Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to participate in the concluding ceremony of the Golden Jubilee Year of the High Court of Sikkim and to inaugurate the seminar on, “Gender Justice and Empowerment of Women with special reference to Sikkim.” I am told that during the past year, the High Court organized a number of useful events and ceremonies to coincide with the Golden Jubilee celebrations.
Sikkim is a State which believes in a just society. The evolution of the judicial system began here in the last century with the creation of courts at various levels. The High Court of Sikkim was established in 1955. Upon the merger of Sikkim with the Union of India in 1975, the structure of this High Court was further strengthened. Today, as it completes 50 years of its existence, I extend my warmest greetings to the Bench, Bar and other members of the Sikkim High Court.
Like other branches of the Government, the Judiciary works in accordance with the principles and goals of our Constitution. The Supreme Court, the highest court of justice, was inaugurated just two days after India became a Sovereign Democratic Republic on 26th January, 1950. Since then, we can be proud that our judicial system has done much to secure the rights and freedoms of the people of the country. It has contributed to efforts to achieve the very basic vision of the Constitution to secure for all its citizens justice – social, economic and political. An efficient, independent and accessible judicial system is a pre-requisite to achieve equitable development.
At the very outset, I would like to compliment the Sikkim High Court for having a good record of disposal of cases. I understand less than 100 cases are pending. These too should be disposed off soon so that a “zero arrear record” is attained.
An important aspect in the administration of justice is that it must be accessible. All citizens have a right to legal recourse. This right has been made available under the Constitution and in statutory laws. Yet, in practice for poorer sections of the society the opportunity to avail of this right is deeply constrained, faced as they are with a lack of resources and the wherewithal. Access to justice for them can often remain a theoretical concept rather than a practical exercisable right. Fortunately, a legal aid mechanism is functioning in the country for those who need it and are entitled to it. The Sikkim State and District Legal Services Authority must discharge their functions with a deep sense of social responsibility and render competent legal advice to the people. This is essential if we are to uphold the principle that no person is denied the right to be heard or to be effectively defended in front of an adjudicating authority. Alternative Dispute Settlement Mechanisms like arbitration and mediation need to be encouraged to find amicable and consensual settlement of disputes. These also can be swift and cost-effective methods of dispute settlement. Sikkim should take these and other innovate mechanisms to achieve a “least-cost” justice administration system.
Another hurdle that comes in the way of the exercise of legal rights is the lack of awareness among the people about legal provisions and processes. Hence, creating legal awareness through holding camps and expanding legal literacy is very important.
In any democracy, it is the people, their aspirations and their needs that must occupy a position of primacy. India is not only the world’s largest democracy but it is also a robust democracy and we have succeeded, through the Panchayati Raj institutions, to take democracy to the grass root levels. Similarly, it should also be our effort to see that we take justice closer to the door-steps of the people. The Lok Adalats have been playing an important role in this regard in Sikkim.
I am very pleased that the topic of today’s seminar relates to gender justice and gender empowerment. As the country’s first woman President, for me, a focus on women’s issues is but natural. Government has a number of programmes and schemes for the welfare of women, but there is certain disconnect in implementation. Many of the benefits do not reach women. I have always strongly advocated the need for a coordinated approach towards implementation and monitoring of women’s issues. I was, therefore, particularly, happy when this year on the occasion of International Women’s Day, the National Mission for the Empowerment of Women, was launched. It promises coordinated and time bound delivery of women-centric and women-related programmes. Under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister, I am confident that it will be a success.
Since independence, there has been a series of legislations for women giving them a share in property, prohibiting dowry and ensuring equal remuneration for work among others. Legislation is important but not enough. Women have to come forward and seek their rights. Gender equality, however, is not a confrontational approach. It means mutual respect and equal opportunities for all in a non-discriminating manner. I believe that gender equality means both men and women working together for the happiness of their families and for the welfare of society.
Like charity, justice begins at home and, it is unfortunate, when women are faced with violence in their houses. The Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act of 2005 seeks to address this unfortunate and shameful occurrence. People of our country must reject violence of any kind. We are a nation founded on non-violence. Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our Nation, is the apostle of peace, truth and non-violence. His life and his works have deeply influenced many people across many continents. Our finest tribute to him would be if we live our lives on the principles which he advocated and which are the very basis of any civilized society and of our own civilization.
In Sikkim also women, like in other parts of our country, constitute almost half of the total population. Industrious and hard-working, they are participating in the development of the State and occupying important positions. Efforts to give them all opportunities in the social, political and economic life of the State must continue. I am sure that the seminar will look into these various aspects of gender justice.
In conclusion, I urge all stakeholders of the legal system to work in a manner that the rights of the people are safeguarded. The Bench, the Bar and the litigant all have their roles to play in a Court of Law. A litigant must come, as they say, with clean hands to justice. The lawyer should abide by the highest principles of ethics and while defending his client must, at all points of time, maintain the privileged client-advocate relationship. Judges must always uphold the tenets of probity and while dispensing justice the weighing scale must never tilt in favour of any party but always in favour of justice. I always say that the empowerment of women is empowerment of the nation. Just as a chariot moves on two wheels, men and women are the wheels of the chariot of the Nation. If one wheel is weak, then the chariot will not move forward strongly. So, women are an important segment of our society. I am reminded of a Russian maxim which I was told by the first woman cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova. The maxim says – Man is the head and a woman is the neck, but the head always moves in the direction in which the neck moves.
With these words I wish the Sikkim High Court many years of success in the service of justice and all the people of Sikkim.