LPPYF Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship is an Online National Summer School Program, a Two-Month Online Immersive Legal Awareness and Action Research Certificate Training Course and Internship Program, from June-August 2023 by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. An informative and interactive panel discussion on “Legal Hands-on Session-III: Legal Hands-on Session-III: Navigating the Criminal Justice System” was held on the 28th of June 2023 by Adv Dr Shalu Nigam, Visiting Senior Fellow IMPRI; Advocate, Author, and Researcher, Gender and Human Rights.
The session was chaired by Prof Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Distinguished Professor, at IMPRI. Professor Vibhuti Patel began the session with a quick recap of the sessions prior to this. She then briefly introduced the topics that were presented by the speakers today.
Adv Dr Shalu Nigam began the session by stating the purpose of the session as being able to understand what the criminal justice system is & its basic technicalities. In lieu of this, she discussed two cases.
DOWRY VIOLENCE CASE STUDIES
The first case brought to focus the issue of victim blaming in the system. It was the 1984 case of Sharad Birdichand Sarda, a Chemical engineer who had been found guilty of murdering his 20-year-old wife, Manjushree, by suffocation and oral administration of potassium cyanide. The Sessions Court & the Bombay HC had found him guilty. The Supreme Court had initially set him free. The evidence of violence & betrayal by the husband was ignored by the judge to construct an image of an overly sensitive woman who made unreasonable demands of undivided attention from her busy husband.
The Supreme Court later acquitted Sarda after studying the DD written by Manjushree Sarda, oral statements made by her parents, sister & friend about the ill-treatment meted out to her by her husband & his extra-marital relationship. This case became the focal point for feminist groups in Mumbai who led protests against the victim blaming that initially hindered the guilty person being acquitted.
The second case she discussed was Appasaheb vs. the State of Maharashtra in 2007. Bhimbai died because her parents could not fulfil the continuous demands of the dowry made by her husband & his mother. The post-mortem report revealed the cause of her wrongful death was insecticide poisoning. The Supreme Court decided that the conviction of the appellants could not be sustained. The Supreme Court opined that a demand for money on account of financial stringency or for bearing some urgent domestic expenses cannot be termed as a demand for dowry.
In this case, the dowry violence was mitigated as ‘domestic expenses’ by the court. The court dismally failed to perceive the element of coercion and continuous compulsive dowry demands made by the accused persons besides vicious torture and violence inflicted on a young woman in her matrimonial home.
Adv Dr Shalu Nigam further discussed another case of dowry violence in the Modinsab Kasimsab Kanchagar v State of Karnataka, 2013. In this case, Rajbee committed suicide because her mother couldn’t fulfil the INR 10,000 demanded by her husband after marriage to be paid towards a housing loan. Rajbee had informed her mother about this rampant harassment & stated that if the amount was not paid her life wouldn’t be safe. Rajbee was denied justice by the hierarchy of courts from the trial court to the apex court on technical grounds while framing the issue around the demand to pay housing loan as not being a demand for dowry.
The speaker then narrated a poem by the author Geetha cited in Hess, L. (1999).
THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM & THE LEGAL PROCESS
Adv Dr Shalu Nigam discussed the purposes & objectives of the criminal justice system followed by the instrumental theories of justice which look at the consequences of punishment for wrongdoing. The theories discussed were Utilitarian, Retributive and restorative.
She mentioned Thomas Babbington Macauley who established the Criminal Justice System in India which follows the legal procedures set by the British during the pre-independence era. The Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Evidence Act 1872 & the Code of Criminal Procedure were discussed. The various cases that brought about amendments in these acts were talked about.
She then explained the Adversarial system of justice that we have which includes a prosecution advocate & a defence advocate. Next discussed were the types of offences such as Cognizable and non-cognizable offences, bailable and non-bailable offences and compoundable and non-compoundable offences. FIR (First Information Report) was discussed in terms of what it is, how it is filed & what to do if it is not registered. She then laid out the Trial procedure.
Following this she discussed the Rights of complainants & survivors. Right to compensation, Nirbhaya funds in 2013 & section 439(2) were brought to notice. United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime & Abuse of Power recognised four major rights for victims of a crime, access to justice & fair treatment, Restitution, Compensation and assistance. The Rights of the accused that the system gives were discussed along with the details regarding the Arrest of women. The Right to keep silent, the principle of self-incrimination, the Right to be examined by a Doctor and other post-arrest rights were mentioned. Then the witness protection rights along with the Vulnerable witness scheme were discussed.
THE CRITIQUE OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
She then delves into the Critique of this system which sees ‘reasonable man’ as its basic unit & thus is based on patriarchal presumptions regarding male & female sexuality leading to the falling back of judges on this yardstick when dealing with offences against women. Adv Dr Shalu Nigam highlights the need for the system to be transparent & accountable for their work and also for it to be more victim & survivor-centred. She then continued to discuss the questions that were raised regarding the system and concluded her presentation with quotes from Wendy Brown & Nancy Fraser.
Prof Vibhuti Patel in her remarks highlighted the importance of the Manjushree Sarda case in terms of consciousness-raising about the anti-dowry campaign, the legal process & gender sensitization.
Acknowledgement: Priyanka Negi is a research intern at IMPRI.
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