Skip to main content

Top upper caste judges 'biased' towards Dalit colleagues: US Bar Association report


By Rajiv Shah 

A high profile report prepared by the influential American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights, taking note of the fact that “in the 70-year history of the Indian Republic, only six Dalit judges have been appointed to the Supreme Court”, has taken strong exception to what it calls “lack of representation of Dalits” in the legal profession and the judiciary.
Titled “Challenges for Dalits in South Asia's Legal Community”, prepared by Anurag Bhaskar and Neil Modi, based on 74 interviews, out of which 32 respondents belong to the Dalit community, three are Adivasis, four belong to Other Backward Classes, three Muslims, and 32 other non-Dalits, the report quotes a respondent as noting that “the credibility of an institution such as the Supreme Court cannot flourish in a constitutional democracy if its marginalized communities do not explicitly express their trust in the institution.”
Referring to authoritative sources -- Kariya Munda Committee, a parliamentary committee on the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (2000); National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, chaired by Justice MN Venkatachaliah (2002); Parliamentary Standing Committee under the chairmanship of Dr EM Sudarsana Natchiappan (2006); and National Commission for Scheduled Castes (2016) -- the report says that as of 2011, there were only 24 judges belonging to SC/ST against a total of 850 judges in all the 21 High Courts, regretting, today, “Public data for High Courts and lower district judiciary could not be found.”
Quoting sitting and retired High Court upper caste judges on “persistence of implicit biases of upper-caste judges toward their colleagues from the Dalit community”, the report cites one of of them as stating how during his tenure as the Chief Justice in a State High Court “he faced resistance from his upper-caste colleagues whenever he considered a Dalit lawyer for appointment as a judge in that High Court.”
Quoting a retired upper caste Supreme Court judge, the report says, “Since Dalit judges in the lower judiciary get appointed through reservations/quotas, there is a bias against them in the higher judiciary that they are less meritorious, and thus do not get promoted easily”, adding, “This judge believed that reservations impact Dalit candidates negatively.”
According to the report, “Another retired Supreme Court judge, who was part of the Supreme Court collegium for about two years in the past decade, said that the main parameters for considering elevation were maintaining state-wide representation of High Court judges and their seniority at all levels. He added, as there were no Dalit judges with seniority in High Courts during his time on the bench, the issue of ensuring representation of Dalits in the Supreme Court was not discussed as part of the collegium.”
It quotes a former additional Solicitor General for India as sharing the same sentiment: “The fact that in the 70 years of its existence, the Supreme Court of India has seen only eight women judges and one Dalit Chief Justice is testament to the reality that the composition of our judiciary is not represented by the Dalit population.”
The report quotes another senior advocate and former Solicitor General for India as claiming that the situation “has drastically changed since the 1980s, and today “we see a substantial increase in the number of lawyers hailing from the Dalit community.” However, he also regrets, the members of the Dalit and Adivasi communities have not received adequate representation “since no systemic inclusionary arrangements were institutionalized.”
Citing three sitting High Court judges from upper castes, who “admitted that in lower courts caste can play a role in getting clients”, the report notes, “Often, some lawyers from the Dalit community hide their identity to get cases”, a fact “corroborated by another respondent from the Dalit community who shared that one of his relatives had changed his surname to a Brahmin surname in order to get clients.”
Pointing out that “since Dalits are one of the most disadvantaged social groups, they face barriers in access to quality legal education”, the report says, “A former Chief Justice of India remarked that most Dalit lawyers during his time did not study in English-medium schools; as a result, they were restricted to practicing in the lower courts as the higher courts require advanced proficiency in English… Because the medium of instruction in High Courts and the Supreme Court is English, many lawyers from the Dalit community did not have the option to start their practice before these constitutional courts.”
Since Dalit judges in lower judiciary get appointed through quotas, there is bias against them in higher judiciary that they are less meritorious
“Difficulties” faced by the Dalit community in the legal profession do not end here, says the report, pointing out, the bar associations in India have “historically been dominated by upper-caste males”. Thus, “A review of the profiles of current office holders and other officers of the Bar Council of India (BCI) suggests that it is comprised mainly of individuals from upper-caste backgrounds. Any scheme of the BCI or any bar association supporting Dalit lawyers in initial years could not be found.”
As a result of the “discrimination”, the report says, “Young Dalit lawyers lack access to equal opportunities in the legal sector, they are left with only limited options, leading them to create their own grassroots organizations advocating the Dalit community’s rights.” Worse, “lawyers from the Dalit/Adivasi community working on human rights cases at the grassroots level are being branded as Maoists or Naxalite in order to make them fall in line with the state administration.”
While there have been efforts to promote capacity of Dalit lawyers through organizations such as the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights and the National Dalit Movement for Justice, which have been working “with the criminal justice administration systems to address the issues of access to justice for those affected by atrocities and violence”, the report laments, “Most of the public prosecutors at district levels neither have knowledge of atrocities law nor are they sensitive towards the background of victims.”
Referring to anti-atrocity cases, the report quotes a Dalit lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court for more than a decade as stating that “quite often, he would experience differences in the approaches adopted by senior advocates in handling cases related to Dalits.” In one such instance, “three Supreme Court judges, who were considered liberal in their outlook, stopped him from making his submissions in cases of atrocities and affirmative action.” In another instance he was “stopped by the judge to read the facts in an atrocities case.”

