[Reader-list] a biography from tis hazaari

chander nigam chandernigam at rediffmail.com
Thu Jun 24 11:26:27 IST 2004

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Dear all

My research under Sarai Independent fellowship is going well. For the last 2 months I am interviewing and talking to people of different walks in Tis Hazaari and getting some interesting stories. This mail is basically a brief biography of a female criminal lawyer. I hope you will enjoy going through this and bombarding your suggestions and questions.

If you go to criminal side, Tis Hazari and ask for any senior lady advocate to any person, most probably you will get the name Urmila Gupta. She is practicing law almost for the last 30 years. Moreover, she is the 2nd lady advocate, who joined the practice of criminal cases. When I entered into her chamber, she was busy in giving dictation to her staff. After initial exchange when I requested for an interview with her, she became ready to talk with me. She talked at length about her professional career and experience. 

Can you imagine a Sanskrit graduate turning to a Criminal Lawyer? Yes, she is one. She says, “Neither my father side nor in-laws side had any lawyer prior to me. I was the first person from either side who joined law. And tell you, no body in my family was willing to let me choose this profession.” Actually her story goes something like this. As a daughter of middle class family she passed higher secondary from I. P. School in 1969 with distinction in all the subjects. Her father was a business man, so he did not have much to guide her, what to pursue after school. Her brother was a TGT in a government school, who used to teach Sanskrit. This was he, who persuaded her in all possible ways to opt Sanskrit in graduation. She had no option but to go with her suggestion. And thus she landed up in the prestigious Inderprastha College, DU. There again she performed well and came out with a 1st class in Sanskrit. Once again her career became a question in the family. Her brother was thinking of get her admitted in B. Ed, which she was least interested in. In fact, she says, “Since my childhood I was fascinated about law, so that I was not in favour of making any compromise then. Finally after so many rounds of heated exchange I managed to get admission in my dream project, i.e., LL. B. in 1972. In fact those days there was no entrance test for getting into LL. B., but People were serious about their studies. After spending three consecutive years in Campus Law Center, Delhi University I came out with a professional degree. And you know, you have come to interview me only because of that ha ha ha 
 (she laughs). She says that there were very few females those days, interested in Law, at least in my faculty the number of girls were very less. She got first division in LL. B. also. 

This is her 29th year of her Bar Council membership. She joined the Bar in July 1975. She very proudly says, “You know, Maine use sail love marriage kid this. And us jasmine I love marriage karma kopi asana cam naming than. Ajar to hard gnat me hot hay aisi shadiayan. Can you imagine a SHUDDHA BANIA marrying with a MUSLIM in 1975? But we did 

.” I could not hide the resemblance of marriage of mine with her, “madam, maine bhi love marriage ki hai”. This discloser brought us slightly closer. 

Now whatever Urmila Gupta speaks is more interesting and hurting also in some amount. As I earlier mentioned that she was the second lady advocate in Tis Hazari who joined criminal practice. Ms. Mahender Chaudhary was the first, who expired a few years back. She started her days in Tis Hiszaari working as a junior of Advocate Mr.  B. B. Sood. Advocate Sood was a reputed Civil Lawyer those days. He has a chamber in the Civil Side and a seat also in front of Treasury building. Mr. Sood’s practice was very good, his chamber was full of case-files, but all were of civil matters, which Urmila was least interested. “Knowing my interest he offered me his seat and said that I am free to entertain my clients from the seat”, says she. After a week she realized that the attitude of male in general was very terrible. People used to roam around; sometimes they used to spend hours on her seat without any reason. Moreover, some male advocates also used to treat her like a women, who is there only to please their eyes. “And I cannot tell you, how I managed those seven days on that seat. I felt I was like a tongue stuck between 32 teeth. I became very disturbed”, says she. She shared her problem and dilemma with a very close friend of her Kamna Prasad, who was spending her days within her house after having the LL.B degree. In the course of problem sharing she offered her to start practice jointly from the seat, which she was given by her senior. “Fortunately Kamna accepted my offer and we started practice together”, says Urmila. But that settlement also did not help the ladies duo in getting cordial place in the patriarchal world of advocates. Being new in the profession the Ladies had very few cases. But one bail, which Urmila managed to get in a case under section 307 IPC (attempt to murder), gave a kind of work satisfaction and immediate relief for the ladies duo in the mail dominated advocates’ world. She says, “Now they started whispering about our success and gradually their attitude also started changing towards us, they started discussing cases with us. After some time clients started approaching us too. It is amazing that in spite of not being in sound position in some of our cases in the beginning we got bail. Influencing by our performance and ability the advocates started asking us to appear before the court in bail matters on behalf of them. In number of bail matters we got relief. And that performance built my confidence.” She says, “ho sakta hai tab magistrates ne hume encourage karne ke liye relief diye hon, kyonki tab criminal cases me females jati hi nahin thi, lekin kewal magistrates ke liberal hone se to humari practice chalti nahin”. In fact they were laboring hard also. 

