Thursday, January 26, 2012

Guest Post by Prashant Iyengar: A tribute to the late Professor Vepa P. Sarathi

The renowned legal scholar, eminent jurist, former Law Commission member and Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court Vepa P. Sarathi passed away yesterday, four years short of his 100th birthday. There were
portents: this is after all a season in which diminutive titans have been missing centuries. To the generation of his students at NALSAR and elsewhere, this news has come as a shock. I think many of us believed audaciously that he could live forever, or at least that our adoration of him would make it so. We mourn his passing today.

Professor Sarathi was the grandsire of NALSAR and stewarded us through many difficult legal battlefields. At once, Bhisma and Sarathi, he was to us, entirely the stuff of legend. A glance at his eclectic scholarly oeuvre -  including bestselling books on statutory interpretation, property law, evidence, his authorship of law commission reports, and his semi-professional interests in literature, vedic mathematics and astronomy, all attest to his extraordinary erudition. The NALSAR university website lists him as having taught courses in the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure, Transfer of Property, Evidence and the Constitution. He also taught Judicial Process and Company Law and was available for guest talks in many other courses. With him around we had the rare privilege of having eight decades of legal virtuosity at our continuous disposal.  NALSAR will be hard pressed to find five new faculty who could be the equal of one Professor Sarathi. But more than his scholarly attainments, he was also habitually a friend, guide and mentor to almost everyone who crossed his path, and was the affable grandfather-in-law (avus lex) who we all looked up to. He was simply the kindest man we knew. It is this latter avatar that we will miss the most.

In his first satire, the Roman poet Horace pauses to ask rhetorically, “Ridentem dicere verum Quid vetat?” (roughly, “What prevents me/one from speaking the truth in a playful mood/smilingly?”). I think this question quite aptly describes Professor Sarathi’s teaching style, if not his entire mien. He had a rich fund of humour - anecdotes and clever limericks, many of his own coining - which he employed to dilute the viscosity of legal discourse. As a teacher his lectures were always riveting– whether he was discussing arcane principles of
property law or lighter themes like law and literature. He had the magician’s knack of nonchalance. The rabbit of the rule against perpetuities was conjured effortlessly from his top hat of legal knowledge, and presented to us matter-of-factly. Having only recently turned law professor - of property law, at that - I am now more fully able to appreciate the wizardry required to be able to convey nuances of property dogma to a class of indifferent nineteen year olds!

More than an institutional loss, his passing will be felt as a national loss. For over four decades, his books on Property, Evidence and Statutory Interpretation have instructed thousands of law students interested in acquiring more than a mere guidebook education. Moreover, at 96 he was one of the last surviving repositories of a
legal memory that spanned, and could give firsthand accounts of four distinct eras of our legal culture - colonial, national, post-emergency and post liberalization. He could speak of law with the same facility as narrating his own family’s history. He was simultaneously museum, relic, encyclopedia, chronicler, genealogist and exponent of Anglo-Indian law. A true national treasure. 

A friend’s favourite Vepa Sarathi story is about how she once discovered him in his office at NALSAR reclining comfortably in his chair, feet resting on his table, absorbed in a Harry Potter book. This has also become my favourite image of the man. At 95, this is what I aim to be doing. To have accomplished in law even a fraction of
what he did, but also to stretch my legs on a table and read whatever it is the kids are going crazy about. To have authored dense legal commentaries and have read Cicero, but also to retain my curiosity in the fabulous. This ‘passionate curiosity’ will be one of Professor Sarathi’s enduring legacies. It is the thing he has infected us, his grateful students, with.

We will miss your gentleness, you erudition and your humor Professor Sarathi. Thank you for everything.

Guest Post by Anup Surendranath: Children Born Out of Inter Caste Marriages – Abandoning a Pure Group Assimilation Approach


The recent decision by a two judge bench of the Supreme Court (Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Desai) in Rameshbhai Dabhai Naika v. State of Gujarat has clarified that a person born out of an inter-caste marriage can inherit the caste/ tribe status of the mother (for the purpose of reservations) as result of an evidence-based factual determination of the disadvantages suffered. The court held that a mechanical application of the position in Hindu personal law that a child born out of an inter-caste marriage inherits the caste of the father is constitutionally invalid as far as determining beneficiaries of reservations is concerned. This judgment consolidates the Supreme Court’s departure in the mid-90s from its early discourse on such issues developed between the 50s and 70s through cases like Chatturbhuj Vithaldas Jasani v. Moreshwar Parashram (1954), N.E Horo v. Jahan Ara Jaipal Singh (1972) and Guntur Medical College v. Mohan Rao (1976). In my view, the importance of the decision in Rameshbhai lies not so much in the fact that it reiterates the established position since the 1950s that a woman need not necessarily assume the caste/ tribe status of her husband as far as reservations are concerned, but rather in its consolidation of the position that the individual experience of disadvantage is just as relevant as group membership even for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (admittedly restricted to contexts of non-birth based membership in the group).

