are seen as a simple means for citizens to access these courts and claim their rights or the rights of communities they represent. However a deeper look at the consequences of easing procedural standards and the non-representation of affected parties in such cases raises some disconcerting questions.
This week we chatted with Anuj Bhuwania who will help us peel the layers of the onion that public interest litigation has become. Anuj is a Professor at the O.P. Jindal Global University in Sonipat. He is the author of ‘Courting the People: Public Interest Litigation in Post-Emergency India’, the subject of today’s discussion. Anuj in his book has studied PILs related to the national capital of Delhi in some detail and revealed some disturbing trends often overlooked in the glorified coverage of PILs in the media
In Episode 1 of the DAKSH Podcast we discussed policing in India. The police are at the frontline of the criminal justice system yet they are possibly the most feared and the least trusted arm of the system. Every time there is a high profile incident of police excess there is talk of police reform. Yet as the saying goes the more things change the more they remain the same.
In this episode we chatted with Vipul Mudgal who helped us understand the nuances of the policing system better and suggest paths to reform. Vipul is the Director and Chief Executive of Common Cause. Common Cause is a Delhi-based organisation that has been in the vanguard of the campaign for probity in public life and integrity of institutions. Over the years, it has earned a reputation and credibility for its initiatives, advocacy and public interest litigations (PILs). Common Cause periodically publishes the Status of Indian Policing Report an indepth evaluation of policing across India through an analysis of official data and elaborate perception surveys.