Orissa High Court Chief Justice S Muralidhar on Thursday said that Indian laws were structured to discriminate against the marginalised.
He was delivering a lecture on the topic “Appearing In court: Challenges In Representing The Marginalized”, to mark the 131st anniversary of Dr. BR Ambedkar.
55% of the 3.72 lakh people in India who are awaiting trial, belong to the Scheduled Caste and Other Backward Classes, Justice Muralidhar pointed out.
Of the 1.13 lakh convicts, 21% belong to the Scheduled Caste and 37.1% to the Other Backward Class category, according to the Odisha High Court chief justice.
In his lecture, he also pointed out that more than 17% of those under trial and 19.5% of the convicts are Muslims.
“There are many barriers to accessing justice that a marginalised person faces… The system works differently for the poor,” he said.
He said that people from marginalised groups largely viewed the legal system as irrelevant to them as a tool of survival and empowerment.
“Their experience tells them that it [the legal system] operates to oppress them and they have to devise ways to avoid it rather than engage with it. We need to revive discussions around decriminalising many of the surviving activities of the poor,” Muralidhar said.
“Sexual minorities have to live in fear of criminal law process,” he claimed.
“Representing many of the marginalised groups in court made me ponder over questions for which there were no easy answers then. I doubt it is easier now,” Live Law quoted Justice Muralidhar as saying.
The Odisha HC chief justice also expressed concern on the quality of legal aid in the country for those unable to afford legal representation.
“The lack of confidence in the legal aid lawyer is a reflection of the general approach to welfare services by the providers. I call it the ration shop syndrome. The poor believe that if you get any service for free or it is substantially subsidised, then you cannot demand quality,” he said, according to The Indian Express.
He also cited a study that found that human rights lawyers belonging to Dalit and Adivasi were labelled as “Maoist or Naxalite lawyers.”
“Unfortunately, there is a tendency of late to view appearing for the marginalised as making a political choice,” he said.