In the Jasani and Jahan Ara era, when confronted with determination of caste/ tribe status arising out of inter-caste marriage and adoption cases in the context of reservations, the Supreme Court’s response was to focus on the assimilation of the person within the beneficiary group. Questions concerning acceptance by other members of the beneficiary group and nature of assimilation were central to the discussion. However, it must be noted that even during this period the emphasis was very much on an evidence-based factual determination but with a completely different focus.

The judgment of the Gujarat High Court in Rameshbhai Dabhai Naika (2010) that the action of the relevant authority in cancelling the appellant’s Scheduled Tribe certificate was valid on the ground that the appellant could only inherit his father’s caste (forward caste Kshatriya) and not his mother’s Scheduled Tribe status was rightly seen as an incorrect application of precedent. The two judges disagreed with the manner in which the decisions in Valsamma Paul v. Cochin University and Ors. (1996), Punit Rai v. Dinesh Chaudhary (2003), and Anjan Kumar v. Union of India (2006) were interpreted and held that those decisions in fact supported the position that every such case must be decided on particular facts as applicable to the individual.  Though there could be a presumption that a child born out of an inter-caste marriage inherited the caste of her/ his father, the Supreme Court was of the view that such a child could lead evidence to rebut the presumption while demonstrating that she/ he was brought up by the mother and was also accepted by the mother’s community along with those outside the community.

However, the nature of the factual determination being discussed in the Supreme Court’s judgment in Rameshbhai is significantly different from what was contemplated in Jasani and Jahan Ara. Starting with Valsamma, the Supreme Court has sought to move away from a framework that requires factual determination only along the lines of acceptance by group members and assimilation. In Valsamma, the Supreme Court explicitly holds that, for purposes of Article 16(4), recognition of the individual by the beneficiary group is irrelevant and it is the life experience of the individual that is relevant. Decided by a two judge bench, the decision was arguably not in consonance with what was decided by larger benches (three judges) in Jasani and Jahan Ara. In Sobha Hymavathi Devi v. Setti Gangadhara Swamy and Ors. (2005), three judges of the Supreme Court over-ruled Jahan Ara to the extent that it does not take into consideration the actual background and circumstances of the person in question and relies solely on questions of group assimilation. Marriage into a beneficiary group and acceptance by the members of that group is held to be insufficient for an individual to claim benefits under Articles 15(4), 16(4) and 332.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Rameshbhai is a logical extension of the decision in Sobha. While in Sobha, the question was whether a woman from a socially dominant group could marry into a beneficiary group and claim the benefits of reservation, in Rameshbhai the court was faced with the reverse fact scenario. The individual in question wanted to inherit his mother’s Scheduled Tribe status despite her marriage to a forward caste man. The court was correct in extending the analysis in Sobha to establish the position that an examination of the individual’s circumstances can lead to her/ him inheriting the mother’s status.

Therefore, the big news from the Supreme Court’s decision in Rameshbhai is not really that an individual can inherit her/ his mother’s status in certain circumstances, but rather that the Supreme Court now seems to have established the position that, in cases of inter caste marriage, children born out of inter caste marriage and adoptions, there is an additional level of investigation to be conducted to decide the eligibility for reservations – and that additional level of investigation centres around individual deprivation and moves away from pure notions of group membership even in the case of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Undoubtedly, it would have been possible to reach the same conclusion through the framework developed in Jasani and Jahan Ara but the additional individual-based investigation in the manner envisaged Valsamma onwards certainly contributes to fine tuning India’s reservation policies.    

Friday, January 13, 2012

PRS' Legislative Assistants for Members of Parliament (LAMP) Fellowship Programme

PRS Legislative Research is accepting applications for their Legislative Assistants for Members of Parliament (LAMP) Fellowship Programme. Please see below for details about the fellowship and the criteria for selection.

The Legislative Assistants for Members of Parliament (LAMP) Fellowship is an opportunity for exceptional young Indians who are seeking to widen their understanding of politics and policy-making in the country. The LAMP Fellowship is a unique initiative, designed to provide individualised research support to MPs, by training Fellows to assist them in their tasks as law-makers. The LAMP Fellowship was conceptualised by PRS Legislative Research in 2010, launched with a pilot initiative consisting of 12 LAMP Fellows. Currently, the LAMP Fellowship 2011-12 has 46 LAMP Fellows, who come from diverse academic backgrounds and are working with Members of Parliament from across political parties.

Role of a LAMP Fellow: Each Legislative Assistant is assigned to an MP, to provide quality research support for their legislative and oversight duties. The LAMP Fellow will help MPs frame Parliamentary questions, raise issues, participate in parliamentary debates and speeches and help prepare for committee meetings.

Essential Criteria: Under the LAMP Fellowship, PRS is seeking committed, highly-motivated individuals to assist MPs for their work in Parliament. Applicants must meet the following criteria:
Applicants must be no more than 25 years of age (born on or after January 01,1987)
Applicants must have at least a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline.
LAMP Fellows are required to be based in Delhi for the entire duration of the Fellowship.
Only Indian citizens can apply.
Duration: June 2012 to May 2013.

The last date for applications for the LAMP Fellowship 2012-13 is February 26, 2012.