Thursday, March 19, 2009

India's Caste System Challenged in Appeal Court Ruling

For those of us who know very little about the state of social justice in India, this report from Telegraph UK will be most disconcerting:

Mushtaq Ahmed Mir, an unemployed man from Kupwara, decided to sue the Kashmiri newspaper Tameel-i-Irshad after it published a false report claiming he was a defendant in a murder case. He had asked the judge to waive the court fee in the case because he was too poor to pay it.

The judge threw out his case with a ruling that the poor did not have reputations which could be damaged in newspaper reports.

"When the plaintiff is not even in a position to pay the lawsuit fee, he cannot seek damages for defamation, " Judge Nazir Ahmed Fida said. "The dignity of a person of low integrity will not be lowered further in case his name appears in a defamatory piece of news."

...In his appeal ruling, High Court Judge Muzaffar Hussain Attar reprimanded the original trial judge and said his ruling had been "offensive to conscience." "The respect and reputation of a person is not dependent upon how much wealth he has accumulated," he said. If only the rich were entitled to respect "a great disservice will be done to society," he added.

...Leading social commentator Pavan K Varma said the ruling heralded "the beginning of change." "To say that someone who is poor can't have status reflects the mindset of another century, but old attitudes die hard. That the appeals judge threw out the ruling means there's a beginning of change. I'm not surprised that [the judgment] was overruled. That's the significance. Caste is now standing on its head," he said.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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