Friday, February 13, 2009

Dowry Law - Chief Justice admits misuse

I blogged at length on dowry law fallacies in India. Now, the Chief Justice of India admits the law is misused (newslink). This is all good, but change is too slow.

Girija Vyas, the chairperson for National Commission for Women thinks it's not misuse, but "...lack of awareness amongst people that is exploited by lawyers and police...". It is unfortunate that such an influential person in authority doesn't realize that laws, no matter what, will be exploited by lawyers and police when possible, interpreted in different ways at different times, and such things are sometimes costly in terms of precious resource use such as police and courts, derail careers that impact the economy, can produce unjust outcomes and some laws may not accomplish the intended purpose.

This is why Marriage & Divorce laws must be carefully thought out, offer clear and predictable guidelines, and allow for win-win situations. Ms. Vyas should realize that she holds a very responsible position that controls the destiny of so many men and women, and not get caught up in the identity of "women". Her charter is empowerment and development of women as a section of society that currently needs attention, not so much as an association with identity of "women" (similar to "human rights" or "minority" commission), and if policies are devastating in certain ways, she would come out stronger by advocating changes, rather than being defensive. Else, people will lose faith in her and the commission, branding it with the identity of "women" or worse as "feminist". I think she would like to be remembered in history like Lord William Bentinck or Raja Rammohan Roy, who also fought for women's rights and made a difference, and not as a feminist -
I hope she can help it. As well, she should note they didn't react to every problem by creating a law!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Where the mind is without fear - Poem by Rabindranath Tagore

The poem below is a masterpiece - it beautifully captures foundational principles that any nation should adopt - or a concise description of what the constitution of any country should look like. It was written by Nobel prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, before India's independence. A must-read for any senator, politician, public servant, or any dutiful citizen.

Where the mind is without fear
And the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up
Into fragments by narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

Summary: The poem describes Tagore's vision of how his country could offer a heavenly experience to it's citizens, or what a free country should look like. In his view, it would be a country where,
  • people can express their views freely without fear of repercussions,
  • people share and spread knowledge freely,
  • people are open minded and willing to listen to each other's perspectives,
  • people are true to each other, value their integrity, and honest in their dealings,
  • people work hard and strive for perfection in quality,
  • people are driven by reasoning and scientific temper, instead of fallacies, hypocricies, or ideologies.
  • people are open to change and don't succumb to inertia or continue age-old orthodox customs and practices that do not meaningfully apply anymore,
  • people are progressive, think of bigger goals and accomplish them, constantly raising the bar.
When such a vision is accomplished, such a country would be free, and a heaven to live in.

Easily said, than done? Not quite, there are countries that have woken up to much of Tagore's vision. Ironically, India hasn't woken up yet, but not in deep slumber either - let's hope the dawn is soon.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dowry & Divorce - Interesting Judgement

If you patch up with your ex-wife, Indian law takes you off the hook on dowry cases, even if convicted. This link shows the interesting judgment that caught my eye. I agree with the view that courts should get off the back of couples who want to patch up. However, I respectfully disagree that dowry cases can be used as legal substitutes to bargain in divorce proceedings. What if the guy and the girl didn't patch up? The guy may have had to go to jail for 3 years, but the dowry case is suspect in the first place, given this patch up drama. The court is innovative - it kept the conviction to make legal sense, but offset the sentence to the few days the guy spent in jail. But, rather than having obnoxious laws and being innovative in interpretation, it is better to have simpler laws that allow such win-win situations, in a more predictable manner. Let's hope some day Indian laws catch up.