"Bring About Positive Change Not By Exhortation But By Example": Ms. Maja Daruwala At The IDIA Annual Conference 2018

"Bring About Positive Change Not By Exhortation But By Example": Ms. Maja Daruwala At The IDIA Annual Conference 2018

The recently held IDIA Annual Conference on "Law and Story Telling" saw eminent panelists comprising of academicians, technologists, legal educators and story-tellers share stories about the role of law in the fight for justice.

The panel was moderated by Prof. Shamnad Basheer, Founder and Managing Trustee of IDIA, and comprised of:

(i) Mr. Carl Malamud, President and Founder of Public.Resource.org,

(ii) Prof. (Dr.) Mool Chand Sharma, Professor of Law, University of Delhi,

(iii) Ms. Maja Daruwala, Senior Advisor, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative,

(iv) Prof. (Dr.) Nandini Sundar, Professor, Delhi School of Economics, and

(v) Ms. Simi Srivastava, Founder of Kathashala.

Prof. Basheer introduced the panelists and shared stories about how he met each of them. He also shared a story about how during his college days, a chance internship with a women's rights organisation (Hengasara Hakkina Sangha) led him toward social justice lawyering.

Carl Malamud: Not an Activist

Mr. Malamud said he has been called an 'activist', but that he did not like the term! He said he preferred Gandhiji's characterization of 'public workers', people trying to make their society better. He'd been working tirelessly for many years on access to knowledge and stressed: "access to knowledge is a necessary way to solve some of the bigger problems, it is a precondition to attacking some of these other very serious problems."

The Art of effective Story Telling

Speaking about why a story is important, Mr. Malamud said, "If you're going to change something important, you've got to be able to explain to people why." He believed that the best story-teller in history was Gandhiji, who told convincing stories to himself, his followers and the government to bring about important changes.

Mr. Malamud said that the way to effectively convince someone to change something, by making them accept your suggestion, was not by telling them that the entire existing narrative was wrong, but to explain honestly how some of the existing things were right while some weren't and how to go about fixing what was not right. That, he said was his philosophy of storytelling.

Why make access to public safety codes difficult?

Mr. Malamud then shared a story about public safety codes. He said, "In India the National Building Code costs Rs.14,000/-, copyright is asserted over there, so even if you paid the Rs. 14,000/- you're not supposed to copy it off, if you bought the Fire Safety Code and you want to make copies for your fellow fire fighters, you're not allowed to do that, and the fiction is that these are voluntary standards, that they're not the law. Now I don't believe that, and I set out about ten years ago to change that."

Mr. Malamud described how he bought all 19,000 Indian Standards and posted them on the internet. Not only that, he made them available in better and easily accessible digital formats, usable by the public including by the visually impaired, in various forms, all for free. He said he did not believe that the standard development organisations needed the money that they made off of selling the public safety codes and that the people who were given access to the codes for free actually wanted to read them, because after he uploaded the Indian Standards, there were millions of users accessing them. He explained how he has had to tell this story several times and is presently fighting a public interest litigation on the issue. According to him, "You're going to hear a story about why things are the way they are and if you want to change that, you need to tell a different story."

Mool Chand Sharma: Why I became a law professor

Prof. Sharma said that earlier in his life, he had decided to become a judge. However, having completed the LL. B. course, he said he was frustrated because he had had several questions about how certain laws were being interpreted and articulated, why certain judgments/cases read a certain way, etc. Whenever he raised these questions in class, they either got more compounded or went unanswered. He said that is what made him decide to become a teacher, a moderator in a classroom which he said is more important "if you really want law to have a speaking relationship with justice".

Prof. Sharma warned the audience: "lawyering makes you adversarial…and you compromise ethics." Then he went on to add, "The first need is for the Bar Council of India, legal profession, law schools...to give sound learning…and learning cannot be done without sharing stories about how, when a lawyer takes an unethical stand, what kind of consequences can follow..."

Dream, to create a beautiful Story!

Prof. Sharma described the struggles he faced and how he had to attend to 5 different jobs while attending law school and how he was struggling to feed his family and had very humble beginnings, but he had great dreams and believed he could conquer the world. He went on to describe the long journey that he has taken from polishing shoes in Delhi, to where he is today. Prof. Sharma encouraged everyone to dream by saying, "you are the maker of your story…if you don't dream, you can never create a beautiful story...and remember no story will ever come to an end..."

Maja Daruwala: First Brush with Discrimination

Ms. Daruwala began by recounting a story from her childhood. She said her father was in a transferable job, and there was a time when her family was travelling by ship to the U.K. via the Cape of Good Hope. She said that was the time when Apartheid was at its peak, and having lived a sheltered life, she wasn't aware of it. Upon reaching the Cape, she recalled going on a tour of the place with her mother and her sister. She said at one point, her sister, having never been on an escalator, rushed towards one that she saw at a departmental store, and her mother followed behind her sister, leaving Ms. Daruwala alone for about 5 minutes. Ms. Daruwala recalled how the lady guide on the tour held her back and told her that she could not go inside the departmental store and asked her to go sit on a bench outside, which she did. She waited outside, confused, until she saw a sign on the door of the store, that said 'Whites Only', that is when it struck her that her mother and sister had very fair skin, while she didn't. Calling that incident, the first time in her life that she faced discrimination, she said that it made her feel immense shame about her skin colour. She said it was also the first time that she felt alienated from her sister and mother and felt completely alone. She recalled that incident as one that helped her understand her own privilege and taught her to empathise with all those who are excluded, marginalized and beaten down by others and it taught her to fight for equality and for equity in the best way she knew how.

