Interview

Volume 6 Issue 4 - August 01, 2009

“The Government has to be reminded that merely signing U.N.C.R.P.D. is not sufficient,” Tanu Bedi

Tanu Bedi
Tanu Bedi

Tanu Bedi, a Chandigarh based lawyer, took up the cudgels for an orphaned mentally retarded girl who was pregnant after being raped at a government shelter in Chandigarh. She talks to Dorodi Sharma from D.N.I.S. about her exhaustive battle and her road to justice.

D.N.I.S.: Tell us how you came to know of the case and decided to take it on?

Tanu Bedi: The Chandigarh Administration approached the High Court in its purported Public Interest Litigation on this case. R.S. Cheema was appointed Amicus Curiae and I being an associate in the office was given the job of assisting him. The moment this file came into my hands without even knowing law or the advances in science, my first instinct was that the termination of pregnancy in a woman’s body cannot and should not be without the consent of the woman. Subsequently on research I found that law and science both supported this view.

In the first medical report there was not a word about the girl’s desire and the entire emphasis of our argument was to determine what the girl wants, even if she may not be able to express properly. But in the second report when she unambiguously and unequivocally expressed her desire to have her baby, it became a moral responsibility to do our best to see that her child is not killed against her wishes.

I was disturbed after the verdict of prompt termination of her pregnancy by the High Court but my Guru motivated me to carry the torch forward and with the help of our Delhi office in Defence Colony, we immediately filed a S.L.P. D.P. Singh and Sanjay Jain went to the Chief Justice of India’s residence at night to get a hearing on Monday and the rest as they say, is history.

D.N.I.S.: Has it been a learning experience for you as well?

Tanu Bedi: It has been indeed the biggest learning experience of my life so far and justified my entering this profession. It has helped me evolve as a human being besides helping me learn of so many new things, specially the U.N. Convention, which I was unaware of earlier. Since May 30, I could not concentrate on anything else and devoted myself completely to this issue. The research besides medical literature also took me to American and Canadian judgments which were also on the lines of protecting the “right of choice” of persons with intellectual disability.

It also taught me to look into another’s world from their eyes and not from our own point of view. Life has a lot to offer and disability is not to be looked down upon as a disadvantage. Nobody is less than anybody else and neither are their dreams.

D.N.I.S.: A lot has been said about the future of the child. What is your take on that?

Tanu Bedi: I failed to understand the discussion on the future without having a discussion on the sanctity of life. Future comes after the life comes. Here this child in its mother’s womb was struggling for breath and was ordered to be terminated at one moment of time and the discussion was on the future!

We do not kill orphans and other destitute just because they also have an uncertain future. We are living in a democratic welfare State. It is the responsibility of the State to take care of all its citizens specially those who are unable to take care of themselves. And if the State falters in its duty, it is the duty of its citizens to remind the State of its Constitutional duty rather than helping them shirk away from it by killing an innocent child even before birth.

D.N.I.S.: India has ratified the U.N.C.R.P.D. which is looked at as tokenism as it is yet to be implemented in true spirit. Do you feel this judgement has paved the way for its implementation in both letter and spirit?

Tanu Bedi: The detailed judgment is yet to come and it has to be seen how the issue is dealt by the Supreme Court, but yes the discussion on the Convention has created an awareness among the masses about the existence of such a piece of international legislation to which India is a signatory. The Government is reminded of its responsibility that mere signing is not sufficient.

I expect the government to make efforts to generate awareness among the people about the law and rights flowing through such law.

It is also the responsibility of all informed citizens to do their duty to uphold the spirit behind grant of equal rights under this Convention and other legislations.

D.N.I.S.: How do you see this judgment affect the society’s perception of people with mental retardation?

Tanu Bedi: Rights of mentally retarded persons are well protected under the legislation but the society who has discussed the issue is not aware of the law and the growth of science. Unfortunately, the opinion, which has come forth is not very positive though it can be very well understood due to ignorance in the concerned field.

From this judgement, a journey begins to bring about a change in the attitude of people towards people with disability as being at par with any non - disabled person.