They started coming to courts in vacations also. Those days very few lawyers used to come in vacations. Even today when the number of lawyers has increased tremendously the income of those suddenly becomes high, who come in vacations, therefore, and it is not difficult to assume the income of vacation lawyers those days. She says, “Sometimes we used to earn Rs. 500- 600 in a day. Remember the value of 5-600 in 1970’s
 And In fact after earning 5-600 in a day we were thinking ourselves not less than a queen. If I exclude the ill behavior of male counterparts in the beginning I would say practicing the criminal law is really a fantastic experience

Her professional association with Kamna Prasad got an end in 1980 with Kamna’s marriage. Her in-laws were not in favor of her practicing law. Even her husband was not keen of her profession. There was hardly any option for her except accepting the dictates of husbands and SAS-SASUR. Actually Urmila remained in touch with her for some time after her marriage but she had to disconnect her relationship with Kamna because her in-laws did not want it to continue. In fact this was not the problem of 1980’s Kamna but several Kamnas and others have to surrender before their families even today. First thing is that the parents do not give permission to the girls to opt a career in law and in case they manage to get permission after much hue and cry in their families, many of them have to leave the profession after marriage. “If I am a successful lawyer today then it is only because of my husband’s support. Because our’s is a love marriage. Generally the spouses in this kind of marriage understand each other’s aspirations and to some extent they support and help each other in pulling off those aspirations also”, says she. She further suggests, “why not you study the matrimonial life of female lawyers? If the constituency appears you vast, then limit yourself only to Tis Hazaari or to those only who are regular to the Ladies Bar room of Criminal side. Quite often I see you in the bar room, you must be familiar with most of them. So you can do it. Yes, you do it. It would be helpful in general and to our folk particular.” 
Comparing the state of affairs in Tis Hazari of 2004 to Tis Hazaari of 1980’s she opines that it is deteriorated. According to her only Delhi wallahs were in the profession those days and the reputation of the profession was also good. Advocates used to get handsome fees. Speaking about the degradation of profession she says, “But today Biharis have defamed the profession. Like any other profession they are coming into this profession also in large numbers. If you walk around the courts you will find every second person is a Bihari Advocate. If we ask Rs. 11000 as fees for a work, they become ready to do the same work on a mere fee of 500 or 1000. Even some of them offer their service for 200-300. This is not good for our profession.” My interruption firstly, that the number of Bihari advocates are not as huge as she spoke and secondly, if somebody offering service on meager fee then it is good for the poor litigants incensed her a bit. “I am not saying that all advocates are from Bihar and all are ready to work on lesser fees. It can not be and it should not be. But Biharis are practicing in Delhi in large numbers. And if you think offering service on 500-600 rupees is a help for poor then your perception is wrong. Poor litigants can move to Legal Aid Cell, they can get free lawyers form there. If they are taking money from the poor, they are cheating them. In fact these are the lawyers who are defaming our profession. They are actually not lawyers but a gang of touts. That’s why I am saying that the reputation of the profession has decreased.”
Recollecting the notorious emergency of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1975 she says, “The lawyer community in Delhi was also on the hit list of Sanjay Gandhi. He was working like a prime minister de-facto. The general mass of Delhi was frightened by his terror. All those centers of meetings and discussions became the target of Sanjay Gandhi, which seemed to him possible threat to Ms. Gandhi. Our campus was also targeted.” She tries to recall the exact date when the chambers were demolished in Tis Hazaari, but she can not. She says that without any notice Sanjay Gandhi’s bulldozer ran over the chambers, which were legally allotted by the bar. Within an hour the chambers of civil and criminal sides transformed into debris. All the furniture and case files of advocates transformed into garbage. “That day is known as the black day in the history of Tis Hazaari”, says she. Next time the fresh allotments were made only after the change of guard in the center. In 1977 the bar made fresh allotments of CHABUTRAS. There were total 1000 chabutras in civil and criminal side, 500 each. From 1977 to 1984 advocates did their practice from the chabutras. It was only in 1984 that the bar gave permission for constructing chambers. But today the number of chambers in Tis Hazaari is more than double of the chabutras. In fact, she says, “gradually, people started encroaching the land and constructing chambers. Although the structures made in the name of chambers are illegal but sooner or later they were regularized by the Delhi Bar Association (DBA).” One chabutra was allotted to her also, which she transformed into chamber in 1984. And from ’84 onwards she is working form there only. 

Talking about the nature of cases she says that comparatively the number of matrimonial cases has increased tremendously. And she explains section 498A of IPC (related to dowry, harassment of women by her in laws and husband), the key factor of increasing number of matrimonial cases. Section 498 A was inserted in the IPC in 1983. “Actually before this section, women had hardly any way to resolve their matrimonial troubles; they were forced to accept all kinds of ill treatments and exploitation by in-laws. So through the section 498A for the first time Indian women got legal voice against matrimonial disturbances and troubles”, says she. But at the same time she admits that the misuse of this section has become a fashion today, which is alarming.

Talking about the functioning and the work culture of the courts she says, “Corruption, fraud, dishonesty, treachery all are the part of courts’ functioning. You already are practicing in Tis Hazaari you already have experienced the court staff. So it is worthless to talk about the courts’ work culture. If you are able to bribe every desk and table, no body can stop your work to be done.” 

However she also feels that being a female one has to face a lot of difficulties in the profession. A female has no liberty to go home late or attend parties and all like her mail counterpart. She is bound to perform certain household responsibility. She has to look after her children, attend her husband and in-laws in the house while if she is a junior advocate she has to obey the orders and dictates of her senior also in the courts. That is what she feels being a female lawyer.

Finally she speaks about her family. Her husband is a businessman. She has two children. Daughter Samita, a fashion designer married last year. Although Urmila Gupta herself went into love marriage but she had to search a groom for Samita. Her son Samit has written the final year exams, and is waiting for a degree of English Graduate from Zakir Husain College. 
“Though Samit’s father is an established businessman, he is trying to go with me, he has given the entrance examination for LL.B in DU”, she says.
My next posting, again a biography of a former employee of Delhi Bar Association will followed very soon. For the time being I am waiting for you suggestions and comments.


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