Life Beyond Prison-yes, there exists one. KELSA under the guidance of the current Acting Chief Justice, Justice Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan, has created a revolution in the history of prison systems by drafting and introducing the KELSA [Legal Aid for Socio-Economically Challenged Dependents of Convicts] Scheme, 2017, whereby for the first time the sufferings of the family of the convicts has been recognized. These ‘forgotten victims’ will never ever be eclipsed by the convenience of the fortunate members of the society.
Any defence lawyer would day in and day out would get himself involved, and have to handle, the tragedy faced by the family members of the convicts. Many cases are fought not only for the richness it would provide but also to ensure that the hope with which these men could survive is kept alive. Say for instance Death Sentence Penalty Clinic NLU, Delhi has started its litigation unit being shocked by the sufferings of the family members of the convicts. Ripper Jayanandan’s case happens to be a classic example. Fortunately, the denial of proper legal aid to the family of the once death convict compelled one of the family members to take up law graduation and pursue the career in law. Not all are that fortunate. The unfortunate emerges endangered and becomes extinct.
Happiness hope and optimism are things without which there cannot be any life at all. The sentences imposed, even if it is in accordance with the procedure established by law as is mandated by Article 21 of the Constitution of India would certainly hinder the Right to personal liberty of the convict, which is the main purpose of the penal clauses of various statutes. But that does not give an authority for either the institutions or the society at large to impose pain and sufferings on the family members of the convict. Even then, such sufferings have come as a natural consequence of the conviction/punishments imposed upon the convicts who happens to be the breadwinner/caretaker of the family.
By sentencing not only that the pivotal anchor of the family is lost, it also encourages the society to look upon the family members as sinners. It also takes away the economic and social security of the family. Thus, pulling them into penury as well. Never ever has the law or the legislatures had the time to discuss upon such sufferings, though it has been long years our country has recognized the concept of reformation. Prison systems has developed in India even from the days of Kautilya, who in his version of Arthashastra has recommended construction of jails to be in the capital in order to provide separate accommodation for men and women and the same to be well guarded. With the efflux of time we have moved on to Open Jail systems from Solitary Confinement which is held to be in violation of Article 21. Whenever the Supreme Court or the Constitutional Courts were considering the Rights of Prisoners it unfortunately limited itself to the issues concerning the person of the convict alone. But the condition of the family of the prisoner was never a moot issue at all. That is where the relevance of this scheme assumes importance. The Scheme has recognized the family of the convicts as a separate class in itself and tried to address their concern with protective discrimination being meted out to them. The Scheme envisages embracing the family along with their concern with the concept of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ thus trying to eliminate their sorrows with the hope being provided by the application of law and injecting Optimism to their life, by providing an umbrella of protection created by the tools of law.
The Scheme in itself may not wipe off the sorrows of the dependent families but would necessarily provide Stretches to walk along with. It would also eclipse and then eliminate the prejudices of the society as against the families. It would compel the society to think in reflection and then accept them for what they are. Hence, the same would also reduce the possibility of the offender and the family members reverting to things/deeds unacceptable to the society as a whole.
The Concept of society ruled by law is actually an ancient one. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher wrote ‘Laws should govern’, If the law has to govern the access to justice system can never be a mirage. The legal aid committees/authorities have always strived to achieve the purpose but the same would be lost if in case the target sections are not recognized by the system. This would also result in inequality in as much as the needy may not get justice, as their access to the same may be restricted and the middlemen and the rich may take away the benefits being provided by the beneficial legislations. Thus access to justice is a prime factor for the rule of law to prevail.
As lawyers and judges every member who forms part of the institution have a critical role to play in working to uphold, promote and protect the rule of law in our legal system. When one become a legal professional he joins a profession with a long and honourable history of protecting people’s rights and liberties fighting for access to justice ensuring that the disputes are resolved through appropriate a fair means and assuring due process in the way the state deals with its citizens. The Acting Chief Justice and KELSA as an institution have paved the path, but it is for the lawyers and the Government to walk the path. The Rule of law is the bedrock for the positive professional identity of the lawyers. Hence it is time for the lawyers as a community to embrace the message provided by the KELSA [Legal Aid for Socio-Economically Challenged Dependents of Convicts] Scheme, 2017 and put into effect the Action Plan provided in the Scheme.
The Scheme provides a ray of Hope. This ray of hope if embraced, would provide happiness to the forgotten victims in which event it may eliminate the sufferings thus paving way to deterrence to falling into the underworld of crime. As such the Scheme has to be termed as a bloodless revolution in the History of Prison Reforms. Yes, we live, to Grow, Beyond Prisons.