Saturday, April 24, 2010

Prudence and Jurisprudence

She has had the opportunity to face the judiciary of the country, three times in her lifetime. No, she is not an accused, she has probably not committed what could be called a serious crime so far, and as far as she knows , has no enemies. Each time , it has taught her something new. Each time she has had several questions. Which remained basically unasked, most of the time, because, the judge was doing the asking. And you don't chit chat with the judge, as such.

Except once.

The first time, was when she had to apply for a duplicate school leaving certificate from her school, many many years ago. . A gentleman there explained that she would need to submit an affidavit (about having lost the original) in court, after which they would issue a duplicate. At this point it must be clarified that a school leaving certificate that displays a date of birth is greatly valued and is used as proof of age. It goes without saying that it is misused. And so duplicates are given only after an affidavit is submitted to the court.

Turns out that she needed an advocate. To say in terrible ungrammatical English, what she could have told the judge in 2 minutes, or written the affidavit herself. Besides , the judge needed to sign the stuff , and the advocate offered to "expedite " the delivery of the affidavit for a special fee. She was told that a lawyer was a must. So she submitted her details. Her maiden name, her married name, school name, timeline of events etc etc. Surprisingly no one asked for the marriage certificate which she was carrying with attested copies. The change in name needed, amazingly, no proof , and the lawyer gave her a look when she asked. They entered the courtroom in the next session, after passing through dark corridors lined with something that looked like lockups for thieves, and a few constables walking around with folks in manacles. She was told to sit, and go stand up in the dock when her name was called. When the event happened, she rushed up to stand in the dock, the lawyer person kind of stood up respectfully somewhere in an area up front. The judge asked her if she was indeed who it said she was. There were no photos anywhere, but he believed her. Gave her a look, gave the lawyer a look, and then signed something. The bailiff or whoever asked her to step down. End of story. The affidavit was duly collected from the lawyer, who went into "chambers" to get it stamped/signed etc.

Times have changed.

She had occasion to visit the Civil Court in another city for some certification pertaining to her late parents papers. This was within the last couple of years. That day , there was a terror alert in that city, and there were hundreds of cops everywhere , manning the various court gates. Her purse and papers were checked. They found the whistle that she carried to facilitate road crossings in Mumbai . And wondered. So she blew it and showed them how she used it, and they just waved her in. Anyone who made so much noise would be incapable of slinking in.

Here too, they waited to submit originals to the court. Her name was called, and her lawyer bowed, wished the judge and presented her case. All happening in a very quiet soft spoken way. The very considerate judge, noting that she came from another city, agreed to accept court verified copies instead of originals, to save her an extra trip. She stood in the box once again, in a small courtroom, amidst other waiting lawyers and the clerks of the court. But this was vastly different from her earlier experience. The judge almost appeared human.

But the most interesting interaction happened, around 20 yeas ago, outside the chambers of a High Court Judge, in the very impressive Mumbai High Court premises.

About 22 years ago, they adopted a little girl,as second child, a sister to a biological son. It took a year or so to get the various paperwork stuff done, along with the visits of the social welfare folks, etc, and the date for issuing the adoption deed was posted for a weekday in the summer. The little girl had been under their foster care all along, to enable everyone to bond as a family, and settled in wonderfully, and they looked forward to getting done with all the paperwork.

This was not done in a court room , as such, possibly because it did not involve public scrutiny or participation, and was a very personal thing relating to family and children.

Their name was called and they went into the judges august chambers with their advocate. The various home study and other documents were presented. The judge spoke to them very nicely. However, there was a fellow sitting to the side of the judge, who seemed to have something to say.

He represented a government social service council routinely at such events. He didn't seem to be listening to their lawyers comments, and the judges remarks. Then he piped up and expressed a doubt that since a biological child existed, the couples commitment to this new child would be suspect, if, say, the child later on showed physical or mental disability. To her it sounded like a theoretical objection, stated simply to prove that he had read his books . It also indicated to her that he was not paying any attention to the content of the documents presented in the case.

