Of Domestic Violence, Crowded Courtrooms and Ruined Sundays

October 31, 2010 § 1 Comment

Someone sent my Boss this forward the other day about why people become lawyers – some joke about how all lawyers are really masochists at heart and love giving up weekends and dinners with family… you get it. Whoever this person is (who hasn’t realized that SMS forwards are seriously out of fashion, but then again, this person IS a lawyer, so…) he isn’t far off the mark. I’m not saying that lawyers have no time for anything – hell, I have time to start a blog (note, however, this is my third attempt at blogging in four years) and tweet (as opposed to sending SMS forwards, I suppose), but as a lawyer, there is a considerable intrusion into one’s personal time and space.

My corporate law friends will intervene and tell you about billing hours and signings and 3 nights in a row in the office. I suppose we litigators aren’t really under that kind of pressure and consequently we don’t face so many hygiene problems. No offence to corporate lawyers (come on, I don’t even have a contract of employment) but I find it slightly strange to hear about 30 year olds being hospitalized because they couldn’t get a final draft of a document out in time. In comparison, Criminal Lawyers, who have Clients languishing in Jail and sometimes even facing the gallows, are a lot less stressed out. Makes you wonder, eh?

For someone who has handled cases across the IPC and other penal statutes, no Cases give me more stress than Domestic Violence cases. With the exception of one, and I mean only one case, all Domestic Violence related cases – be them under the PWDVA or 498A – have caused me great physiological damage. My migraines are triggered, I skip meals, I get crabby –  hell, every case I take up takes my own marriage one step closer to the Family Court.

The problem with Domestic Violence cases is that because there’s such a revelation of the intimate details of one’s married life to a complete stranger, i.e., the lawyer, any professional who has been educated in the “sympathy, empathy and genineness” suddenly become’s the Client’s BFF.

And, much like the BFF, the Client will call you. Like BFFs, her mother will also call you. So will her father. Anytime, every time, all the time.

Sunday, Dussehra day, 2010.

1000am: 6 missed calls, 2 messages: “Please call urgently, it’s an emergency”.

1015am: I call back. Frantic Client. “Thank you so much for calling back. This is very urgent.”

This could be related to one of the following:

1. The Police have finally decided to lodge the FIR on the basis of the Complaint we made and have called her to the Police Station ASAP.

2. Everything has ended happily ever after.

Of course – no.

“My in laws have called my sister’s mother in law and have told them all sorts of rubbish.”

“Excuse me?”

What ensues is many tears, and regardless of the religion, caste, regional background or language of the Client, appropriate drama. And what drama. I spent about 3 hours over 9 phone calls just trying to explain to a 30 year old woman that it really doesn’t matter what I think, she should be calling the sister’s mother in law and explaining the whole deal to them. Of course, that never happened.

Despite the angsty phone sessions, much of the histrionics are on display in Court. The day after Karva Chauth I land up in the Andheri Court to see women with mehendi up to their elbows. As a south-of-the-vindhyas resident I have no idea about what happens on Karva Chauth and still believed that the entire ritual began in the year 1995 courtesy Raj Malhotra and Simran Singh. I was relieved that my hearing was not on the same day as Karva Chauth, I’d probably have to sit and witness screaming AND fainting women, then. Judges have a special place for Domestic Violence Cases, some were notorious for adjourning all of their other work, including cases involving Accused who were in custody (even though the Criminal Manual made it mandatory for these matters to be taken up on a priority basis) and hearing Domestic Violence Cases. Other lawyers would similarly oblige and sit and listen to ordeals of sexual humiliation with rapt attention, and the ambient murmurs would give way to gasps upon hearing the income of some of the Respondents.

Apparently, a lot of the background work on the PWDVA happened at my Alma Mater. I’d like to meet the person who suggested that the Magistrate’s Court was the ideal place to conduct these cases and give him or her an atomic wedgie. The person in question has very obviously never stepped into a Magistrate’s Court, which is about 89% of faculty and students of National Law Schools. My means of demonstration are rather simple – I will bring this person (“the academic”) to a Magistrate’s Court, make them sit on the single bench reserved for women at 11am, sweat in the overcrowded Courtroom, sit through the morning session where, at 2pm, the Judge will tell you that he will take up the matters after lunch, after which the  academic will have to eat the crap dished out at the Court canteen, and return by 230, by which time the Court is filled with Accused persons who have been brought from the various Jails to face trial, and the academic will wait until their matter is called out, and adjourned. I will then tell the academic to replace themselves with a woman who is possibly shelterless and without any source of income, and perhaps burdened with a child or two. And then tell me whether the Magistrate is the best person to have to deal with these issues.

I don’t see that happening, and so, in the meanwhile, I shall spend my Sundays consoling Clients and telling them that everything will be alright. It’s not like us lawyers lie for pleasure. Sometimes, it’s all we CAN do.

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