Pegasus Scholars: India

In 2022, I had the privilege of spending three months in India as a Pegasus Scholar. Following COVID-19 delays, the scorching heatwave and monsoon, the courts were suffering an acute backlog and there was a high level of legal activity

After waking up to the morning chorus of parakeets and disembarking the auto-rickshaw for my first day at court, I realised I had truly stepped outside of my comfort zone. It was a stark change from my usual routine. The new ‘norm’ involved advocating on matters which mostly went part-heard. It was strange knowing that my submissions may not be responded to for another few months.

The placement was split between the Supreme Court of India, the Delhi High Court and the Divisional Court. It was a strangely familiar process at times. The courts, akin to Oxford Circus at rush hour, were bursting with advocates, though the sheer quantity of cases resulted in advocates continuing to make submissions as other cases were called on. The judiciary – used to pausing halfway through giving judgment to hear submissions on another case – seemed to get to the heart of complex issues with a single question!

The courts, akin to Oxford Circus at rush hour, were bursting with advocates.

It was apparent that advocates and judges were having to put in long hours to resolve the backlog, yet despite the excessive workload, each individual I encountered took time to explain matters, discuss the various cultural and religious implications, and translate when the discussion suddenly switched into one of the many different languages! The cases varied from the environmental impact on Delhi’s water supplies to criminal cases concerning rape and violent assaults.

The court process shared similarities with the British system, yet there was no question of its own distinct identity, with conversation often turning to the differences between the courts in India and England and Wales.

A troop of Rhesus monkeys would do their daily patrols and test the security of the court boundary fences, while inside the court concerns were growing over the continued illegal exportation of the Indian Pangolin for Chinese medicine, and the failure to adequately protect India’s rich natural heritage.

It was of particular interest that, unlike back home, any Indian citizen could walk directly into court and raise an issue before the Supreme Court Judges, irrespective of the stage that their case had reached. Equally, where legal positions were unchartered, the judiciary could provide guidance on the law. The ability to offer such unfettered access to senior judges is surely the envy of any judicial system.

I am very grateful for this opportunity and would thoroughly recommend it to any individual seeking new cultural perspectives. My thanks go to the Pegasus Trust and Dr Aman Hingorani, Priya Hingorani and Shweta Hingorani who continue to enable these great opportunities in the name of Nirmal and Kapila at the Hingorani Foundation. I would like to also thank Supreme Court Judge K V Viswanathan, Nandita Rao and Akhand Singh and their associates for their continued wisdom, guidance and friendship during the scholarship.

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