Where are the women judges in India’s courtrooms?

The Supreme Court on April 11 frowned upon the practice of barring women between the ages of 10 and 50 years from the Sabrimala shrine in Kerala, asserting that religious practice and tradition could not be allowed to dent constitutional principles and values.

Questioning the validity of tradition which has been under attack from feminists and others, a bench of Justices Dipak Misra, V Gopala Gowda and Kurian Joseph said temple was a public religious place and it must observe the constitutional values of gender equality.

The judges said that the issue involved the question whether tradition could override the Constitution which prohibited gender discrimination. “Why this kind of classification for devotees to visit the temple? We are on constitutional principles. Gender discrimination in such matters is untenable. You cannot create corrosion or erosion in constitutional values,” the bench said.

Such strong statements by the learned judges prompted the author to visit the websites of the Supreme and five key high courts to ascertain the extent of gender equality in the judiciary. Here is the status as on April 12, 2016.

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Of the select courts, the percentage of women judges in Delhi High Court is the highest. Could the collegium system of the Apex Court find one only competent woman to be a judge? Did you know that from “1950 to November 2015 only six women became Supreme Court judges out of a total 229 judges appointed?”

India has had a woman prime minister and president but never a woman chief justice.

A November 2015 India Today report shares some interesting facts, “There are just 62 (9.2 per cent) women judges compared to 611 male judges (in high courts) in the entire country. In 24 state high courts, nine HCs did not have a single woman judge. Three high courts had only one woman judge.” Is this a case of gender discrimination or does it imply that only male judges possess the best legal brains and women are incompetent?

Look at the number of women doctors in our country and compare them with the number of women judges. Some might argue that women have taken to education recently in larger numbers. This is not true. Women in this country began taking to modern education even before independence and the pace picked up thereafter in virtually all fields, for example, the author’s mother and mother-in-law became doctors in the mid-1950s in Punjab and Madhya Pradesh respectively.

It can be argued that in the medical discipline, women doctors succeeded because they ran their own clinics or worked in hospitals where they did not need to navigate organisational politics. Fair point. All the more reason why India needs more women judges. Since they are grossly under-represented in terms of numbers, there is a clear case for affirmative action (not reservation). Certainly, there are enough women lawyers in all high courts who can be elevated to the bench.

According to a November 2015 Mail Today report, when a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice Khehar was in the process of inviting suggestions to improve the collegium system for the appointment of judges, a large number of female lawyers complained of “gender discrimination” in appointment of judges to higher judiciary.

When faced with such complaints, the respected Justice Khehar asked, “We would first like to know what the ratio of female advocates to male advocates is. That is very important. The ratio of female judges to male judges must be in the same ratio.”

I am inclined to respectfully disagree with this line of questioning. When under-representation of women in the judiciary is universally accepted, is it correct to compare the ratio of female to male advocates? Was the percentage reservation for schedules castes and tribes based on their population numbers or supposed backwardness?

Further, women lawyers told the court that would not be a fair criteria. “Please do not compare the number of women lawyers at bar and juxtapose it with the ratio of female and male judges. Women were allowed to practise in court only in 1922. Women face a lot of problems in practising in court. Despite that, they are coming out in large numbers to practice,” said senior lawyer Mahalakshmi Pavani representing the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association (SCWLA).

At the same meeting SCWLA also represented, “It is submitted that keeping the Article 14 (right to equality) and Article 15(3) (the power of the State to make special provisions for women and children) of the Constitution Of “India is a signatory to Conventions on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 1979, which envisaged removal of obstacles of women’s public participation in all spheres of public and private lives.”  The source of Article 14 lies in the American and Irish constitutions. Before we get into the question of gender equality, we have to answer some fundamental issues on the Justice system and fundamental flaws relating to its practice in India.

1. How adapted is a British system of justice to an Indian culture, ethos, identity and practice? Is the understanding of gender equality the same in Indian and Western societies? Let me elaborate. It is a long term fundamental flaw in our system, which has not been addressed or has perhaps not even entered the consciousness of our western educated judicial practitioners. While all humans are created equal, it does not mean they are the same. Same and equal are two completely different concepts.

Equality in the Hindu system does not mean we have one toilet for men and women, one set of dresses for men and women.

Why India? It is the same worldwide. In Hindu philosophy, we say the soul of men and women does not have gender in its spiritual state. But for practical purposes, two sexes are created based on physical differences by the Gods. These differences at times have to be respected and catered to just like there are separate toilets for men and women. By doing so it does not mean we are disrespecting and abusing the notion of equality.

2. Now coming to the issue before the Apex Court on whether the current practice at the Sabrimala shrine, of barring women between the ages of 10 and 50 years, should be changed. Hindu Goddesses have a wider following than Hindu male gods in many parts of the country. In the same vein there are certain religious places that are men exclusive and in equal breath there are certain temples that are women exclusive.

There exists a women-only temple in Kerala.  While 95 per cent of the temples are common to both sexes please understand that Hinduism treats both equally, and that does not mean that each and every function on earth has to be the same. At times for reasons of tradition, certain things are male specific and equally certain things have to be reserved for women. This is a fundamental difference between Indian and western thought.