Comments

Sudhir Rawal said…
If this is true in real sense, it is very unfortunate..but how can it be judged judiciously?
Jatin Sheth said…
Top judiciary has to be purely on the basis of merit only as the judgements delivered by the Supreme Court as great consequences in the country. India has seen Justice Balakrishnan who became Chief Justice of Supreme Court. As I remember, he became Chief Justice because he was a dalit.
Iqbalmasud Khan said…
Why go that far.
Justice Akhil Qureshi is the recent example of bias and bigotry. It may be pertinent to recall that Justice Qureshi ‘s grandfather Ghulam Rasul Qureshi was instrumental in bringing Gandhi ji to India, and in 1969 riots he was thrown out of Gandhi Ashram where he settled after Gandhiji’s assassination by Godse, the mentor of RSS and BJP rulers. So this is not news if Dalits and Muslims are persecuted in every sphere of administration.



TRENDING

Whither Govt of India strategy to reduce import dependence on crude oil, natural gas?

By NS Venkataraman*  India presently imports around 80% of it’s crude oil requirement and around 50% of its natural gas requirements . As the domestic production of crude oil and natural gas are virtually stagnant and the domestic demand is increasing at around 7% per annum, India’s steadily increasing dependence on import of the vital energy source is a matter of high energy security concern. This is particularly so, since the price of crude oil and natural gas are considerably fluctuating / increasing in the global market due to geo political factors, which are beyond the control of India. India has promised to achieve zero emission by the year 2070, which mean that the level of emission has to start declining at slow and steady rate from now onwards. It is now well recognized that global emission is caused largely due to use of coal as fuel and natural gas as fuel and feedstock. While burning of coal as fuel cause emission of global warming carbon dioxide gas and sulphur

'Massive concern for people': Modi seeking to turn India into global manufacturing hub

By Shankar Sharma*  The news item quoting Narendra Modi at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet, "Want to turn India into a manufacturing hub: PM Modi at SCO Summit" should be of massive concern to our people. One can only continue to be shocked by such policies, which can be termed as ill-conceived to say the least. Without objectively considering the environmental and social impacts on our communities in the medium to long term, such policies will also result in massive economic impacts because a lack of environmental and social perspective cannot be economically attractive either. In order to become the global manufacturing hub, India will have to meet an enormous demand for energy of various kinds, and in order to meet this much energy demand the economy has to manufacture enormous number of appliances/ gadgets/ machineries (to generate and distribute commercial forms of energy such as coal, nuclear, gas, hydro, and renewable energy (RE) sources such as so

Denying dissent democratic space in Gujarat: 'sad narrative of eroding ethical values'

By Sandeep Pandey*  A padyatra (foot march) was to be taken out between 26 September and 4 October, 2022 from Randhikpur village in Dahod district of Gujarat to Ahmedabad to apologise to Bilkis Bano. Randhikpur is Bilkis Bano’s village. In 2002 Gujarat communal violence she was gang raped, her 3 years old daughter, another child in womb and a total of 14 family members were killed. 11 people were convicted and sentenced for life in 2008. However, on 15 August, 2022 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a speech from Red Fort appealing to people to change their attitude towards women and treat them with respect, a district level committee of Panchmahal decided to release the 11 rapists and murderers. A Bhartiya Janata Party leader described four of these criminals as virtuous Brahmins. Before the padyatra could begin from Randhikpur, on 25 September night, 7 activists were picked up from Godhra corporator Hanif Kalandar’s house where they had gone for d

