Cynthia Dettman:  Author

Young Indian Lawyers- in preparation

When I visited India in 2017, I thought my novel protagonist would be a police officer.  But it was very difficult getting access to Indian police or police stations for interviews.  The police are both bureaucratic and suspicious – perhaps often trying to cover up something!  So now Satyam, my protagonist, is a law student.   I enjoyed meeting a group of Indian law students on that trip- they were full of energy and ideas.  I asked them questions about their education, the practice of law in India, their future plans.  I asked them whether it would be realistic to have my protagonist go to a police station with law school friends to file a charge of “honor killing” against a wealthy builder in the area.  They all felt it was unrealistic.  Young students would be too afraid of getting in trouble- with their parents!  One young man suggested, however, that I should add a romantic element to my story and have a boyfriend accompany her- that could be realistic!

These young people seemed so different from their parents- one young woman thought that youngsters should be able to live together before marriage.  Most of the women said they planned to practice law after marriage, although many Indian women do NOT work after marriage.

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The Indian legal system has some interesting differences with the US system- the Supreme Court created a new legal remedy called Public Interest Litigation.  Any citizen can file a case complaining of a community problem that needs to be remedied by the court, even if they are not directly affected themselves.  This goes directly against the Western concept of “standing”.  These cases often result in very progressive outcomes.  Indian High Courts are quite activist and make rulings that would not happen in the US.  My hope is that some of these youngsters will use the PIL system to seek progressive change in their communities!

 

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I think that the PIL tool in India is one of the few effective tools that progressive activists have right now in India. The High Courts these days tend to be somewhat liberal and human-rights oriented- they are willing to look to the West for cultural change and for constitutional interpretations. However, with continuing casteism in cultural and political life, millions of disenfranchised poor people, farmers committing suicide in rural areas because of corruption and climate change, and unchecked pollution and development in huge cities, the average Indian really has few remedies. And of course you’re unlikely to find a lawyer who is willing to take up your case. But still, India’s PIL history I think represents an unusual and good twist in the country’s history of human rights advocacy. We don’t have it in the US or in Europe, as far as I know. Any average citizen can bring a case even if they don’t have “standing” – a personal, immediate injury to their welfare. Any activist can bring a case, as long as it raises communal and community issues.

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