If courts want to still force the issue of gender equality despite the arguments above they should do so. But keep in mind that the courts have to apply the law equally to all religions. That then would be real justice. The suggestion is either create a level playing field, or if the argument is that every community has its uniqueness, then let them cherish their uniqueness. You cannot have different rules for different people in the eyes of the law. We are repeating the mistakes made earlier by using British concepts of secularism and minorityism!

Are we willing to look within and change?

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Dardionu Rahat Fund- Helps 6 lakh poor patients

Starting with a small donation of Rs 10, this man has collected over Rs 10 crores to help 6 lakh patients who cannot afford to pay for their medical treatment. Read the story of Naginbhai Shah, an 86-year-old man who still works with the dedication of a 20-year-old to bring relief and hope to the lives of thousands in Ahmedabad. “Everyone lives. But to live while doing something for other people is what matters the most. I get complete satisfaction, loads of blessings and a lot of happiness. This is my meditation,” says 86-year-old Naginbhai Shah about his work.
Naginbhai is the founder of Dardionu Rahat Fund, an organization based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He has taken up the responsibility of helping patients who cannot afford medical treatment in hospitals – those who have no money to pay for their medicines, check-ups, surgeries, etc.
The Fund was born in 1964 with a small donation of Rs. 10 and, since then, Naginbhai and his group of volunteers have collected over Rs. 10 crores! They have helped with the treatment of more than 6 lakh patients.
“My son was about three years old when he fell sick and had to be admitted to the hospital. I was a middle class man back then and was searching for a job. I didn’t have the money required for his treatment,” recalls Naginbhai about the time when he first became motivated to do something for the underprivileged.
He had his asthmatic son admitted to the hospital for treatment and went to an old friend to borrow some money. On returning with a sum of Rs. 25, Naginbhai encountered a woman who had come from a nearby village. She was there with her eight year old son and was weeping when Naginbhai met her.
“I asked her why she was crying. After some hesitation she told me that her child needed an operation and the doctor had informed her that the total expenditure would be Rs. 25. She had come with only Rs. 10 from her village. And now, she was left with just Rs. 6. I don’t know what came over me but without thinking for a second I immediately gave her the Rs. 25 that I had borrowed,” he says.
Naginbhai had to go out and borrow some money for his son once again but he was happy that the child he helped recovered after the operation. “My son recovered too. And after some time I got a job as well. After that, I started believing that my job and my son’s health were all the result of the blessings of that woman,” he adds.
It was sometime around then that an idea began to take shape within him. “What if I came to the hospital for half an hour each day and helped one or two people with whatever money I could arrange?” he thought. The year was 1964. Naginbhai discussed the idea with some friends. He was amazed when he asked if they would be willing to help with Rs. 10 – they gave him Rs. 51 instead. “I was surprised. I was asking for small amounts and people were giving a lot more,” says Naginbhai.
And that’s how it all started. Naginbhai would regularly ride his bicycle to the hospital near his home, identify the people who needed help and take care of all their medical expenses with the money he had collected from his friends.
Today, after about half a decade, this generous man is still dedicated to his service. He has a team of five volunteers and they go out every evening at 5 pm to Sheth V. S. General Hospital, Jivraj Mehta Hospital, and some other hospitals in Ahmedabad. In the general wards of these hospitals, they move from one bed to another, talking to the patients there. They chat with them to find out where they are from, their professions, how much money they make, etc.
In this manner, they are able to identify those who need their help the most.
We ‘adopt’ these people and help them with everything they need – be it an MRI, a CT Scan, some medicines, an operation, or anything else. But we make sure that the patient does not go home untreated.” The small team raises money by speaking to people across the city – friends, acquaintances, family, strangers – anyone who can help them with funds. “Sometimes, when we reach the hospital, we find the doctors, staff and some patients waiting for us. The doctors ask those who cannot afford treatment to wait till we come,” says Naginbhai.
“We know what we do is just a drop in the ocean. We cannot go out and help every poor person who cannot pay his/her medical bills. But we have decided that whoever we help, we will help completely and won’t leave that person’s treatment half way. The money involved could be Rs. 10,000 or Rs. 50,000, or more. But once we tell a person we will help, we don’t back out,” he adds.
Naginbhai lives with his son who is working in Ahmedabad. He is extremely frugal with his expenses.
His team works with him for free and there are three trustees who help him take care of the finances of the Fund.
“My family does not support me a lot. But I have stopped expecting anything from them. The people support me. Donors send in money blindly. Last year, I collected Rs. 1.55 crores and spent Rs 1.48 crores on the patients. No money is spent on administration.”
His team also provides patients with fruits, hearing aids, artificial limbs, etc. It is mostly by word of mouth that donors reach Naginbhai. One such donor is Suresh Ruparel. He’s been associated with Naginbhai for the last five years.

