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Technology and justice – a match made in heaven

In India 2030, thought leaders from twenty diverse fields, ranging from politics, economics and foreign policy to health care and energy, predict what 2030 will look like for India and how the nation will evolve in this decade. The book can be seen as a handbook for citizens, a road map for policymakers and a guide for scholars. Its collection of essays capture the many aspects of a future that will see India becoming the world’s third-largest economy and a regional power before the decade gets over.

Here’s an excerpt from the book on how technology will revolutionise the way we mete out justice in the 2020s.

 

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The biggest change in justice in the coming decade will be the use of technology in courts. Artificial intelligence will not only help organize cases, it will also bring references into the judgment at a speed not seen so far. Technology will ensure that those who do not have access to justice due to distance will not be excluded anymore. Appointments of judges to the higher judiciary, the high courts and the Supreme Court, will see a change in the 2020s. The collegium system has exposed its weaknesses; its critics say that the system has degenerated into cronyism and is arbitrary, with merit as a mere sideshow. Again, technology will ensure that by the end of the decade, this system is revamped and rationalized towards objective criteria. When India enters the 2030s, it will do so with a more robust, transparent and credible system.

The law and justice system operates to touch our lives in two ways. First, in the sphere of transactional events in our daily lives. Second, in the sphere of litigation: of lawyers, judges and the various fora for resolution of conflicts and disputes. Indubitably, there need be to be, and will be, drastic changes at both levels. The decade ahead will ensure these constitutional aspirations are fulfilled. Besides, citizens need to be educated generally, and in particular about their basic human rights. They need to be empowered to demand the satisfaction of these basic rights by society. They also need education on the means by which society can be compelled to accord to them the basic necessities of life. These too will expand in the 2030s.

Democracy, Constitution and Justice

These changes will not be easy to make. In a democracy based on adult franchise and wedded to the rule of law, like India, this could be a herculean task. While India has a brilliantly worded constitutional document, there are millions who are unaware of the true nature of the Constitution. There is a crying need to educate the people on their fundamental rights guaranteed in Part III of the Constitution and the Directive Principles of State Policy declared in Part IV, which determine the path of governance for the state.

front cover of India 2030
India 2030 || Gautam Chikermane

 

Access to information through low-priced telecommunications infrastructure will multiply the speed with which people will be able to learn and exercise their rights. When there is holistic awareness about the rights and the means of exercising those rights, the scene will shift to the legal arena. If the rights are required to be satisfied by the state, and if the state is deficient, the rights can only be enforced by resort to legal machinery and judicial fora. As people understand their rights and access to justice improves, litigation will rise.

Technology as a Change Agent

The extended lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 radically changed the lifestyles of all players in the field of justice— litigants, lawyers and judges—forcing them to resort to online resolution of disputes. It has also taught citizens the need for increased use of digitization. That would necessarily entail massive investment in the hardware and software required for effectively running virtual courts in the country. Though feeble attempts were made in the past for e-filing of petitions in the Supreme Court, they turned out to be mostly photo ops. Now there is an opportunity to test the verisimilitude of the words of the bard of Avon, ‘sweet are the uses of adversity’. And the Supreme Court has grabbed this opportunity with both hands and set the stage for speedy and more efficient delivery of justice in the decade ahead.

In May 2020, the Supreme Court introduced a new system of e-filing as a process tool and artificial intelligence as reference support infrastructure, both of which are characterized by efficiency, transparency and access to court- delivery services for every user. Effectively, India’s courts have ushered in a new and future-ready justice dispensation system that is not only in tune with the coming decade, but will also ensure it becomes the base for justice delivery in twenty-first- century India. The four key components of this system—24/7 filing, online communication of defects and scrutiny of matters, e-payment of court fees and digital signature for filing-related conversations—will speed up the court process. These process reforms stand on the infrastructure provided using artificial intelligence, and will play a big role in the organization of courts, categorization of matters and process automation. It will also enable extraction of information from court documents at the rate of one million words per minute and can be used by judges to decide a case. In the middle of COVID-19, these experiments in virtual courts have delivered success. Going forward, they will become the norm.

