Taking a cue from President Ram Nath Kovind's recent "concern" over what he called “unacceptably low” representation of women, scheduled castes and tribes (SCs and STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the higher judiciary, even as insisting on need for long-term measures to remedy the situation, a legal rights organization at a recent consultation wanted that the judiciary, the third pillar of democracy, should "follow the principle of reservation".
The issue was raised at the recent national convention of lawyers, organised by the Lawyers Initiative Forum (LIF) at Indore, attended by 322 lawyers from 11 states of India, 92% of whom were from socially excluded communities, a note prepared by the LIF said.
The note said, according to National Commission of Scheduled Caste (NCSC), in 2011, there were only 24 judges belonging to Dalit and tribal communities against the total of 850 judges in 21 High Courts. Fourteen out of 21 High Courts do not have a single SC or ST judge, adding, there was not a single judge belonging to Dalit or tribal community in the Supreme Court.
"It is arguable that when executive and legislature are brought under the ambit of constitutional reservation, it is but natural that Judiciary, the third pillar of democracy, which is mandated to safeguard the constitution, should also follow the principle of reservation. Otherwise, it creates a dubious distinction among the three pillars of democracy", the note insisted.
"The judiciary", the note said, "Is one of the important pillars of Indian democracy. However, it continues to be negatively influenced by the caste system and is impeding on the individual rights to justice and freedom. One of the most important indicators of this barrier is the fact that the majority of under-trials come from excluded communities including SCs, STs and minorities."
"The court is not immune to the caste and gender prejudices that exist in Indian society and mirrors this by ensuring that power, privilege and knowledge is restricted to a few", the note said, recalling, what KR Narayanan, tenth President of India, wrote -- that in the appointment of Supreme Court judges, "constitutional principles and the nation’s social objectives" should be followed.
"Persons belonging to weaker sections of society' who comprise 25% of the population, and women should be given due consideration”, Narayanan had said. The consultation took place on November 26 in collaboration with Jan Sahas, a civil rights organization.
"It is imperative to promote representation of socially excluded communities at all level of the judicial system including promoting lawyers", the note, reflecting the view taken at the conference, said, adding,there is a "dire meed to have a platform for the lawyers belonging to the marginalized sections of society to strengthen their capacities to cater to the emerging needs of the lawyering community."
Vowing to "federate lawyers across the country to promote social equity and justice", the consultation said the practicing lawyers from socially excluded communities in lower courts, should be trained to provide "easy access to legal aid to victims and undertrials" belonging to marginalized communities, even as help "enhance their capacities for establishing their career..."
This is particularly important, said the note, because "the representation of senior lawyers belonging to SC and ST backgrounds is extremely low", one reason why the apprenticing junior lawyers from these communities find it difficult to get a "sensitive and supportive environment to learn and grow skills."