SOLI LOQUIES: Discrimination in criminal justice


October 24, 2005

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Soli Sorabjee, a brilliant and eminent jurist in India writes a monthly column in the Indian Express.

The first of the colums appeared in August and is titled

Discrimination in criminal justice

August 14, 2005

Discrimination in criminal justice systems was discussed at the recent session of the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. It transpired that discrimination within the criminal justice systems is not only behavioural but also institutional. Direct discrimination is easy to recognise; it is difficult to discern indirect discrimination, which seriously affects exercise of fundamental rights by vulnerable groups. It is tragic that the poor and the marginalised segments are under-represented in the administration of justice but are ‘over-represented’ in prisons and on death rows.

One recurrent theme was that where men dominated seats of justice and field of law enforcement, equality of treatment for women became virtually impossible. It was stressed that if children grow up in homes where women are discriminated against and treated as inferior beings, they would acquire such in-built prejudices and no amount of education could completely eradicate them. A determined effort is imperative to weed out attitudes that fostered prejudices and discriminatory practices. This task has to start in right earnest from the kindergarten.

Journalist’s dilemma

Journalists regard protection of their source of information as a solemn obligation of confidence. They prefer to suffer imprisonment rather than disclose the names of their informants. New York Times reporter Judith Miller has been in jail for five weeks following her conviction by US Court of Appeals D.C. because of her refusal to reveal her sources for her article. Her stand is that disclosure would be unethical and would result in drying up of the sources. Consequently, vital information for exposing corruption and serious misdemeanor of the government would not be forthcoming and that would in the long run affect freedom of the press.

Today under the rubric of counter-terrorism measures there is a growing trend to harass journalists for non-disclosure of their sources. Recently in Nepal, a police inspector demanded that the editor reveal his sources for a report published in the paper on the fighting between the government forces and Maoist rebels. However, it must be remembered that there are other interests which have to be safeguarded. For example, fair administration of justice and national security. If disclosure of sources would facilitate detection and prevention of terrorist activities, the journalist’s claim should yield to larger societal interest. In principle, non-disclosure should be the rule unless there are compelling circumstances. The determination of that issue should be by the judiciary and not by police officers or bureaucrats.

Female nudity

Nudity in women has evoked conflicting emotions. Nude female bodies displayed in prestigious museums are admired as works of art without any demur. Problems arise when a woman fully exposes her body in a magazine or in a movie or in a bar. Some women like Candice Bergen ”would not, could not, be naked for the cameras.” Beatrice Dalle also does not ”walk around naked even at home. I don’t like nudity. It’s not my style.” Ursula Andress is cool and would ”have nothing against it. We’re born this way.” An intellectual touch is added by Lauren Hutton who is ”not prudish about exposing my body. I’m much more uptight about exposing my mind to the wrong people.” Again to Margot Kidder ”nudity in the flesh doesn’t bother. But having my mind uncovered — that scares the hell out of me.” Raquel Welch promised ”never to be photographed nude. Why should I show all my cards at the beginning of the game — what could I do for an encore?” That is quintessential pragmatism. Shelley Winters finds nudity ”disgusting! Shameful! And damaging to all things American. But if I were 22 with a great body, it would be artistic, tasteful, patriotic and a progressive, religious experience.” That is the height of rationalising with religion thrown in.

Olga Rodionova, a 31-year-old wife of a top Russian banker recently shocked Moscow’s high society by posing naked for men’s magazines, including Penthouse and Playboy. She has no problem with showing off a beautiful naked body because she sees nudity as an art and has no time for those ”who criticise me for posing. They are being narrow-minded. I can only feel sorry for them.” What is her husband’s reaction? Thoroughly worldly wise. He told her that the gossip will fade whereas her pictures will stay for ever and when she is 90 she will look at them and say, ‘Look what a beautiful woman I was’.

It is said that a beautiful young wife is a must for a rich Russian. It gives status, just like having a villa in the south of France. In New Delhi and Mumbai, it is a Mercedes and a Lexus which are status symbols, especially with some lawyers. Quite practical. Cars are easier to maintain and display than beautiful wives and attractive mistresses.