“Once I visited a hospital and asked if I could donate money for someone and how I could find a genuine case. The hospital staff told me about Naginbhai. Actually, my mother died in that hospital and I could not reach in time. That’s why I really wanted to help someone there. Naginbhai maintains a very good relationship with all regular donors. I keep aside a portion of my salary for him every month,” he says.
Naginbhai sure has the blessings of the woman he first helped with Rs. 25. And many more now. We wish this 86-year-old a long life and many more years of dedicated service.
By Mahendra Galani

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Serving Humanity

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Arashdeep Kaur reaches out to the needy by organising free langars outside PGI.

They say charity begins at home. And living up to it is Arashdeep Kaur, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Social Work from the Centre for Social Work,of a Punjab University. Following in the footsteps of Padma Shri awardee Bhagat Puran Singh, founder of All India Pingalwara Charitable Society Arashdeep believes in ‘serving humanity’.

In-charge of the NGO Udham Emergency Blood Donation and Welfare Association, this girl has taken it upon herself to reach out to the needy by organising langars outside PGI. The NGO also helps raise awareness among University students about the importance of blood donation camps. She talks about it and more.

Motivational factor

One often wonders what inspires youngsters. Do they seek motivation from some pioneers or is it the values ingrained in them? Arashdeep says it is a mixture of both. She proudly states, “Bhagat Puran Singh, founder of Pingalwara in Amritsar — a house that tends to the destitute has always been a foundation of inspiration.”

Feathers In the cap

In-charge of PU-registered NGO Udham Emergency Blood Donation and Welfare Association, Arashdeep shares that the NGO, “Organisers drive to boost blood donation. The collections are sent to PGI, Fortis Hospital, Max Hospital, among others.”

Always upfront about her willingness to serve the society’, she raises funds for the needy’. After collection of enough funds, langar is held outside PGI. “Hordes of people satiate their appetite and go home with wide smiles, which gives me much satisfaction,” she says with a glint in her eyes.

Apart from mading contributions for the betterment of society through social work, she is also a passionate theatre artist. “I have been securing top positions in the Youth Festivals for my performances. In 2014, I waas awarded the second positioon for a Punjabi play,” she says.

Taking pride in her being an all-rounder, Arashdeep informs, “I am a district-level Kho Kho champion as well.”

Flipside of being an achiever

Arashdeep claims that social work gratifies her like nothing else. “There can never be a flipside to being a social worker. Extending a helping hand to the society is the most exhilarating experience ever,” she smiles.

Words of wisdom

“Serves the society selflessly and bring a smile to someone’s face is my mantra.” she smiles.

By  Manika AHUJA

The Tribune LIFE+STYLE on 24 Feburary2016

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Recording Studio opened

Disha- The Harbinger of social change, a voluntary change opened a recording studio for recording books for the benefit of the visually impaired in district Mohali, Punjab on the outskirts of Chandigarh. The students of the Masters in Social Work from Punjab University, visited the Disha’s activity complex where the recording studio has been established.

The students were apparised about the activities of Disha and the experiences of community work in the fields of women empowerment, child welfare, tree plantation, poster competition, distribution of clothing etc. were discussed. Several new areas of intervention were suggested by the university students.

Several students volunteered to donate their time for recording sessions some of them undertook to record audio textbooks at their hostels or homes; by disha.

Shri Prashant Sharma field supervisor of the Centre for Social Work Punjab University led the students.

By Chaitanya Mukund.

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Technology Saves Life

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Mr. Sanjeev Kamboj

A group of students led by Sanjiv Kamboj, a BDS student undertook to save lives by donating blood; in the hospitals and the blood banks, more than three years ago. The group has now multiplied to over 3000 members, all over Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. The group has been named Udham Emergency Blood Donation and Welfare Association and is now spreading to Delhi. The group functions through whatsapp only and has no regular office or documentation. Coordinators have emerged in different towns who inform the local groups regarding the requirement for blood or platelets, received from different hospitals or nursing homes. All the communications are through Whatsapp.

The president of the group Sanjeev Kamboj is now a student of MDS at Sirsa in Haryana and Whatsapp is the control tool by way of which several lives are being saved each day. Arashdeep Kaur is coordinating the group at Chandigarh but is disappointed that the PGI does not encourage girls to donate blood.

During the Dengue season, several calls from the hospitals for fresh platelet. This process of isolating platelets costs 2-3 hours to the students but with high motivation levels they do not diter and report to the blood banks or hospitals from 10-30 minutes of receiving a call. Accidental emergencies sometimes make the youngsters leave their bed and hostels for the noble cause.

Sanjeev Kamboj’s personal numbers 9888973864, 9783710013 have become the SOS numbers for Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh besides the personal numbers of coordinators in different cities. As if donating blood by the boys and girls was not enough; the group goes on to organise charity langars and distribution of woollens, books and stationary and other materials required by the poor and needy in the society.

The group has now started a website for documenting the contributions of its members called http://www.udhamngo.org/.

Next time you think of Whatsapp don’t consider it just a messenger for jokes and gossip. After all it is the Massiha and saviour for precious lives.

 

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