India usually remembers its Constitution – which, among other things, guarantees rights and freedom to citizens – once a year, on January 26.
A few people, however, work behind the scenes with legal interventions to uphold the inherent values of the Constitution, which include equality, justice and liberty. Here’s what five of these champions – four women and one man – of Constitutional values have achieved.
Ban on corporal punishment in school
Kusum Jain from Parents Forum Delhi was appalled when she heard how parents and teachers were ignorant of corporal punishment. “When you are beaten in the classroom, how can you learn?” points out Jain as she speaks about sensitivity in education.
“If you are not bold, none of your virtues of honesty and integrity will come forward,” says Lilly Thomas on how the laws allowed criminals to become legislators till she petitioned an amendment the Representative of the Peoples Act 1951.
Thomas, who belongs to the first generation of women lawyers in India, has initiated several improvements to several existing laws by filing petitions. Here’s what she feels about the legal system in India.
Fighting human rights violations in Chattisgarh
In 2006, when Nandini Sundar, along with other civil right activists, approached various commissions and ministers regarding human rights violations by Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh, she received no response.
Salwa Judum was a people’s movement created by the the Chhattisgarh government in June 2005 to deal with the law and order situation in the Naxalite-heavy Dantewada district. It comprised about 6,500 Special Police Officers (SPOs) appointed by the state government.
As part of the Independent Citizens’ Initiative, Sundar approached the Supreme Court with a writ petition in 2007. It held that the Salwa Judum policy violated both Article 14 (equality before law) and Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty).
In the video below,the sociology professor from the University of Delhi speaks about the ground realities of Dantewada and the struggles during the legal intervention.
Freedom of expression on the internet
In 2012, two young women in Mumbai were arrested for criticising the shutdown in Maharashtra after politician Bal Thackeray’s death. The arrest under the Section 66 (A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, drew fire for its vague and unconstitutional nature.
The law punished any person who by means of a computer or communication device sent any information that was “grossly offensive”, “annoying” or “of menacing character” with imprisonment up to three years and with a fine. Several arrests were made under the same section in other parts of the country.
Shreya Singhal, a second-year law student at University of Delhi, challenged this as a violation of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. Singhal talks about what inspired her to undertake this journey.
Medical aid for accident victims
Parmanand Katara, a senior advocate practising in the Supreme Court of India, came across an article about how a man on a scooter met with a road accident and succumbed to his injuries as the nearby hospital refused to handle a “medico-legal” case.
It shocked him that there were no laws governing the provision of medical aid to accident victims in the country. Here’s how his PIL was welcomed in the Supreme Court.