Six women sit huddled in one corner of the administration room in Patiala House court complex, surrounded by a sea of smiling men. Both genders are united in their attentiveness towards a senior staff member reading out names written on the chits that he’s pulling from a bag on the table before him.
“Sanjay. Kamla. Vipul. Geeta.”
Every couple of seconds he yells out a permutation and combination of these four names, and few others.
Kamla and Geeta are two of the women sulking in the corner; Sanjay and Vipul are among the men joking about and pushing one another like school-kids. As different as the two groups’ demeanor is, they’re equally tense.
It’s higher judiciary staff elections at Patiala House, and the women want places at the executive members table. What’s more, one of them — Kamla — wants the chair of joint secretary. If she wins, she’ll be the very first female to hold the position in the history of ol’ PHC.
They insist neither is interested in politics. “It isn’t for me,” Kamla says while she waits in the complex-courtyard near gate number 2, near where staff members line up to cast their votes.
Kamla and Geeta are running because, among other things, the women who work in and visit Patiala House need clean toilets; a private room to rest in; crèches for their children over whom no neighbour or family is willing or able to watch.
“But, most importantly,” says Kamla, “women should have a voice in the committee. There should be at least one person to whom they can go and feel comfortable talking about whatever — be it abuse they face or health issues they feel embarrassed to talk to men about. There are things, like the crèches, that men just don’t get the importance of.”
“We know it won’t be easy to get these things, and we don’t expect to get them quick,” she adds.
Geeta chimes in: “Yes, if I’m a member, at least there’s someone they can take their problems to, who can then take them to someone who actually can fix them. You know what I’m saying, na? Even that’s enough for me.”
Kamla’s few followers encircle her protectively. At a distance, Vipul — her opponent — stands among the men who clearly outnumber the women.
Though Geeta insists that the ratio between male and female members of the higher judiciary staff is 2:3, Barfly’s experience says otherwise.
Higher court staff comprises the almads, the readers; people who work directly in assisting the judge with the case. Almost always, with a few fierce exceptions, they are men.
More often than not, these staffers stay after hours in court. Adding to that, the lack of crèches means that any woman who’s without private transport and with children that her husband or in-laws can’t (or won’t) help manage (i.e., all of them), cannot fulfill the job requirements.
What does all this mean for Kamla and Geeta?
It means their names are not in the result ultimately called out.
When a former under-secretary — sharp-eyed (though some snipe, not similarly witted anymore) — calls out “Vipul” for the position of under-secretary, the male voices cheer and hoot.
“Vipul ji is a nice man. He will make a good joint secy,” someone is heard saying. Kamla and Geeta agree, but that doesn’t allay their dejection.
The women — backs held straight, eyes clouded with disappointment — put on polite smiles. “We had said we’ll work with whoever wins, and we will do just that,” Geeta says while walking out alongside her friend and fellow-defeated.
“Doesn’t matter, at least you got to run once — that’s once more than Hilary Clinton,” a girl is heard telling Kamla whose face — slowly falling into a hangdog expression — begins to reveal how badly losing has hit her.
The reference is lost. But, in the stout shape of a portly reader — usually quiet and an eye-avoider — hope is semi-restored.
“I voted for you,” he confides in Kamla as she’s passing him by, her eyes meticulously counting the grey specks on the white linoleum floor.
“If you run again, next time also I will.”
Delhi Barfly writes of the comings, goings and other gossip clogging up Delhi’s court system.
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