Major Manjit Rajain had to skip a day of work every month for nine years over a court case against him which was was eventually dismissed as a clerical error. Photograph: Vidhi Doshi for the Guardian
This countrys progress depends on a strong judicial system which can provide quick justice in commercial matters, says Dushyant Dave, a senior advocate in the supreme court, who has seen the judicial system deteriorate since he began practicing in 1978.
We need foreign investment to improve
technology and capital. If were not able to protect technology in terms of intellectual property rights, and if were going to drag investors into our court system for several decades, then theyre not going to come.
We have more than 700 million people living in poverty, and this is the greatest challenge of our democracy. The judiciary has a great role to play. Unfortunately I dont think the judiciary really realises that.
The legal logjam has led to
overcrowded prisons, with more than 68% of the prison population still under trial. Some prisons are over two or three times over capacity.
Getting bail usually depends on the quality of a defendants lawyers. Alok Prasanna, an analyst from a thinktank called
Vidhi Legal Policy says.
In criminal trials, the process itself is a punishment. Many under trial prisoners end up doing their entire sentence without getting a full trial.
The result of these never ending cases has led to a crisis of faith in the legal system. Two-thirds of ongoing cases are criminal rather than civil cases, which suggests that Indias judicial system more than six decades after independence is not much different from the one inherited from the British raj, where rulers used the legal system as a means of maintaining order and criminalising agitators, whilst the majority of civil disputes were settled outside courts. Prasanna explains.
Parties dont see litigation as a way to resolve disputes so much as get what they want by making the other party suffer and come to court repeatedly for years.
I always tell people who approach me for legal advice not to go through the courts, he says, because you may win or lose the case, but you will definitely lose both your money and your sanity
Attempts to improve the system have seen little success.
After the horrific gang rape of a medical student in Delhi, a series of fast-track courts were set up to speed up cases concerning violence against women. It hasnt made much of a difference. Over 93% of rape cases are still pending trial. Trivial matters hold up the cases progress.
Asha* was gang raped in 2005, when she was just 13. Until 2013, the court was simply trying to decide whether one of the men who raped her should be tried as a juvenile or an adult.
Even after her case was fast-tracked, it took two years for the court to sentence the man who arranged the gang-rape.
Her friend, who cant be identified for legal reasons says :Her entire childhood has been eaten away by this trauma. The man is now married and has children and has even run for election. No one will marry Asha or her younger sister because of what happened to her. Her lawyer says that hes certain the man will appeal the judges verdict. Why would you not appeal? he says, over the phone. Its a way out.
In the absence of speedy justice, vigilantism thrives. Groups defending womens rights such as the
Gulabi Gang or the Love Commandos are infamous for taking their revenge in cases of domestic violence and honour killings. Corruption too, is endemic. People would rather bribe a police officer or a judge than go through the lengthy hassle of a trial.
Meanwhile, the impunity that criminals may enjoy because of how slowly the legal system operates, is exemplified by Indias elected politicians. One of every three politicians currently sitting in the
Indian parliament have criminal records, with the vast majority of those involved in serious cases such as rape, murder, or kidnapping.
Prasanna explains that even the most basic needs of the courts are not met. Some courts are having to hold sessions in the dark because theres no electricity. Old buildings need to be maintained. People need to be trained better, even when computers are provided people are not trained to use them.
Dave believes that the judicial system is in dire need of a complete overhaul. Laws need rewriting. Judicial process needs to be streamlined. Lawyers need to be penalised for delaying matters without reason. The government is not interested, he says. No politician or bureaucrat wants a strong judiciary.
Justice Mudgal agrees, but doesnt believe the changes needed to strengthen the judiciary will come in his lifetime.
In the meantime, Ashish Kumar will keep fighting for his brother. I believe in this country, and I believe I will get justice one day, he says. My brother was a great man, Ashish says. Thats why Ive spent my entire life trying to get justice for my brother. The rest is up to God
A request was made to talk to the lawyers for Sumedh Singh Saini in preparation of this article but no response was forthcoming.
*name changed to protect identity