Saturday, May 22, 2010

Now, legal clinics to the rescue of ignorant villagers - Will Be Situated Near PHCs, Lawyer To Help Solve Disputes

For long, villagers have been at the wrong ends of justice being unaware of the functioning of courts and also sent on a merry-go-round while trying to procure a document be it a ration card, birth or caste certificate from panchayat or block offices. No more, for the National Legal Services Authority is forging ahead with its plan to set up legal aid clinics (LACs) of permanent nature at the taluk level whose function would be akin to that of primary health centres (PHCs) and will meet the basic legal requirements of villagers. In fact, these LACs, to be manned for 12 hours a day from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening by a trained lawyer deputed by the district legal service authority concerned, will function in close proximity to the PHCs. Panchayats and block offices have been requested to give some office space to the LACs to enable villagers to seek unhindered guidance from the deputed lawyer to help solve their disputes and other requirements like writing an application for a ration card, Antyodaya Anna Yojana card (BPL card) etc, says NALSA member-secretary U Sarath Chandra. At present there is one PHC covering about 30,000 (20,000 in hilly, desert and difficult terrains) or more population. Many rural dispensaries have been upgraded to create these PHCs. Each PHC has one medical officer, two health assistants (one male and one female ), and health workers and supporting staff. Chandra says the basic motto of NALSA, as defined by its executive chairman and Supreme Court judge Altamas Kabir, is to deliver justice at the rural folks doorstep and these LACs would help make people confident about seeking from the authorities what is their due.

The basic purpose of the LACs would be to encourage villagers to settle their inter-personal disputes amicably and not to litigate,he says. As the rural folk have a a lot of inhibition to get in touch with babus in panchayat and block offices, the lawyer manning the LAC would help them write applications and suggest ways to get the required documents from these offices. And the free legal advise would be available to one and all. In the urban areas, the free legal aid under the NALSA and State Legal Aid Authority is limited to the poor. We presume that most of the villagers are poor or handicapped by distance to get proper legal advice. So LACs have been advised to cater to all segments, Chandra says. But, finances have been a real difficulty in making LACs operational on a daily basis, says Chandra. So, to start with, the lawyer deputed to hold LAC would go to the taluka office once a week. Gradually the frequency would be increased, he adds.
Whats Gotra Got To Do With It - If modern leaders back medieval traditions, India will regress rather than progress (Chetan Bhagat)

I dont know my own gotra. I didnt even know what gotra meant until recently. Many people still dont, but calling it a subcaste is a good proxy definition. I dont know why it was invented, or why it is still relevant. As if it wasnt good enough to divide people on caste, we needed one more level of sub-caste slicing to ensure as many Indians hate each other as possible. However, this time it isn't being from different gotras that is a problem, it is being from the same one. Unlike inter-caste marriages that are considered problematic, the problem lies in intra-gotra marriages. These, according to some, will completely tarnish a familys reputation and pose health risks to kids of the wedded couple, due to genetic similarities. People from the same gotra arent blood related, but marriage between them is not encouraged (read: death sentences are passed).

Leading the no-same-gotralove T-shirt brigade are the khap panchayats. The khap system is thousands of years old, and our erstwhile British rulers lived with it and probably encouraged it,to avoid the judicial system being flooded with petty disputes and enabling these to be solved at the local level. The British left 63 years ago, but khaps have survived, aided by the patronage of local political parties which in turn find them nice little rural vote banks. The khap justice system is neither as rigorous as nor always consistent with the Indian legal system. Nor has it been reformed.However, given political patronage, khaps still thrive in parts of north India. One of the most controversial khap diktats is the no-same-gotra-marriage, something the youth in rural areas find quite baffling. Desperate for reform, the youth had hoped a young leader like their MP Naveen Jindal would come and change draconian rules. But he backed the khaps demand to turn no-same-gotra-marriage into a law. While shocking and disappointing to many, one can see his motivation in backing regressive ideas. It is always easier to tap into traditions and win support. It is much harder to be progressive, change thinking and still take people along.

Fears of genetic similarities leading to offspring risks do not hold. Apparently, there are historical roots between same gotra people and hence there could be genetic similarities. Those roots may be 10 generations old, and anyone with basic knowledge of genetics and mathematics will tell you that in 10 gener- ations, less than 0.1 per cent of DNA may be sibling-like between two offspring of the same roots. Legality is also a non-issue. Many communities have marriages between cousins, without any legal issues. While chances of the nosame-gotra diktat becoming a law are extremely remote, outright support of medieval traditions by modern era leaders make one shudder about which direction politicians are taking our country. Jindal had earlier fought in court for every citizens freedom to hoist the Indian flag. When a crusader for individual freedom backs a proposal preventing two human beings to be in love and make a future together, one wonders what our politicians will do to get a few extra votes. Did he make a calculation Did the number of older people versus younger people (those who actually vote) go in favour of the older people Is that the only criterion for making political decisions Or is it about doing the right thing and leading the country to progress. We live in rare times where conflict between the thought of the old and new generations is at its peak. We have Indian women leading global corporations. We also have Indian parents who dont want their daughters to study further. I was in Gora-khpur last week, where a young girl in a semi-rural area confessed to me that her father didnt want her to go to college unless it was within a five-kilometre radius of the house. There was no consideration for what the girl wanted to become in life.This is just one example.

From khap rules to individual rules,India-old and India-new battle everyday. India-old is powerful- khaps wield power. However, India-new has better ideas for progress.India-old has dominated thought for the last six decades and, to put it bluntly, not achieved much. We are, despite all our missile and satellite launches, one of the poorest nations on earth. Our biggest cities dont have basics like good water and power. With such a poor report card,it is suprising India-old still makes and imposes rules. The only reason it can do so is difference in power. This is where politicians come in. Politicians have power which they can lend to India-new and back them all the way. They can take a stand, embrace progress, back individual freedom, uphold modern laws and focus on real rural issues (corruption in NREGA, for instance). This will lead to a more prosperous country and a better life for all Indians. Jindal had a chance to do that, to play a part in history, be the role model for rural Haryanas youth. However, he blew it, with his short-sightedness to remain in power. What use is power when it isnt used to help others.  Meantime, pass whatever diktats and make whatever laws none of them can take on Mother Nature, and prevent two people from falling in love. Try as much as you can. Meanwhile, I still dont know my gotra. And I hope I never find out. (The writer is a best-selling novelist.)

No comments:

Post a Comment