The judge nodded his head, and before they knew what happened, they were outside the chambers, with the lawyer shaking his head. Apparently, theses kind of objections happened routinely in cases emanating from certain orphanages. Some internal politics.

She was hopping mad. Things could not be like this. For heaven's sake, this was about the mind of a child. She was in tears, and sobbing her heart out, as she requested (actually , more like, demanded) the lawyer to get her an audience with the judge . They tried to pacify her, her little daughter wondered what all the excitement was about. But she expressed her total disgust with the Judiciary of India in general and Mumbai in particular, and insisted on an opportunity to see the judge. The lawyer managed to get her a chance to see the judge.

She wiped her eyes, stood up straight and went in respectfully. Asked the judge what the objection to the case was. And when he very kindly explained, that it was about safeguarding the child (vis-a-vis an existing biological child), in case there was a later developmental problem, she told him that she was prepared to sign an affidavit, on whatever value stamp paper they specified (the higher the value, the more serious the stuff), that not only would she and her husband undertake to take life long care of the little girl, irrespective of any known mental or physical disability that may befall her, but also would include any possible new sicknesses yet to be discovered, say for he next 10-15 years, or any period the honorable court specified.

The chambers were very awe inspiring, the judge a very senior person, and she was very respectful with all the "Your Honour" stuff, while she spoke. Quietly. Which was very uncharacteristic of her. She wasn't sure you could talk like this with a judge, offering suggestions and stuff, but the judge was willing to listen, and she had to prove her commitment to the child in a way that the Court understood. Her voice would break often, her eyes would blur with tears, but she quietly managed to tell her stuff and come out , thinking the rest was up to God.

The lawyer was called in. He was told that they needed to have an interview of their biological child with the Director of the social service set up (whose representative had so unimaginatively messed up everything). Once she okayed, the couple did not need to come to the High Court again, and the lawyer could just come and take the judges signature/stamp on the adoption deed. It was really a case of "going through the motions". The lawyer came out, relived and smiling.

It is another story that the said interview with the biological child did take place, during which the little girl, his sister, climbed all over the office, under tables and stuff, and generally had a great time being indulged by her parents and brother. The Director lady remarked that he family bonding was there for everyone to see, she fired her assistant for wasting every one's time, and urged him to pay more attention to people than to rules in archaic English which could be interpreted in many ways. She also expressed her regret to the family , for having to bring a little boy for an interview with her, like this.

The family walked out, having cleared the last hurdle. On a hot searing summer afternoon, they all enjoyed an ice cream together, before taking the crowded train back to the suburbs.

That was 22 years ago.

She doesn't curse the Indian Judiciary system any more. Barring a few instances. She still respectfully remembers the name of the judge. He retired a few years ago.

She often wonders what the judge must have thought , of her suggesting affidavits and stuff; which was actually something the judiciary was supposed to do. She often wonders if people sob outside those august judges' chambers, like she did, and whether, the judge simply took his decision, to avoid seeing her again and making a scene. But her lawyer was overheard telling some folks that "madam decided to take things in hand and requested a meeting, and that's why things happened the way they did.". So she thinks , it is OK.

There is something about being fearless and not fearing authority. But it takes an understanding judge to allow someone like her, inside his chambers to make a representation.

Jurisprudence. There was a lot of ' Juris ' stuff happening. She is not just sure about the "prudent" part. More like Juris-pushy, maybe from her side :-)......


  1. WOW! Speechless... and blurry-eyed.

    I'm going to think about the whistle to lighten the mood !

  2. Amazing .... loved this tale. Who is this?

  3. Your grit and ability to take things on the might of Powai traffic with the whistle...obviously has deeper moorings !

    By and large, we are well off as a society. We have a decent judiciary. And to the ones that stand up, the truth stands by !

    Pity is, one needs to stand up to be counted. Am so glad you do. You continue to be a great inspiration !