Bring about Positive Change not by Exhortation but by Example

Ms. Daruwala said when she started studying to become a lawyer, at the age of 32, when she had had experiences outside of her sheltered life, the first subject she turned to was jurisprudence, which she said gave her the words to articulate what she was feeling inside for a while. That made her decide to help others who couldn't articulate their thoughts in words. She said she has tried to spend her life trying to change policy, hoping to make at least a tiny change which would help millions.

She recounted some of the negative experiences she has had with the legal profession in the country and the 'debased lawyering' she has encountered. She emphasized that there is no use of the legal system or free legal aid, in view of the sheer lack of empathy in the system. She had some great advice for the law students in the audience, and addressed them saying, "You can't change an ecosystem by exhortation, you can change it by example..."

Nandini Sundar: Learning from Alternative Justice Delivery Systems

Prof. Sundar started with a story from the time when she was at Bastar, a village in Chhattisgarh, between 1991-1993. She said that one of the incidents that she remembered most clearly from her time in there, was one where a man had committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree. She said that the villagers were scared that the police would come and harass them and accuse them of murdering him, so they untied him and hung him by a tree in a neighbouring village. The villagers from the second village also got scared and untied him and hung him from a tree in a third village. The third village decided that they cannot continue that way, so they collected Rs. 500/- from each house and gave the money to the police, so that the police wouldn't harass them. Prof. Sundar said, "that is really symptomatic of the kind of relationship that the villagers in that area had with the police, because the only thing that the police meant to them was harassment. Nobody really took cases to the court or to the police and most cases were settled within the village." She emphasized on the importance of non-state law, including Adivasi law, where the focus is on restoration of peace and relationships between the wronged parties, as being much more efficacious when compared to state law in delivering justice in many such places.

Referring to the Maoists in Bastar, she said that one of the reasons why people approached them and began supporting them was precisely because they delivered justice for free, unlike the traditional justice delivery system. Therefore, despite the fear of consequences of violating any decision made by the Naxalites, people would often go to them to receive a fair hearing for free.

She narrated several heart-breaking accounts of how villagers were presumed to be Naxalites and killed, without receiving an opportunity of being heard, because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. She spoke about how her job was to bring cases from the villages like Bastar to the lawyers and have them translated for the lawyers, and then the lawyers would present the cases before the courts, but in this process, she said she felt that a lot of the small details were being missed, many of the compromises being made by the villagers were not understood in the right context because of the glaring gap in communication. She emphasized repeatedly through her stories that recognizing alternative and unique modes of resolving disputes in a manner that suits the sensibilities of people belonging to parts of the country which are very remote and have different ways of life so as to enable and empower them to tell their stories and be heard and receive justice, was of utmost importance.

Simi Srivastava: Miscarriage of Justice

Ms. Srivastava shared a very special story, about her father, Mr. Singh, who was born in Amritsar. She explained how having lived through a difficult childhood, he had finally settled down in New Delhi and had a family of his own and a job as a driver at one of the ministries. Upon the death of his step-mother, Mr. Singh received a summon stating that the two houses which form part of his ancestral property in Amritsar were under dispute. Mr. Singh fought a case for his share in the property for 27 years. He was extremely unlucky in that the lawyer he hired was corrupt and duped Mr. Singh by falsely changing his statement regarding the receipt of his share of the property, which made Mr. Singh lose his rights to the house he grew up in which deeply saddened him. Later, even though Ms. Srivastava tried to help her father by hiring a different lawyer in Chandigarh, who quoted a high fee and showed her hope of winning the case, it yielded no results since the case was barred by limitation.

She sounded heartbroken as she disclosed that her father had passed away recently without ever getting an opportunity of going back to his childhood home. She expressed her anger at the corrupt advocate who duped her father and deprived him of his right. She says that this was one of the main reasons she accepted the invitation to speak at this conference, as she was very keen in participating in a process that would hopefully yield a more ethical set of lawyers (namely the IDIA scholars).

How to be a good storyteller

Describing the elements of good storytelling, Ms. Srivastava said that the ability to make the listener visualize or see the story unfold before their eyes was the guru mantra of good storytelling! She then narrated a story using her unique storytelling gifts to showcase as to how to tell a good story.

She also emphasized on how storytelling goes both ways and that it was important not just to focus on being a good storyteller, but also to be a good listener. She said it was important, when dealing with a client as a lawyer, to make the client comfortable and encourage them to share their story and listen so as to not miss the finer points.

On this point, Mr. Rajiv Luthra, who was in the audience, added that he noticed that the younger generation had the tendency to listen just to reply, and not listen to just listen. He advised, "please listen to listen, because when you reply without listening, you can only reply what you know, there is a possibility [that] if you listen you might know two more things and your reply may be that much better."