Once the use of artificial intelligence becomes a judicial standard, it will percolate and fix another problem: the continuing vacancies in judicial posts. Presently, 25–45 per cent of judicial posts remain vacant for unduly long periods, which puts a disproportionately large burden on the incumbents of other posts. This is a problem whose genesis is more in a lack of will than in a lack of resources. With appropriate artificial intelligence solutions, it will be easy to draw up a reserve list of judicial officers that can be kept updated, so that the proper person can be identified and promptly placed in the appropriate vacancy without loss of time. The 2020s will see this being implemented, and a major portion of the judicial pendency issue will be tackled effectively and resolved.

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Tales as old as time: Mythological reads for you!

This month, we have been revisiting tales as old as time from the immersive world of Indian mythology and our favourite epics!

Scroll down to have a look at our reading list and join us on this journey!

 

The Aryavarta Chronicles

 

Govinda: The Aryavarta Chronicles Book 1
Front cover of Govinda
Govinda || Krishna Udayasankar

 

For generations, the Firstborn dynasty of scholar-sages, descendants of Vasishta Varuni and protectors of the Divine Order on earth, has dominated here. For just as long, the Angirasa family of Firewrights, weapon-makers to the kings and master inventors, has defied them. In the aftermath of the centuries-long conflict between the two orders, the once-united empire of Aryavarta lies splintered, a shadow of its former glorious self.

Kaurava: The Aryavarta Chronicles Book 2
Front cover of Kaurava
Kaurava || Krishna Udayasankar

 

Emperor Dharma Yudhisthir of the Kauravas and Empress Panchali Draupadi rule over a unified Aryavarta, an empire built for them by Govinda Shauri with the blessings of the Firstborn and by the might of those whom everyone believes long gone – the Firewrights.

Now the Firewrights rise from the ashes of the past, divided as before in purpose and allegiance, and no one,

His every dream shattered, Govinda is left a broken man. The only way he can protect Aryavarta and the woman in whose trusted hands he had left it is by playing a dangerous game. But can he bring himself to reveal the terrible secrets that the Vyasa has guarded all his life – secrets that may well destroy the Firstborn, and the Firewrights with them?

Kurukshetra: The Aryavarta Chronicles Book 3
Front cover of Kurukshetra
Kurukshetra || Krishna Udayasankar

 

The empire that was Aryavarta fades under the shadow of doom. As the bitter struggle to gain control of the divided kingdom ensues, both Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa of the Firstborn and the Secret Keeper of the Firewrights can only watch as their own blood, their kin, savage and kill on the fields of Kurukshetra. Restraint and reason have deserted the rulers who once protected the land and they manipulate, scheme and kill with abandon – for victory is all that matters.

Reforging the forsaken realm in the fire of his apocalyptic wrath, Govinda prepares to destroy everything he loves and make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of one last hope: that humanity will rise.

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Vanara: The Legend of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara
Front cover of Vanara
Vanara || Anand Neelakantan

 

Baali and Sugreeva of the Vana Nara tribe were orphan brothers who were born in abject poverty and grew up as slaves like most of their fellow tribesmen. They were often mocked as the vanaras, the monkey men. Sandwiched between the never-ending war between the Deva tribes in the north and the Asura tribes in the south, the Vana Naras seemed to have lost all hope. But Baali was determined not to die a slave. Aided by his beloved brother, Sugreeva, Baali built a country for his people.

The love triangle between Baali, Tara and Sugreeva is arguably the world’s first.

Vanara is a classic tale of love, lust and betrayal. Shakespearean in its tragic depth and epic in its sweep, Vanara gives voice to the greatest warrior in the Ramayana-Baali.

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The Mahabharata (Box Set)
Front cover of The Mahabharata boxset by Bibek Debroy
The Mahabharata (Box Set) || Bibek Debroy

 

The greatest Indian story ever told of a war between two factions of a family, The Mahabharata has continued to sway the imagination of its readers over the past centuries.

While the dispute over land and kingdom between the warring cousins-the Pandavas and the Kauravas-forms the chief narrative, the primary concern of The Mahabharata is about the conflict of dharma. These conflicts are immense and various, singular and commonplace.