  4. Thanks for this moving account, Suranga! You're certainly a remarkable person!

  5. That was a nice touching post. I happened to read part two of the blogadda interview that featured you. And a link to a post in April2009. Like Maju says - you are truly a remarkable person.

  6. ArundhatiThank you. If you need anything more to lighten the mood, just search my entire blog using "whistle" :-) 2 more whistle posts...

    Ritu Thank you. I think your answer is amidst these comments....:-)

    Kavi Thank you. I guess we really do have a pretty good judiciary. About "standing up to be counted", I was almost jumping up and down to get counted :-)....

    Manju Thank you. But I thought the judge here was actually the remarkable one. He could have ordered me out. If this was an actual courtroom he would have cited me for contempt of court with all that sobbing and cursing the judiciary....

    Radha Thank you. You know you never forget some episodes. For a moment there I thought I had lost my daughter. As you know, Hell hath no fury etc etc. And my thinking went into overdrive. But like I said to Manju above, the remarkable person here was the judge who agreed to listen to me...

  7. Hats off to the Judge and the mother.
    the entire post has a very positive overtone. I read it again and again . I wish that all the Judges in India are so humane, so willing to listen and see beyond what apparently meets the eye.

  8. It's fabulous reading this...I always think that we are willing to crib and complain and criticise, but never to bring out the good experiences to counter that.

    Eye-opener to read about your appearance before the court 22 years ago! These days, people with birth children adopting their second one is so commonplace that it's become a routine matter. Our court appearance was a total anti-climax...the judge must've looked at us for half a second. When I think of all the nerves and speeches I had ready, and the ehxaustive arrangements to have the 2 children taken care of, because we were not supposed to bring them to court....and he just signed and granted the order to adopt! Brings new meaning to the term 'fast-track'!!!

  9. kirti Well, certainly to the judge. For a long time, I was very angry with the judge and the system. I think seeing things when you are older, gives you a better view of things. 22 years is a long time. Things are at peace now....

    starry Thank you. Maybe things have changed now. Maybe they havent. I am told that there are certain orphanages which are treated with kid gloves ,and some are given a hard times regarding documents and questions. Our beaurocracy has to still learn that the life of a little child is the supreme consideration. Hopefully things are changing for the better. (But for a moment there, the entire year swam in front of my eyes and I thought I had lost her....)....

    At that time there was only one track, the difficult track :-)

  10. What a wonderful person you are! Yes, it was your fearlessness and the judge's benevolent wisdom that won the day.

  11. This post brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes the law doesn't understand the heart... but the heart made the law listen. Beautiful.

  12. Hats off to you. The judge must have been quite surprised by what you said. :). Standing ovation to you.

  13. The more I read of your life, Suranga, the more I admire you. You always seem to come up with the right solution to a problem, whether it is yours or someone else's. You are a very wise woman.

  14. dipali Thank you. It looks wonderful now, but it was really the judge agreeing to see me that did the trick. He could have said no. But he took a human rather than theoretical view of things. Many officials do not have that capability.

    Aleta Thank you. I actually relived those moments while writing the post.....but there is something one has learnt about not giving up when you have done nothing wrong.....

    Shilpa Thank you. Dont know if the judge was surprised. But I think he understood the strength of my logic. He needn't have replied as he did (to the lawyer later), but i think he realized I was genuine :-)

    Darlene I think I learnt this problem solving/application of mind stuff from observing my mother. It was an education without going to any school. You know , one takes these things for granted, but one has to be very grateful to family for imbibing these things in us.

  15. Every post of yours makes me think how strong a woman can be and the answer is limitless.

    You've a way with writing in such wonderful words !!! Very well written !!! Kudos to your strength !!! :)

  16. You were terrific Suranga!! The judge must have understood very clearly that you were such an awesome parent for your daughter :)

  17. if this is ugich konitari...we don't need special people :) lovely!