D.N.I.S.: There are widespread concerns about the state of women with disability in the country - from incidents like infanticide of baby girls with disability to death through starvation. How do you see this judgement changing the social, psychological and general status of disabled women in the country?

Tanu Bedi: I sincerely wish that this one judgement brings about the desired changes but the past experiences belie this wishful thinking. Therefore until and unless there is a conscious effort by the society to keep the flame burning, the perception cannot be changed overnight. Definitely the judgment has paved the way for discussion on the issue and with consistent efforts the stereotypical attitude would change.

The least, we all can do without any gigantic effort is to change our individual mind set so as to consider every single life as an extremely precious entity capable of living to its fullest extent.

D.N.I.S.: What kind of changes do you feel we need in our judiciary to ensure that rights of people with disability are not violated - especially people who might not be in a position to fight for them?

Tanu Bedi: The sensitization to the rights of people with disability is the key, whether it is the judiciary or society. If the legislature fails or perhaps, as in the present case, has failed to create awareness of the existing rights of disabled people, it should be enforced through judiciary. People with disability have their rights protected under various statutes and conventions. The decisions of the Court should strictly conform to the spirit of those rights and the subjective opinion should not cloud respect to the dignity of all. Also, if possible, a guardian in litigation should always be appointed in case of a person who is not able to speak for himself or herself due to disability. If possible, there should be an effort to listen to the point of view of the organizations working in the field and representing the disability sector.

D.N.I.S.: Do you feel that in the whole issue, the shortcoming on the State’s part did not surface - the fact that she was raped at a government shelter?

Tanu Bedi:The investigations are on and as per the media report the arrest of the concerned persons has been made and a special investigating team constituted by the administration is taking the task seriously. But that’s not the only way State can compensate this girl.

My only worry is that this one case is a topic of discussion because of its exposure in media but unfortunately the hard reality and bitter truth is that there are many State run institutions in which such things are happening in a routine manner. And as there is no one to raise their voices, the inhuman treatment meted out to the inmates of the State run institutions continues.

This case might and should act as an eye opener for all of us to put the State to task to provide adequate care and protection to the subjects who are under the State’s direct custody.

D.N.I.S.: This was one case where some human rights activists had supported termination of pregnancy. What is your reaction to that?

Tanu Bedi: Well, this case has also brought forth different perceptions of humanity. I might be wrong but it forced me to think that the fight for other’s rights is on two different planes. Some people think that others are weak and therefore they need the strength and capacity of the strong to protect the rights of the weak, more-so in the terms and manner as the strong think is right for the weak.

Then there are some people who believe that nobody is weak and the nature has given no right to anyone to decide for other’s life by looking down upon them. Wherever somebody is found lacking in some capacity to fight for their own rights, the effort should be to give strength to remove weakness and help the person become strong and decide for its own life. I belong to this latter category of persons and have always believed that by making others strong I strengthen myself. I did not fight for anyone’s right. I fought for my conviction and for my belief in the preciousness and dignity of each human life.

D.N.I.S.: Do you think we as a country have matured to recognise the rights of people with disability?

Tanu Bedi: May be yes, may be no. There has been mixed response from the different quarters. The so called elite whose own lives have never been encountered with disabilities and difficulties chose to comment upon life of a disabled person as one not even worth living.

Unfortunately, many of the medical health professionals come under this category and proved the fear that doctors by not trusting their own patients are sometimes the biggest obstacles for a disabled person to live a meaningful life. The fight of a disabled man or woman against the society’s bias is much more rigorous than the challenge posed by the physical or mental impairment.

There are no yardsticks to the quality of life. Everyone’s life and its journey and experience is unique. If our busy schedule does not permit us to come forward to do anything for persons with disability, we must not squander our precious time by getting into discussion without any follow up action to belittle and mock at the dreams and desires of people with disability and put them down with our own subjective opinion. They don’t need anyone’s permission to live their life the way they want. LIVE AND LET LIVE completely, meaningfully…

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