The complete and unabridged Sanskrit classic, now masterfully and accessibly rendered for contemporary readers by Bibek Debroy.

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Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagvata: Illustrated Retellings of the Greatest Indian Epics Box Set

 

Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata
Front cover of Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik
Jaya || Devdutt Pattanaik

 

High above the sky stands Swarga, paradise, abode of the gods. Still above is Vaikuntha, heaven, abode of God.

The doorkeepers of Vaikuntha are the twins, Jaya and Vijaya, both whose names mean ‘victory’. One keeps you in Swarga; the other raises you into Vaikuntha. In Vaikuntha there is bliss forever, in Swarga there is pleasure for only as long as you deserve.

What is the difference between Jaya and Vijaya? Solve this puzzle and you will solve the mystery of the Mahabharata.

Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana
Front cover of Sita by Devdutt Pattanaik
Sita || Devdutt Pattanaik

 

It is significant that the only character in Hindu mythology, a king at that, to be given the title of ekam-patni-vrata, devoted to a single wife, is associated with the most unjust act of abandoning her in the forest to protect family reputation.

This book approaches Ram by speculating on Sita—her childhood with her father, Janak, who hosted sages mentioned in the Upanishads; her stay in the forest with her husband who had to be a celibate ascetic while she was in the prime of her youth; her interactions with the women of Lanka, recipes she exchanged, emotions they shared; her connection with the earth, her mother; her role as the Goddess, the untamed Kali as well as the demure Gauri, in transforming the stoic prince of Ayodhya into God.

Shyam: An Illustrated Retelling of the Bhagavata
Front cover of Shyam by Devdutt Pattanaik
Shyam || Devdutt Pattanaik

 

The Bhagavata is the story of Krishna, known as Shyam to those who find beauty, wisdom and love in his dark complexion. It is the third great Hindu epic after the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

This book seamlessly weaves the story from Krishna’s birth to his death, or rather from his descent to the butter-smeared world of happy women to his ascent from the blood-soaked world of angry men.

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Myth = Mithya
Front cover of Myth = Mithya by Devdutt Pattanaik
Myth = Mithya || Devdutt Pattanaik

 

In this groundbreaking book Dr Devdutt Pattanaik; one of India’s most popular mythologists; seeks an answer to these apparent paradoxes and unravels an inherited truth about life and death; nature and culture; perfection and possibility. He retells sacred Hindu stories and decodes Hindu symbols and rituals; using a unique style of commentary; illustrations and diagrams. We discover why the villainous Kauravas went to heaven and the virtuous Pandavas (all except Yudhishtira) were sent to hell; why Rama despite abandoning the innocent Sita remains the model king; why the blood-drinking Kali is another form of the milk-giving Gauri; and why Shiva wrenched off the fifth head of Brahma.

