"For The Last 10 Years My Civil And Political Rights Are Under Attack" Says Senior Advocate Ms. Indira Jaising On Constitution Day
Senior Advocate Ms. Indira Jaising on Saturday said, "I find myself in a situation where I have worked all my life to protect civil and political rights, but I find my own civil and political rights under attack."
Ms. Jaising was speaking at a Constitution Day talk titled "Constitution Through The Ages" where she was also delivering the Inaugural lecture. She said, "While people of my generation fought for social and economic justice, we also took our rights for granted. We thought that civil and political rights cannot be attacked. However, speaking for myself, I find that for the last 10 years my own civil and political rights are under attack."
She further said, "I find myself in a situation where I have worked all my life to protect civil and political rights, but I find my own civil and political rights under attack. I also find the civil and political rights of minorities, of intellectuals and activists under attack."
Ms. Jaising started off her talk by referring to herself as one among the Midnight's Children who were born during Independence. She said, "...I consider myself as one of Midnight's children. Which also qualifies me to speak on the Indian Constitution. There aren't many people who still have a memory of India's first Independence Day."
While speaking of her own trajectory as a lawyer and where she draws the inspiration for her work. She said, "My own work in the legal profession has been inspired by the directions I found in the DPSP. This was the one big takeaway for me. For people who came during the times of the Independence movement or soon thereafter, we were surrounded by people who had been through the days of the freedom struggle and spoke of the values that inspired the independence movement. They lived and worked with those values. I was in search of those values and found them in the DPSP."
She further said that she has also drawn inspiration from remarkable judges who shaped the PIL movement in India. She said, "I have also been influenced by certain judges. They were in the Supreme Court and are not alive anymore. Justice Krishna Iyer and Justice Bhagwati. The contribution they made to the PIL movement. The movement that I no more recognise."
While talking of the PIL movement in detail, she said that J. Bhagwati believed that the reason why the locus standi rule had to be relaxed and well informed people be allowed to come and raise issues before the court was that a large part of the Indian population was poor and illiterate. They found their problems unaddressed in an adversarial system of justice dispensation. She said, "That was the basis of PIL".
On the question of Citizenship and what it means to be an Indian citizen, Ms. Jaising said "Today is Constitution Day. What does the Constitution give us? It grants us citizenship. What does it mean to be a citizen of India?"
Recalling a courtroom exchange with Solicitor General Tushar Mehta in a case where she had cited a case law from the UK, the Solicitor General had turned around to Ms. Jaising, and remarked "We are all nationalists. We refer to judgments only from India." Ms. Jaising said, "I replied and said "As far as I am concerned, I consider myself an Internationalist… Rights flow freely across the world. As a citizen of the world, It is my job to consider and grab ideas from across the world." That was my first definition of citizenship. Next, If I consider myself a patriot, a nationalist, it means to participate in day to day making of the Constitution. You and I make the Constitution everyday. We make it everyday in court, outside, in our interactions, etc."
Ms. Jaising concluded her talk by saying that the Indian Constitution isn't frozen in time. She remarked "I am proud of the fact that I consider myself as someone who has contributed to the 'being' of the constitution. The forward movement of the constitution will always remain. It was before I was born, it will be after I will be gone and will always be even when all of us have gone."
Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra, who was also invited as a guest speaker for the session, delivered her talk and focussed on the profession of law essentially being one of delivering service. She said, "As lawyers we should all have objectives. My own ambitions as a lawyer has been to provide justice… To be there whether it is a woman, a minority or a person who may need help. Although in today's world, the business of lawyering has become a business of money making. We should not go away from the fact that it is a service. It is a profession which you pursue as a service we provide to humanity."
She also called upon lawyers and law students to speak truth to power and not shy away from stating uncomfortable facts. She said "Sometimes we as lawyers need to sacrifice our personal cozy place, our comfort zones where we don't want to speak up because it's always easy to not speak up. But if we don't speak up then who else will."
Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde spoke at length about the Indian constitution making and the history of the Constituent Assembly. He said, "We don't realise that the Assembly that was designed did not have a clear mission statement, it wasn't chosen on the basis of Universal Adult Suffrage. Independence wasn't inevitable."
Elucidating the several hurdles that came in the way of the Constituent Assembly, he said "We went on to draft a Constitution that is the longest written constitution in the world."
Mr. Hegde also spoke at length on the inclusivity within the Constituent Assembly. He said, "The Assembly was assisted by Dr. Ambedkar. Dr. Ambedkar was not on the Congress's side. He was infact elected from a seat in Bengal that went to Pakistan. His inclusion in the assembly happened because of the Congress's support and that too, on the advice of the Mahatma. Ambedkar couldn't stand the Mahatma all his life."
Mr. Hegde concluded his speech by paying tributes to modern day women who have fought against the state and those in power to uphold the Constitution and its values. He said, "Let me pay tribute to some remarkably stubborn women who have upheld the constitution more than any of us. The women at Shaheen Bagh who said this law is wrong and sat there in protest…The girls of Uduppi who were told you will have to take off your head scarves if you want education. They stood up against power. They did not win in the High Court or the Supreme Court. But they are stubborn women in this sense."
Senior Advocate Sanjoy Ghose also spoke during the session. He particularly referred to the contribution of women during the freedom struggle and said, "We talk of founding fathers but I am reading a book called "Founding mothers of our Constitution". You have several other heroes which people don't know about like Hansal Mehta, Amrit Kaur, etc."
Referring to the inclusivity within the Constituent Assembly, Mr. Ghose said that "You had an understanding that Constitution framing cannot be an echo chamber. it has to be diverse and reflective of our diversity."
He ended his talk by asking the audience "Did we create a non-violent, truthful and compassionate state that the founders gave to us. To find the answer we don't have to go too far. We have betrayed the founding fathers. We have continued the same "maai-baap" culture. Where the 'person' is the target." He said, "Let us atleast in our own way be humble and loyal to the Gandhian dream of non-violence, compassion and truth. Let's be true soldiers of the Constitution. The true soldiers of the Constitution have the law schools and the bar. We have to imbibe the constitutional values and build a nation that our founding fathers dreamt of."
The session was organised by Credence Legal Chambers and moderated by Advocate Miriam Fozia Rahman