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Why is justice delivered only in English?


By Harshmeet Singh

In July this year, while answering a PIL, the Gujarat High Court asserted that only English can be used in the proceedings of the High Court. Furthermore, it also said that the litigant of the PIL must submit all the concerned documents in English and speak in English; automatically making anyone without the knowledge of English ineligible to file a PIL in the court! In order to represent yourself in your vernacular language, it said, you need to gain a ‘no objection’ from the other party, implying that before fighting a case against your opponents, you need to take their permission just to present your case. If this doesn’t highlight our affinity towards our colonial past, nothing does.

When the Modi government came to power last year, it pushed for making Hindi the official language in a number of central ministries. So when a lawyer named Shiv Sagar Tiwari filed a PIL in the Supreme Court, urging it to put an ‘end to British legacy’, everyone expected the government to take his cause further. But much to the surprise of everyone, the Government blew away the idea of making Hindi the official language in country’s higher judiciary.

To defend its position, the government cited a 2008 report from the Law commission which said that “no language should be thrust on any section of the people against their will since it is likely to become counterproductive”. However, what remains unexplained is how English serves the purpose of being the language of justice.

The present system means that for a law aspirant to reach the highest stage of his career, he must not only be proficient in his law related subjects, but also be equally proficient in English. All the non-English speakers are thus at a disadvantage even before they enter the legal profession. Not only the lawyers, but the common man too is affected by this rule.

A non-English speaker will never comprehend what his lawyers are stating on his behalf in the court. Imagine a person fighting to save your life, by putting forward the arguments that you can’t even comprehend! This doesn’t seem to fit into the idea of justice.

According to the clause (2) of the Article 348 of the Indian constitution, the Governor of a state, after acquiring the President’s consent, may authorize Hindi to be used in the proceedings of the concerned state’s high court. Thus far, only the Governors of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have made such a provision. Over the years, a number of language activists have demanded the use of vernacular languages in state’s official work, including the judiciary.

The constitution doesn’t prescribe any language for the lower courts in the country. Though a number of district courts hear cases in the local language, they face trouble of a different kind. All the documents related to the case need to be later translated into English since they need to be sent to the High Court, which only admits documents written in English. To avoid this humungous workload, a number of district courts now prefer to take up cases in English.

While any change in the court’s language doesn’t seem to be an imminent agenda for the government, one just hopes that justice isn’t ‘lost in translation’.

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India Gets A Win, Supreme Court Decriminalizes Homosexuality

In December 2013, a Supreme Court bench said that it was for the legislature to look into desirability of deleting section 377 of IPC.

Homosexuality, India
SC decriminalises homosexuality, victory for gay rights. Pixabay

 In a historic verdict, the Supreme Court on Thursday decriminalised homosexuality between consenting adults by declaring Section 377, the penal provision which criminalised gay sex, as “manifestly arbitrary”.

In separate but unanimous verdicts, a five-judge Constitution Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Rohinton Nariman, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra partially struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as unconstitutional.

The bench said it is no longer an offence for LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, intersex and queer/questioning) community to engage in consensual sex between two adults in private.

Reading out the judgment, Chief Justice Misra said attitudes and mentality have to change to accept others’ identity and accept what they are, and not what they should be.

Homosexuality, India
LGBTIQ people have a right to live unshackled from the shadow.

“It is the constitutional and not social morality which will prevail,” said the court.

The verdict sparked celebrations in the LGBTIQ community across India even as the judgment was being read out. Many of the community members who had assembled outside the apex court jumped in joy and distributed sweets.

Chief Justice Misra said consensual sex between adults in a private space, which is not harmful to women or children, cannot be denied as it is a matter of individual choice.

Section 377 will not apply to consensual same-sex acts between homosexuals, heterosexuals, lesbians, the court said, clarifying that sexual act without consent and bestiality will continue to be an offence under section 377.

“An individual has full liberty over his or her body and his or her sexual orientation is a matter of one’s choice,” said the Chief Justice.

“Time to bid adieu to prejudicial perceptions deeply ingrained in social mindset. Time to empower LGBTIQ community against discrimination. They should be allowed to make their choices,” he added.

Homosexuality, India
In separate but unanimous verdicts, a five-judge Constitution Bench struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as unconstitutional. Pixabay


In a concurring judgement, Justice Nariman said homosexuality is “not a mental disorder or disease”.

He said the LGBTIQ community has an equal right to live with dignity and are entitled to equal protection of law. He directed the Centre to give wide publicity to this judgment to remove the stigma attached to homosexuality.

Justice Chandrachud said to deny the LGBTIQ community their right to sexual orientation is a denial of their citizenship and a violation of their privacy.

“They cannot be pushed into obscurity by an oppressive colonial legislation… Sexual minorities in India have lived in fear, hiding as second class citizens,” said Justice Chandrachud, adding “the state has no business to intrude on such matters”.

Justice Indu Malhotra said that history owes an apology to the LGBTIQ community for all that they have suffered on account of the ignorance of the majority about homosexuality.

“LGBTIQ people have a right to live unshackled from the shadow,” she said.

Homosexuality, India
People Participated in Hundreds for the Gay Pride Parade Held In Delhi.

The Supreme Court verdict, which overruled its own earlier judgment, assumes significance as in the earlier round of litigation in 2013, the top court had reversed a Delhi High Court ruling decriminalising homosexuality.

The Delhi High Court bench, headed by then Chief Justice A.P. Shah, had in July 2009 legalised homosexual acts between consenting adults by overturning the 149-year-old law — finding it unconstitutional and a hurdle in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In December 2013, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya in the Suresh Kumar Koushal and another vs Naz Foundation and others case, had set aside the high court’s judgment and said that it was for the legislature to look into desirability of deleting section 377 of IPC.

The matter was subsequently resurrected in July 2016, when a fresh petition was filed by members of the LGBTIQ community — dancer N.S. Johar, journalist Sunil Mehra, chef Ritu Dalmia, hotelier Aman Nath and business executive Ayesha Kapur — which was then marked to the Constitution Bench by a Division Bench.

Homosexuality, India
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The reference was made on the basis of submission that it was the first time that individuals directly affected by the provision were approaching the court.

Among the petitioners are a batch of current and former students of Indian Institutes of Technology. Claiming to represent more than 350 LGBTIQ alumni, students, staff and faculty from the IITs, the petitioners said that the existence of Section 377 had caused them “mental trauma and illnesses, such as clinical depression and anxiety and relegated some of them to second-class citizenship”. (IANS)