I have learnt about the allegations of rape by a survivor who is a student at JNU for the first time from the FirstPost article published today. Although the survivor has not named the person who raped her, the obvious reference is to Talib Hussain. FirstPost has stated that they have in accordance with journalistic ethics done their due diligence and verified the allegations to the best of their ability which I appreciate.
I had, on the instructions and advise of the biological father of deceased rape victim of Kathua, appeared for the father to seek justice for the 8-year-old victim of the Bakarwal community and sought the transfer of the case form Kathua to Pathankot. Talib was one of the activists who first brought the rape and murder of the child to public attention. Given the communally charged atmosphere around the case, protection was sought for the lawyer for the family, Deepika Singh Rajawat, and for Talib Hussain, who is himself a Bakarwal, and was the first person to alert the public of the murder and rape.
Since then, Talib Hussain has been accused in two cases — one by his wife and one by his sister-in-law, alleging domestic violence and rape, respectively. However, his family had filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging that they were eyewitnesses to his torture in prison. Since I believe that torture in prison is a gross violation of the right to life, I represented his family in the Supreme Court in a petition limited to an enquiry into his torture.
In the light of the article published today in FirstPost, I do not intend to continue to appear on behalf of Talib Hussain anymore. I take the decision in view of my full support of the #MeToo movement.
The legal profession has a “Cab-Rank rule”, which states that ordinarily no advocate will withdraw from engagements once accepted without sufficient cause. In my opinion the allegations made in the FirstPostarticle are sufficient cause for me to take the decision to withdraw from this case. The Bar Council of India Rules in the chapter for “Duties To Clients”does provide an advocate the exception to withdraw from services to a client if there is “sufficient cause”. This rule reads as:
“An advocate should not ordinarily withdraw from serving a client once he has agreed to serve them. He can withdraw only if he has a sufficient cause and by giving reasonable and sufficient notice to the client. Upon withdrawal, he shall refund such part of the fee that has not accrued to the client.”
Since I had appeared pro bono, the question of returning fees does not arise. I am committed to the #MeToo movement, and stand with the student’s right to speak in the public domain without fear of reprisals. My continued appearance for Talib, even though limited to his allegations of torture, will be inconsistent with my support for the #MeToo movement. I will continue to support the family of the victim of the Kathua rape and murder.
I believe that a lawyer is not the hired spokesperson of a client, but has social obligations and public responsibilities that go beyond the profession. It is their duty to present to the Court facts as they see them. It is the obligation of lawyers to uphold public interest. My social commitment to the #MeToo movement overrides my professional engagement, and therefore I have taken a conscious decision to stop representing Talib Hussain in any court.
I consider the #MeToo movement to be revolutionary and transformative in its content. In several of the cases in which I have appeared in the recent past, I have argued for upholding constitutional morality. I believe that there is an inseparable link between justice, morality, and constitutional law. In a recent speech delivered on the invitation of The Indian Expressby the then Chief Justice designate, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, he pointed out that what is needed is a revolution of the legal system and not just reform. I am in complete agreement with the Chief Justice of India. The #MeToo movement has come organically to the doorstep of the law. There is no going back to the status quo.
[Photocredit: Banner photograph of Indira Jaising is by Narendra Bisht.]