Apar Gupta, 32
Interest: Cyber law
Education: Indraprastha University, Delhi; Columbia Law School, Masters in Law
Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, caught Delhi lawyer Apar Gupta’s attention in early 2012. After a few controversial arrests under the section—decried by activists and netizens alike—he approached civil liberties group Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) to take note of the implications of this section.
In a couple of months, Andhra Pradesh police arrested pucl’s state in-charge, Jaya Vindhyala, under the same section. “They immediately seized upon the significance of Section 66A for free speech,” Gupta says. This launched Gupta’s effort, along with Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy, to file a writ petition in the Supreme Court. The section, introduced after an amendment in 2008, violates Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution, their petition said. “The PUCL petition examines how speech can be a democratic value, as opposed to an absolute value,” explains Gupta. Meaning that the petition tries to explore how free speech with restrictions finally comes into operation in India once the legislatures frame laws.
Gupta’s petition is still before the court, and in the meantime there have been more arrests (in Maharashtra, Karnataka, West Bengal) and more people have joined issue against Section 66A, including Delhi University student Shreya Singhal and Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist in Mumbai, both arrested under the Act.
Apar Gupta worked with solicitor firm Karanjawala & Co, and launched Accendo, a partnership firm, and is now a partner at Advani & Co, which took over Accendo in 2011. He divides his time between commercial litigation, including mergers and acquisitions, and cases related to media and Internet regulation with the IMAI (Internet and Mobile Association of India). He says he doesn’t work the tough hours that many other lawyers do—“only 12-14 hours a day”.
Yug Mohit Chaudhry, 46
Interest: Anti-death penalty activist
Education: St Stephen’s College, Delhi; Oxford, Cambridge.
In November 2004, police in Chhattisgarh picked up Sonu Sardar for killing a family of five. After a long trial, Sonu got the maximum penalty: death. This April, the president rejected his mercy petition as well. But a chance encounter in May with student-researchers from National Law University, Delhi, has given Sonu a chance.
Sonu’s fate is in Mumbai advocate Yug Mohit Chaudhry’s hands—and in those of the Supreme Court, where his review petition awaits hearing and disposal. Anup Surendranath, who leads the death penalty research project at nlu, referred Sonu’s case to Chaudhry, who filed for the review. “I took up Sonu’s case because I represent people who face the death penalty,” says Chaudhry. “The courts have recorded Sonu’s age as 23 years, when he was only 18 years and two months old in 2004,” he says. Sonu never got the gentler treatment the courts reserve for a younger accused.
A rare lawyer with an advanced degree in literature, Chaudhry—he is only 46—has taken up cases like the 7/11 train blasts and spoke eloquently against the death penalty awarded to Afzal Guru and Ajmal Kasab. As a lawyer and human rights activist, such ‘high profile’ cases do shine a light on the vagaries inherent in evidence collection, identification of suspects and their charging. Similarly, even the nondescript Sonu Sardar’s case raises exactly the same questions and doubts, he points out. For instance, in Sonu’s case, Chaudhry has found discrepancies in the testimony of a child witness key to the trial. A girl, aged nine, said she saw one Sikh man among the attackers. However, she identified both Sikh men presented for identification by police—one of them was young Sonu. Every year, on an average, India awards the death penalty to 135 people.
Interest: Human rights
Education: BA, St Stephens College; LLB, Delhi University; Masters in Law, NYU
It’s eight months since seven victims of rape during the riots in Muzaffarnagar approached Vrinda Grover for legal help. Since then, Grover has approached the Supreme Court, written to the UP government, the district authorities and police in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, and, finally, approached the National Commission for Minorities.
Vrinda, who represented adivasi teacher Soni Sori in the past and Ishrat Jahan (through her mother Shamima), is no stranger to taking on the system in favour of the weak and needy—including women, survivors of communal riots and custodial torture, those killed in police ‘encounters’ and victims of child abuse. At the moment, the case on her top drawer is of the seven souls from Muzaffarnagar who are being “denied justice at every stage”. Every time police tries—rather weakly—to arrest the rape-accused, local Jats resist, she says. Grover wants the case moved to Delhi, and handed over to the CBI.
This is a pattern that has unfolded before human rights lawyers numerous times, and remains a formidable obstacle to justice. In the Ishrat Jahan ‘encounter’ killing, there was tremendous pressure on the family of the victim to withdraw from the courts. “The Muzaffarnagar rape trials are yet to begin, as the police dragged its feet over the investigation right from the start,” says Grover.