Afternoon Voice

‘Politics overpowering Principle’

Abha Singh is a well-known advocate by profession, who is also famed for her blunt persona. She started her career as a customs appraiser in Bombay Custom House in 1991. Later, she joined the Indian Postal Service in 1995. After serving as Director Postal Service in Uttar Pradesh, she started her practice as a lawyer in the Bombay High Court. She has been a part of some of the major celebrity cases as well as social cases in India. Abha Singh spoke to our Correspondent Twinkle Mehta about the reaction she received for her book, political, legal issues and social causes addressed by her that brought changes in people’s lives.

Since you were a student of JNU, what would you comment on the current situation of JNU?

I think that ‘politics overpowering principle’ would pithily sum it up. In the battle between the Congress, Left and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the quest for knowledge which hallmarks JNU should not be sacrificed. I think there is a lot of agitation and aggravation for the sake of it, just for the thrill of being part of something. When I was a student at JNU, I recall the big protests against the US intervention in Nicaragua and despite it striking me why this mattered so much – intervention by a foreign country, in another foreign nation – I still got involved. It’s easy to get swept up and elevate your importance in being part of a cause but the principle should always come first.

Your book titled ‘Stri Dasha aur Disha’ got published last year. The targeted audience that you kept in mind while writing, do you think the book must have even reached to the villagers and they are aware of it looking at the illiteracy and lack of awareness in the villages?

Admittedly, whilst there are high levels of illiteracy in the villages, especially amongst women due to high school drop-out rates, the intention is that even if a few women in the village can understand, or their children can be aware, they can spread the message to others. In fact, in these rural areas messages are often best understood through word-of-mouth by people they respect and have connections with. In these situations children can play a very powerful role in empowering their mothers. Further, it is exactly this reason that the book has been written in Hindi – translating all the laws that pertain to women – from English to Hindi is a great effort to tackle this lack of awareness. Now, upon great demand, it is even being translated into Urdu.

What are the reactions of the common public you have received so far for your book?

The working class ranging from maids, their children, pavement dwellers and school drop-outs, have all reacted positively after reading the book. They feel empowered as previously because of ignorance of the law they did not know how to report the crime being committed against them. Renowned literary figure Dr Sabra Habib is so impressed that she is getting the book translated into Urdu so that the Muslim women can also benefit from this book. In Delhi, this book was released by the Chairman of the Law Commission, Justice B.S. Chauhan who was of the view that since all the laws like CRC and IPC are in English, this book would make understanding law easier and increase the access to justice for those who want to fight their case but remain unaware about the sections of the offence. This book also talks of real cases, the misuse of 498A; this will help in preventing misuse of law, because I strongly feel that whenever law is misused, it denies justice to the genuine and needy. In Lucknow, this book was released by Sulkhan Singh, the Director General Police of Uttar Pradesh.

Can you enlighten us with the kind of cases that has helped any women through your NGO? Are there any visible changes in the society?

An eighth passed girl, a mother of two, whose husband was cheating by denying maintenance to her and her sons, was taken by me. I ensured that not only does she get maintenance for herself but also provided education to her children. Further, the Sapna Shukla case where the young techie was pushed to death is being pursued by me and I have ensured that her culprit has not got bail for one year.

As you have mentioned about Triple Talaq in your book, what is your take on it and have you solved any such case to bring the modification in the law?

My take has always been that Triple Talaq fails to uphold the constitutional right to equality and the right to life. This enshrines a right to live with dignity which is lost in this demeaning practice. When strong measures have been taken to liberate women from child marriage and practices such as, sati it is discriminatory for Muslim women to have not been liberated from the derogatory practice of triple talaq. There is a right to religion but this comes with the caveats of reasonable health and morality.

As Salman Khan was acquitted in the hit and run case, what would be the reason for that according to you despite the case being delayed for 13 years?

This delay gave time for the defense to turn witnesses hostile such as Salman Khan’s police bodyguard Ravindra Patil who at first deposed saying that he was at the wheel and he was drunk but subsequently changed his statement. Ramasrey Pandey was another witness, from the bakery, who was injured in the accident but later turned hostile and told the court that he had not seen the actor behind the wheel of the SUV. It also gave them time to destroy evidence and build a false case, claiming that Salman’s driver had been at the wheel of the car.