The Beauty of the Valmiki Ramayana by Bibek Debroy

By Bibek Debroy:
There are many versions of the Ramayana and not all are in Sanskrit. However, the Valmiki Ramayana, composed by the sage Valmiki in Sanskrit, is clearly the oldest. It is the oldest surviving version.  Perhaps the story was already known and Valmiki simply retold it in the form of a beautiful composition. Therefore, he may not have been the first person to tell the story. We shall never know. Nor is it important to know that to appreciate the Valmiki Ramayana.
 Indeed, we are not quite sure about what Valmiki composed.  In those days, there was no writing. In the process of oral transmission, subsequent composers added their own embellishments. Today, the text of the Sanskrit Valmiki Ramayana has around 24,000 shlokas, a shloka being a verse. These 25,000 shlokas are distributed across seven kandas – Bala Kanda (Book about Youth), Ayodhya Kanda (Book about Ayodhya), Aranya Kanda (Book of the Forest), Sundara Kanda (Book of Beauty), Yuddha Kanda (Book about the War) and Uttara Kanda (Book about the Sequel).  Kanda refers to a major section or segment and is sometimes translated into English as Canto. “Canto” sounds archaic, “Book” is so much better. This does not mean the kanda-wise classification always existed. For all one knows, initially, there were simply chapters. Most scholars agree Uttara Kanda was written much later. It doesn’t quite belong. This isn’t only because of the content. It is also because of the texture of the text, the quality of the poetry. It is vastly inferior. To a lesser extent, one can also advance similar arguments for the Bala Kanda. Therefore, the earlier portions of the Valmiki Ramayana were probably composed around 500 BCE.  The later sections, like the Uttara Kanda, and parts of the Bala Kanda, were probably composed around 500 ACE.  It isn’t the case that all later sections are in Uttara Kanda. 
The translation published by Penguin in three volumes is of the Valmiki Ramayana. It is necessary to stress this point. The Ramayana story is so popular that one is familiar with people, stories and incidents. That doesn’t necessarily mean those people, stories and incidents occur in the Valmiki Ramayana in the way we are familiar with them, our familiarity based on other versions of the Ramayana story. Even within the Sanskrit Valmiki Ramayana, there are many different manuscripts. Between 1951 and 1975, the Oriental Institute, Baroda, produced a Critical Edition of the Valmiki Ramayana. This translation is based on that Critical Edition, published sequentially between 1958 and 1975.  Producing a Critical Edition meant sifting through a large number of manuscripts of the Valmiki Ramayana. The editors had around 2000 manuscripts to work with. It is not that there were significant differences across the manuscripts and broadly, there was a Southern Recension (version) and a Northern one, the latter sub-divided into a North Western and a North Eastern one.  The earliest of these written manuscripts dates to the 11th century CE.  In passing, the language may have been Sanskrit, but the script wasn’t always devanagari. There were scripts like Sharada, Mewari, Maithili, Bengali, Telugu, Kannadi, Nandinagari, Grantha and Malayalam. The translation published by Penguin is based on the Baroda Critical Edition. To repeat what I have already said, some Ramayana stories and incidents we are familiar with, many not exist in this version.
The Valmiki Ramayana consists of beautiful poetry. Valmiki is the first poet, ad kavi. The story of how it came about is known to most people who are familiar with the Ramayana. The sage Valmiki had gone, with his disciple Bharadvaja, to bathe in the waters of the River Tamasa. There was a couple of curlew birds there, in the act of making love. Along came a hunter and killed the male bird. As the female bird grieved, Valmiki was driven by compassion and the first shloka emerged from his lips. Since it was composed in an act of sorrow (shoka), this kind of composition came to be known as shloka. So the Ramayana tell us. It is impossible to capture the beauty of this poetry in an English translation. As composers, there is quite a contrast between Valmiki and Vedavyasa, the author of the Mahabharata.  Both texts are in the form of poetry and both composers were poets, but there the similarity ends. Vedavyasa focuses on people and incidents. Rarely does the Mahabharata attempt to describe nature, even if those sections are on geography. In contrast, Valmiki’s descriptions of nature are lyrical and superlative, similar to Kalidasa.  A translation can never hope to transmit that flavor.  There is no substitute to reading the original Sanskrit, more so for the Valmiki Ramayana than for the Mahabharata.
As with the Mahabharata, the Valmiki Ramayana is a text about dharmaDharma means several different things – the dharma of the four varnas and the four ashramas; the governance template of raja dharma, the duty of kings; principles of good conduct (sadachara); and the pursuit of objectives of human existence (purushartha) – dharma, artha and kama. As with the Mahabharata, the Valmiki Ramayana is a smriti text. It has a human origin and composer, it is not a shruti text.  Smriti texts are society and context specific.  We should not try to judge and evaluate individuals and actions on the basis of today’s value judgements.  In addition, if the span of composition was one thousand years, from 500 BCE to 500 ACE, those value judgements also change. Transcending all those collective templates of dharma, there is one that is individual in nature. Regardless of those collective templates, an individual has to decide what the right course of action is and there is no universal answer as to what is right and what is wrong. There are always contrary pulls of dharma, with two notions of dharma pulling in different directions. It is not immediately obvious which is superior.  Given the trade-offs, an individual makes a choice and suffers the consequences. Why is there an impression that these individual conflicts of dharma are more manifest in the Mahabharata than in the Ramayana? 
The answer probably lies in the nature of these two texts. What is the difference between a novel and a long story, even when both have multiple protagonists? The difference between a novel and a long story is probably not one of length. A novel seeks to present the views of all protagonists. Thus, the Mahabharata is a bit like a novel, in so far as that trait is concerned. A long story does not seek to look at incidents and action from the point of view of every protagonist. It is concerned with the perspective of one primary character, to the exclusion of others. 
If this distinction is accepted, the Valmiki Ramayana has the characteristics of a long story. It is Ramayana. Therefore, it is primarily from Rama’s point of view. We aren’t told what Bharata or Lakshmana thought, or for that matter, Urmila, Mandavi or Shrutakirti. There is little that is from Sita’s point of view too. That leads to the impression that the Mahabharata has more about individual conflicts of dharma. For the Valmiki Ramayana, from Rama’s point of view, the conflicts of dharma aren’t innumerable. On that exile to the forest, why did he take Sita and Lakshmana along with him? Was Shurpanakha’s disfigurement warranted? Why did he unfairly kill Vali? Why did he make Sita go through tests of purity, not once, but twice? Why did he unfairly kill Shambuka? Why did he banish Lakshmana? At one level, one can argue these are decisions by a personified divinity and therefore, mere humans cannot comprehend and judge the motives. At another level, the unhappiness with Rama’s decisions led to the composition of alternative versions of the Ramayana.  Note that Sita’s questions about dharma remained unanswered. If you are going to the forest as an ascetic, why have you got weapons with you? If the rakshasas are causing injuries to hermits, punishing the rakshasas is Bharata’s job, now that he is the king. Why are you dabbling in this?  Note also Rama’s justification at the time of Sita’s first test. It wasn’t about what others would think, that justification came later. The initial harsh words reflected his own questions about Sita’s purity.  Thus, Rama’s conflicts over dharma also exist. It is just that in the Valmiki Ramayana, it is about one individual alone.

