Indira Jaising – India

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She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Indira Jaising (born 1940, Mumbai) is an Indian lawyer. She went to school in Mumbai and graduated in Bangalore, before getting her degree in law in 1962. Jaising became the first woman to be designated as a Senior Advocate by the High Court of Bombay in 1986. From the beginning of her legal career, she has focused on protection of human rights, rights of women and those of the poor working class … // … Indira Jaising has attended several national and international conferences on women and represented her country at these conferences. She had a fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies London and has been a visiting Scholar at the Columbia University New York. She was conferred with the Rotary Manav Seva Award in recognition of her services to the nation in fighting corruption and as a champion of the weaker sections of the society. She was given the Padma Shree by the President of India in 2005 for her service to the cause of public affairs … (full text).

Her Bio and CV: on, on Gender and Law Association GALA.

Once fighting to establish herself on an equal footing with her male colleagues, Indira Jaising’s legal work and her dedication to the cause of the marginalized is today the stuff of legend-her cases include Olga Tellis (pavement-dwellers’ rights), the Bhopal Gas Leak (that the government cannot represent the victims to their exclusion), Mary Roy (inheritance for women), Gita Hariharan (mother’s right to guardianship of the child), and many others. With each victory, Indira holds the Indian constitution to its covenant-justice for all.Indira Jaising was born in 1942 to Sindhi parents, from a middleclass business community, who had migrated from what is now Pakistan. Like so many people displaced during the massively traumatic India-Pakistan Partition, her parents were forced to uproot themselves, leave everything behind, and relocate to India. Indira still retains vivid memories of Partition and of her ancestral home in Pakistan. “The greatest sense of loss I experienced was the loss of a language with which I could identify,” she says, recalling the lasting emotional destitution following Partition. “The fact that there is no Sindh state in India has always made me feel displaced, a refugee.” She says: … “Stereotyping of women, both as lawyers and as women, is carried to the extremes in the profession. It has been a great struggle to gain acceptance, without compromising yourself” … (on 1000peacewomen 1/2).


Indira Jaising – India

She is founder-member of and works for the Lawyer’s Collective.

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She says: … The struggle goes back more than 16 years. The most difficult part was to convince law makers and policy makers that such a thing exists. They did not know that something like domestic violence needed to be dealt with by law. The words ‘domestic violence’ did not exist in Indian law. It is true that we did have section 498A in the Indian Penal Code which deals with cruelty to a married woman. However, there was no explicit definition of domestic violence. There was no explanation that verbal, emotional and sexual abuse is also violence. For them, violence meant only beating a woman, that that too severe and repeated beating … and: This law is in addition to other laws. It is an improvement or two. It defines domestic violence to include all form of violence and it provides a right to reside in the shared household. It provides accessible remedies and empowers judges to grant injunctions restraining violence … and: The commonest problem is marring a woman in India and then taking her to another country, normally the US and then sending her back with no visa to get back. It is a major problem which the government is looking into. Inter-governmental agreements are being worked out. In my opinion, such men should be kicked out of the US and sent back home to face the consequences. (full interview text).

Her book: Men`s Laws, Women`s Lives : A Constitutional Perspective on Religion, Common Law and Culture in South Asia, by Indira Jaising (ed), 2005.

A seminar on panchayats started here under the aegis of the Institute of Social Sciences (April 23-25). Though around 1,500 women delegates are attending it, with actress-activist Shabana Azmi and noted lawyer Indira Jaising as special guests, an irony looms large. In this round of elections, the very word “panchayat” seems almost missing or lost. Not just at the manifesto level but even during the campaigning … (full text, April 25, 2004).

Architects of Act on domestic violence caught in a catfight, December 27, 2007.

New Delhi: Upholding people’s right to access pathway that they had been using for time immemorial, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Goa’s upcoming beach resort Fomento Resorts and Hotels to demolish the 1,000 metres of illegal extension of the building … // … Judges also accepted the proposition made by Goa Foundation’s lawyer Indira Jaising asserting that under the public trust doctrine, people couldn’t be denied access to the natural resources including the pathway … (full text, January 21, 2009) … and: ‘Public trust’ invoked in Cidade case.

Indira Jaising elected to UN committee on women discrimination: Jaising, 68, secured the highest number of votes – 149 out of 181 – in a keen contest; this was the first time India fielded a candidate for this 23-member committee … (full text). And: MS. Indira Jai Singh elected as member in CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women).

Indira Jaising, renowned Supreme Court lawyer and founder-member of the Lawyers Collective, spent last year lobbying the government on reviving the Domestic Violence Bill, 2002. It asks for far more stringent punishment for offenders. This year, women are fervently hoping the bill will become an Act. Jaising is among the experts being consulted by the law ministry on how to make it accessible to all women. And as the whole nation directs its eyes to the progress of the Bill in Parliament, Jaising will not rest even after it is enacted. It?s her mission to appoint women lawyers for victims in districts. (on Telegraph India, January 02, 2005).