Pesticide companies' lobbying 'seriously impairing' basics of governance, regulation

Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi*  The Indian agricultural sector is grappling with low incomes, shortage of natural resources, increasing pest incidence and low public investments in research and extension. Pest attacks are increasing. Previously unknown pests are attacking crops. Farmers, indebted as they are due to various market mechanisms, are finding it hard to protect their crop investments. Thus, farmers are pushed into the conundrum of pesticide usage by pesticide markets and companies. Pesticide usage in India is increasingly becoming a regulatory problem. Regulation has not been effective in the face of such challenges. Scientific expertise on pesticides is often subsumed in the policy tradeoffs that, in the ultimate scenario, encourage production and marketing of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs). Expert Committee reports, which are recommending withdrawal of certain HHPs, are not being acted upon. Lobbying by pesticide companies has seriously impaired the basics of governance an

Kerala health bill public hearing? Here the minister 'ensured' cameras were turned off

By Our Representative  On Friday, September 30, 2022, about 100 members of the general public gathered at the conference room of the collectorate at Ernakulam, Kerala, to express their apprehensions about the Kerala Public Health Bill, 2021, which the state assembly referred to a 15-member select committee chaired by state health and family welfare minister, Veena George. Minister Veena George asserted at the outset that this was a sitting of the select committee, and all cameras would need to be turned off. Advocate PA Pouran, general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Kerala, stood up in protest, arguing that the meeting was a public hearing and should ideally be televised to reach vast numbers of people. Other members of the audience protested too, but the minister insisted that the gathering was part of a sitting of the select committee.  “Why then did you invite all of us?” protested George Mathew, who had arrived from Aluva and earlier served as a member of t

How Gandhian values have become 'casualty' in India under majoritarian BJP rule

By Sandeep Pandey*  A Muslim youth was beaten recently when he tried to witness the famous garba performance during the Hindu religious nine days festival of Navratri in Gujarat. There was a time when Muslims could easily participate in Garbha events in an atmosphere of cordiality. Bilkis Bano was gang raped in 2002 Gujarat communal violence, her 3 years old daughter, the child in womb and a total of 14 family members were killed. 11 accused were awarded life term. However, recently a District level committee has decided to release all the culprits. A ruling Bhartiya Janata Party leader has described some of these criminals as virtuous Brahmins, the highest among the Hindu hierarchical caste system. In a communally polarized Gujarat today most Muslims feel offended by the decision of the government and BJP supporters either justify the release of rapists and murderers or just ignore the ignominious decision. Mahatma Gandhi came from the Guj

GoI 'feeling threatened' by forces which can potentially fight 'Brahmanical fascism'

Counterview Desk  A network of civil rights and people’s organisations , Campaign Against State Repression (CASR)*, has characterised the recently-imposed ban on Popular Front of India (PFI), National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (NCHRO) and other organisations as “Brahmanical Hindutva fascist” move of the Government of India (GoI), calling it “onslaught on democratic dissent”. In a statement, CASR said, the move is aimed at terrorizing and vilifying the Muslim community, adding, at the same time, the GoI is curbing any protest and demonstration against the “fascist diktat of ban”, with peoplebeing “detained and arrested.” It added, “This kind of attack on right to oppose or criticize any step of government should be conceived as an attack on the very democratic values of the people.” Text : On 28 September 2022, Central Government led by BJP-RSS banned the Popular Front of India, National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations, Campus Front of India, National Wom

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Paradox? Heavy military deployment has had 'tangible success' in enhancing J&K security

By Katarzyna Rybarczyk*  An ethnically diverse Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a subject of a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan since the partition in 1947. Despite both countries claiming full control over the region’s entirety, Kashmir is divided between them, into an Indian-administered part and a Pakistan-administered part. For the last three decades, Indian-controlled Kashmir has been characterised by unrest due to a separatist insurgency opposing the Indian rule. Although India’s fragile relationship with Kashmir is not a new issue, tensions intensified when in 2019 India revoked Article 370, depriving the region of its special status and a certain degree of autonomy attributed to it. Article 370 allowed Kashmir to have its own constitution and to make decisions regarding property ownership and permanent residency. As a result, Indians from other parts of the country were not able to purchase property and settle in Kashmir. Scrapping Kashmir’s special status me