Geeta Ramaseshan is a senior lawyer, practicing in the Madras High Court in the area of criminal law, constitutional law and family law, with specific emphasis on human rights and women’s human rights. She has also specialized in international human rights law and has conducted workshops on international human rights for the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Bangkok and the International Women’s Rights Action Watch-Asia Pacific. She has been a consultant for UNICEF and UNDP on issues relating to child, women and the law. She is an adjunct faculty in Asian College of Journalism, where she teaches media law.
She has worked extensively in cases relating to discrimination, custodial violence, prisoners, juvenile children, sexual harassment, the rights of minorities, and the rights of persons living with HIV AIDS.
She has been a Heinz Fellow from the University of Pittsburgh and an Eisenhower Fellow on Human Rights, Public Interest litigation and Justice.
Geeta Ramaseshan shares with Marie Banuabout how lawyers can be made more socially responsible.
How can be lawyers be made more socially responsible?
Being socially responsible would be a requisite for all not just lawyers and needs to be inculcated during the stage of primary education and by the family. But, one way of understanding the complexities of the socio economic issues in the country could be when the educational curricula for legal studies, inculcates a sense of social responsibility so that young lawyers get inspired to also take up issues that address socio economic change.
Is there any particular aspect of learning that you feel is much needed in the Bachelors in Law Curriculum?
Family law studied from a feminist perspective, criminal law from a constitutional and human rights perspective,property law from a socio economic perspective especially on matters pertaining to land, the list could go on and on! But ,primarily what would be of relevance is to consider the impact of law on people.
How can we tackle the issue of child trafficking in India?
Child trafficking has its roots in the socio-economic reality. Invariably, children who are trafficked come from marginalized communities. There would hardly be any cases of upper caste or upper class children who are trafficked. As there is a socio-economic component for this issue,it cannot be handled by criminal law alone which seeks to only punish the perpetuators (which is very important), but not transform the condition of the children. The law on juvenile justice seeks to address this issue, but lacks a sturdy support system.
Your thoughts on Honor killing?
As a society we do not believe in the right to choice of one’s spouse or partner. The societal control is so strong that when there is any deviation from the norm, there is killing of young people which is an extreme form of violence. There are other situations also such as forced marriages, forcing a woman to stay in a marriage however violent the situation is, or compelling a person to break away from a relationship or marriage.
There are no easy ways to deal with this situation except in a systemic manner. I can elaborate on two aspectswhile there are many more dimensions to the problem. One is that the law looks at it as killing and there is no usage of the word honour in the statute. This has been constructed by some judgments of courts. Criminal laws however cannot transform society but can only punish the perpetuator. After all, despite death penalty for serious offences the offences continue.
Basically, ours is a very discriminative society. We discriminate based on caste, class, religion, etc. When you have a scenario of this kind, there is a justification from within the larger community who don’t see that the crime of killing a person for the sake of honour is wrong. Unless this attitude and approach of justification changes, unfortunately, these honour killings will continue.
The other problem is our refusal to understand and acceptthe sexuality of young people. Acceptance of this would help us deal with the problems of adolescent and young adults in a much more nuanced manner.
What are your views on the reality of Gender Equality?
Every situation cannot be taken by exception to the rule. Yes, more and more women are highly educated, well employed and pushing boundaries. Women have moved up in the socio economic ladder.
But, the average situation for the majority women in India remains bleak. The economic divide is increasing which always impacts women more. There is increasing violence against women. While we have made some success in changing laws especially after the case of Nirbhaya, the impact of such legislations have to be seen.