Find her and her publications on ZoomInfo; on word power books; on amazon; on Google Video-search; on Google Images-results; on Google Book-search; on Google Scholar-search; on Google Group-search; on Google Blog-search.

She writes:

  • At the heart of the controversy is the issue of great importance to women — the right to be treated with dignity at the workplace. The incident illustrates that woman lawyers are not taken seriously. On the contrary, they are viewed as women who have no business to be in the courtroom and are not considered as professionals. It is indeed a sign of backwardness in thinking among the legal establishment. With what confidence can a woman litigant expect justice from the court? While on the one hand, we continue to pass legislation to ‘protect’ women on the other hand, at the ground level, women are discriminated against for being women. As Chaudhary told me, “It was a crime that I was born a woman and a further crime that I decided to become a lawyer… ” … (full text);
  • … Ironically, on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2002, the government introduced a Domestic Violence Bill, which justifies domestic violence in ’self defence’. “This basic flaw turns the law on its head,” says Indira Jaising, senior Advocate at the Supreme Court of India and Director of the Women’s Rights Initiative of the Lawyer’s Collective, now lobbying with parliamentarians to remove the self-defence clause and also include the right to shared residence to ensure that an abused woman has a roof over her head …  (full text);
  • October 26 marks the first anniversary of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. The law was conceived as a civil law as distinct from the existing criminal law: Section 498A IPC. It was often said that criminal law had no space for settlement of disputes and could give no relief beyond a conviction. It was to meet this need that the new law was passed. It provided for the right to residence in the shared household, the right to protection orders, gave power to courts to restrain alienation of assets, mandated return of stridhan and other significant reliefs. It defines violence in all its dimensions, from the physical to the sexual and economic … (full long text, Oct 26, 2007).

(On 1000peacewomen 2/2): … Her family, conservative to the hilt, believed that marriage was the goal of life. They would have happily arranged a match for her, and given dowry as well. Indira protested: “As a woman, I would never inherit the family business. My destiny was preplanned – marriage. Despite this, however, my parents didn’t stop me from studying whatever I wanted to. Education, they felt, was necessary, not a career.

What really shooked me up, though, were the actual demands for dowry when there were proposals for marriage. I did not know these things happened in the real world. When it happened to me, I refused to give in. From that time on, I knew my life would go a different way.”

Indira was educated in Mumbai, where her family had settled post-Partition, and she acquired a professional degree in law. She also did a one-year fellowship with the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London, which was hardly then a usual course of study for women. She also was the first woman to be designated a senior counsel by the High Court of Bombay.

Law was, of course, an almost all-jock fraternity. “Male colleagues treated me with amusement,” Indira recalls. “Everyone felt that women were serving time in the profession until they got married,” she says. “We were given unimportant jobs. The most limiting factor, though, was that even the judges did not take me seriously. They are the weakest link in the chain of justice delivery.

Stereotyping of women, both as lawyers and as women, is carried to the extremes in the profession, according to Indira. “Clients and litigants are never the problem,” she says. “It has been a great struggle to gain acceptance, without compromising yourself. If you are willing to be patronized, it is easy, but if you insist on being respected for what you are, it is an uphill task. What has helped me is a firm belief in the rights of the disadvantaged. It provided an anchor, and enabled me to ignore the attempts to marginalize me.”

Indira is deeply committed to working on women’s issues and has done some pioneering work on gender and the law. Given her experiences, dealing with women’s issues came naturally. She believes that domestic violence is a silent killer, and that it is her job to help women stay alive – not step in to prosecute killers after the woman is dead. The Women’s Rights Initiative of Lawyer’s Collective works on the project “Staying Alive”, which is committed to giving emergency legal services to women threatened with death.

Indira has also worked on issues concerning the dispossessed. Her work with the pavement dwellers of Bombay in 1982 is widely considered path-breaking. An already homeless population living in lean-tos, scrap-board shacks, and even the open pavement, pavement-dwellers were sought to be evicted from the pavements to “beautify” the city. “I was shocked by the fact that when the case was being argued in the Bombay High Court, the judge was only willing to give the pavement-dwellers protection if they gave an undertaking that they will vacate the pavements after the monsoon,” says Indira.

“Was the Indian Constitution a ‘monsoon Constitution’, I thought to myself. Olga Telis, who had been writing on the issue and opposing the policies of the then chief minister, was also present in court. We decided to take the matter to the Supreme Court, ignoring the undertaking that the pavement-dwellers were forced to give as a condition for temporary protection. For me, the case became symbolic of my whole approach to my work. I believe in Constitutionalism, and the question was: does the Indian Constitution have anything to offer to the poorest of the poor?