In conclusion, this translation is an attempt to get readers interested in reading the unabridged Valmiki Ramayana. Having read abridged versions, and there is no competition with those, to appreciate the nuances better, one should read the unabridged.  And, to appreciate the beauty of the poetry, one should then be motivated to read the text in the Sanskrit. A translation is only a bridge and an unsatisfactory one at that.
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Bibek Debroy (Tr.) is a renowned economist, scholar and translator. He is also a Research Professor (Centre for Policy Research) and a columnist with Economic Times. His majestic new translation The Valmiki Ramayana, can now be relished by a new generation of readers.

Penguin Fever Schedule

It’s that time of the year again but this time it’s under the autumn sky. Six days of literature extravaganza is going to start from October 26, with numerous literary icons as panelists.
Here are the dates you should mark on your calendar.
October 26, 7PM: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy in conversation with Shohini Ghosh
October 27, 7PM: Zara sa jhoom loo main – Shobhaa De on turning seventy – and having a blast! In conversation with Vidya Balan. Sonia Singh to moderate
October 28, 5PM: Inconvenient Truths: Are we heading for an environmental disaster – Sunita Narain, Prerna Bindra, and Pradip Krishen
October 28, 7PM: The Heart of the Matter – Ravinder Singh, Durjoy Datta, and Sudeep Nagarkar in conversation with RJ Ginnie
October 29, 5PM: The Man from the Hills – Ruskin Bond on life, writing, and his love for lemon cheesecake!
October 29, 7PM: Criminal Minds – Brijesh Singh, Ravi Subramanian, Novoneel Chakraborty. Poonam Saxena will moderate the session
October 30, 7PM: The Line of Beauty – Perumal Murugan, Kannan Sundaram, Bibek Debroy, Rana Safvi, Namita Gokhale as moderator
October 31, 7PM: The Rise of the Elephant – Shashi Tharoor, Gurcharan Das, Sonu Bhasin, Shireen Bhan as moderator
Open Air Library: October 26–31, 11AM onwards
If you haven’t already, register for the Penguin Fever here: http://bit.ly/penguinfever
See you there!

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