Vashanth Adithya’s documentary ‘Cleaning the Courtroom’ takes an incisive look at India’s crumbling court system


The failings of the Indian justice system have been the subject of many films over the years. Dynamic and over-dramatized mainstream films such as Jolly LLB to the cruel and exact banalities explored in Chaitanya Tamhane To research, one sees and realizes that it is up to the common man to navigate the legal system of the country. And yet, massive cultural reform inside and outside the system has long been warranted as archaic colonial laws continue to trouble our social fabric.

Addressing this and more, renowned lawyer, economist and author Vasanth Adithya J. captured the important speech in the form of a documentary. Title Clean up the courtroomthe 50-minute feature film is a collection of opinions and laments from veteran lawyers, former judges, human rights activists and various other reputable forces in the Indian judicial system: from the brief presentation of the convoluted formation of the Indian judicial system through the centuries to its current dodgy state, Cleaning the Courtroom is a heartfelt attempt to capture both truth and dissent.

“One of the main reasons for documenting these diverse viewpoints is to discuss the lack of transparency and accountability in the Indian justice system. I had previously written an article on information asymmetry: people don’t know what is going on inside the system and most of us are not aware that the colonial system is still in place.Over the past few years a group of us have spoken publicly about systemic reforms under various aspects in public speeches, but also attempted to offer remedies for shortcomings such as such as case processing delays, infrastructure problems, etc. Thus, the documentary is basically designed not only to meet the different concerns, but also to bring experts to propose solutions in the same spirit,” shares Vasanth Adithya.

One of the major troubled factors when it comes to the Indian court system is the delay factor. As Vasanth’s documentary film reveals, the average time it takes for a court case to be decided is 3 years in the country’s 21 High Courts and around 6 years at the lower level. “It’s punishment by process,” says one of the film’s pundits, implying that encountering the tax court process in itself can be punishment, in turn giving corruption more room to grow. The document. film, in this regard, claims that the extensive application of technology can solve the delay. The filmmaker adds:

What is the Indian legal system suffering from?

As Vasanth’s documentary film reveals, the average time it takes for a court case to be decided is 3 years in the country’s 21 High Courts and around 6 years at the lower level. Of the 1.7 crore cases filed each year (average figure), only about half of them have a chance of being cleared and the general public also approaches justice today with a chip on their shoulder , reluctant mainly because he doesn’t trust the process.

“It’s punishment by process,” says Dalit rights activist Cynthia Stephen in the film, implying that dealing with the tax court process in itself can be punishment and how caste violence and similar social injustices have been ignored for too long. Add to this the problem of a significant lack of judges and the whole system seems exhausted both in terms of integrity and resources.

“What is the workaround? one might ask, and Vasanth Adithya believes that technology can fill many gaps.

“If Rajaram Mohan Roy had not worked to abolish Sati, I believe we would still be pushing our women into funeral pyres. So a small step towards greater transparency in the system and to avoid delays would be to use the A live stream of court proceedings, for example, can not only help people understand how things work, but also allow things to become fair and transparent – it may not be an overnight success , but will certainly gain ground over time. short delay and court interventions in the form of video conferences in which you can chat online through video calls, technology helps the general public. In short, as soon as you reduce the human contact of the system, you increase the efficiency”.

The recently concluded lawsuit between Hollywood celebrities Johnny Depp and Amber Heard saw technology play a crucial role. Not only was the entire case, which lasted a month and a half, broadcast live on the internet, but the impact of social media was evident throughout the trial, infamously known as the “Trial by Tik-Tok”. Despite the infamy, the use of technology has allowed the proceedings to remain seamless.

The symbiosis of corruption and justice

According to a 2020 study on corruption, the Global Corruption Barometer for Asia found that up to 50% of Indians admitted to paying a bribe when asked to do so, and 32% acknowledged the use of personal connections to access personal services. The same study placed India at the top of the list of the most corrupt nations in Asia.

In Clean up the courtroom, one encounters several cases of corruption and how its endemic nature is also rampant in the judicial system. “Corruption is not just financial but also ethical,” says social activist Geetha Menon who says the basis of justice in India is inequality and the system is currently designed to crush the poor and disadvantaged. distress. And yet the question of practicality and choice arises and in most cases of meaningful justice bribery becomes a necessity more than anything else.

BT Venkatesh, a renowned human rights lawyer, says in the film that corruption in India is ultimately a matter of privilege and those who are deprived of social privileges cannot be exhorted not to participate in the corruption. “Even Chanakya believes that there should be provisions for corruption and the problem has been institutionalized for centuries in our consciousness,” he adds.

“You see a phenomenon called Ethical Fading being a prominent feature of our Indian society. The cultural values ​​of society keep deteriorating over time and corruption is one of them: for example, paying a bribe in the 1970s was considered a sin and not a crime,” says Vasanth .

Beyond the technical aspects of the judicial system, we must consider the cultural and ethical aspects of the functioning of the system. In Cleaning the Courtroom we meet speakers who address the lack of a strong selection process for appointing judges to Indian courts and how many cases are viewed and ultimately judged through their own individual social and ethical lenses, thus almost completely eliminating objectivity. In critical and sensitive cases such as sexual offences, our justice system still comes out marred by patriarchy where a vast majority of cases do not make it through the FIR stage and even if they do, the crime itself is not treated as a serious crime.

“With sexual offences, we saw two starkly opposing approaches: on the one hand, we saw the defendant shot dead in an encounter with the police and the whole country rejoiced. And on the other, the cases have been dragging on for 15-16 years without any proper verdict, so both forms of justice are not suitable,” adds Vasanth Adithya.

Does art reflect reality?

But does the real-life scenario of India’s justice system look like what’s shown in the movies? Should the general public eagerly await a “messiah” like Amitabh Bachchan in Pink or Suriya in Jai Bhim to obtain justice? Is there a lack of integrity in today’s world of lawyers?

“Well, the only reason to make the documentary is to address the integrity of lawyers and how corruption and other factors should be dealt with at the earliest. And yet, it is not known that there is so many noble and sincere lawyers who work in favor of justice: Judge Chandru, former judge of the High Court of Madras, is one of those people who worked tirelessly to settle cases without delay, but very little know it or have heard of it,” Vasanth shares.

In a word, Clean up the courtroom is relevant to the many fundamental cultural, ethical and technical flaws in the Indian justice system. While these issues, at first glance, may seem overly discussed, and the speech itself may seem a bit redundant at this point, the film still manages to validate and confirm the pervasiveness of these concerns. With the likes of Justice Santhosh Hegde, Justice Chandru, IPS Officer D. Roopa and several other prominent justice and welfare officers guiding the narrative, Clean up the courtroom is an objective view of what insiders of the system think of its shortcomings. At a heartwarming 50 minutes, the film is comprehensive and compelling, with plenty of insight. Clean up the courtroom is currently streaming on MX Player.


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