If the answer was to be no, then the legal profession would have nothing left for me. That is what compelled me to take up the case.” She is glad she did. “It is not as if they got a lot out of it, but the case put the rights of the dispossessed on the national agenda and in the forefront of judicial discourse.” In this, the Olga Tellis Case, for the first time in India the Supreme Court laid down that the Right to Life includes the Right to Livelihood.

When Indira took up this case, the very notion that pavement-dwellers had any rights at all was unheard of. The law books and reports of the 1950s and 1960s show that the only people who had access to the courts were industrialists complaining of tax structures, princes complaining of their privy purses being taken away, and landlords complaining of their land being acquired under land-ceiling laws. There was not a single laborer complaining that minimum wages were not paid, of a bonded laborer seeking freedom, or of a woman demanding freedom from violence. Judges were bastions of conservatism. It was only in the 1970s that some liberal judges were willing to give a hearing to cases relating to the poor.

In 1985, Indira represented the victims of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy – the survivors of the biggest industrial disaster in human history, at the Union Carbide factory. She was the first to challenge the Constitutional validity of the law that permitted the Government of India to represent the victims, to the exclusion of the victims themselves.

In the milestone Mary Roy Case, Indira managed to persuade the court that women in Kerala ought to have an equal right to inheritance, which was until then given to sons alone. The Gita Hariharan Case, in which Indira challenged the law by virtue of which a father was the natural guardian of a child to the exclusion of the mother, remains highlighted in the law books.

Indira also argued the Tehri Dam Case, on the side of those who lost their lands to submergence from the rising waters of the big dam, as well as to protect the area’s fragile ecology. She was also the first to argue cases against some five-star hotels in Goa whose constructions would erode the coastline and violate the coastal zonal regulations. She argued cases against the aquaculture industry for degrading the environment and destroying the right to life of the local population. Further, her challenge to the Muslim Women’s Protection of Rights on Divorce Act led to the judgment that women are entitled to maintenance for life rather than for the iddat (the three-menstruation period of waiting after divorce) alone.

It is but natural that Indira would fight against corruption in the judiciary – an important campaign, she believes, to clean up the “temples of justice”. She was the first to start a campaign against Justice V Ramaswami, a Supreme Court judge who had used public money for personal gain. Through the monthly magazine “The Lawyers” (published since 1986), she revealed the audit report that documented his expenditure on his son’s marriage and his personal trips. The campaign’s result was his impeachment by Parliament, the first time in Indian legal history.

She is currently representing in the Supreme Court of India the victims of mortal religious intolerance in the Gujarat genocide of 2002. In the process, she is initiating legal proceedings against the Gujarat chief minister for violations of International Human Rights law.

Indira’s methodology is straightforward: she uses the law to deliver the promise that the Preamble to the Constitution of India makes – justice for all, regardless. She insists on absolute transparency in the functioning of the courts because she believes that the only weapon that the poor have is the rule of law. If the “rights approach,” stating that rights have legal legitimacy. She does not believe, as one judge said in his judgment in the Bhopal Gas Leak case, that the promise of the law is uncertain. She believes that the promise of the law is anything but indeterminate and that it is her job to redeem that promise.

Even through the draconian Emergency declared by the Indira Gandhi government in 1975, Indira provided legal services to workers in the railways, who had been sacked for going on strike. Her offices were searched, records and documentation of cases were seized, and she was kept under constant vigilance.

Indira deeply believes that individual cases make a difference: her own cases show that individual cases can bring about long-term improvements in the law and in the lives of many. The Kerala inheritance case, which was brought to court by a single woman, won for all women in the state the right to inheritance. Indira’s Goa Foundation Case resulted in the state’s near-pristine coastline being preserved for posterity.

In many ways, Indira is seminal to the history of the creation of the concept of public interest litigation (PIL), which did not exist when she started litigating on behalf of the underprivileged. PIL’s most important impact is that it gave unlimited access to the most marginalized people to the highest court of the land. Those with no access to lawyers, money, or knowledge are not included in the structural changes, systemic and irreversible, that have taken place in the justice delivery system. Considering the changes in the law from the late 1970s to today, it seems that virtually a new constitution has been written for them.

In all these years, Indira has been the target of discrimination and marginalization herself. Decision-makers dislike being confronted by the surrounding reality. Those in power express their distrust of the poor by targeting their representatives, where Indira has consistently placed herself.

Indira has demonstrated through her work that it is possible for a lawyer to work exclusively on human rights. Her work has inspired a whole generation of young lawyers, and helped create a new kind of legal eagle – one lawyering, so to speak, for justice. Human rights lawyers have become part of the mainstream of the legal profession.

In a country long burdened by prejudices and vested power, Indira’s work has been critical in establishing a new kind of dialogue on both sides of the Bar divide: the marginalized, who are speaking, and those beginning to listen. (1000peacewomen).


Blogs about Indira Jaising on;

The Lawyers Collective – the third eye of the law;

Asia Cause Lawyers Network Training on DV Laws;

Categories on wikipedia: Indian lawyers, Female lawyers.

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