Colonial legacy – in black and white

Lawyers want respite from black robes during summers


Deevakar Anand | March 24, 2011

It is that time of the year when lawyers across India ask for a reprieve of an unusual kind. Unable to bear the searing heat of the Indian summers, the community seeks special provisions that would enable them do away with the black coats or robes. This has been a longstanding demand of various state bar associations.

Despite a specific exemption in the Bar Council of India Rules itself (Rule IV of chapter IV in part VI) which clearly reads, "Except in Supreme Court and High Courts, during summer, wearing of black coat is not mandatory", lawyers' wish is yet to see the light of the day except in a few states like Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. While the Gujarat high court had allowed the lawyers in district courts and talukas to appear without black coats during the summers in March 2009, the Madhya Pradesh Bar Council issued a circular in this regard only last summer.

As a reporter who has spent some time there, I know around this time of the year, a walk in even the spacious, airy and colonnaded corridors of the Supreme Court can get suffocating and give you headache and vertigo. This, when we are not wearing the heavy and heat absorbing black ceremonial robes. And that's the apex court of the country! That the physical infrastructure at the lower courts in India is rickety and much more summer unfriendly is better known to us.

One wonders why the British legacy of wearing such summer unfit ceremonial robes and coats should remain a matter of such profound importance for many. Being conservatively romantic about legacies is fine. It's also true that legacies don't disappear overnight.

But we can take heart from the fact that wearing wigs by the judges in the erstwhile British India is a thing of the past now. We can also note here Delhi high court judge Ravindra Bhat's efforts to disassociate himself from the colonial practice of addressing judges as My Lord or Your Lordship. Justice Bhat has been discouraging lawyers from indulging in unnecessary courtesies in his courtroom.

One would also recall environment minister Jairam Ramesh calling the practice of wearing a traditional gown barbaric and colonial, last year in April during the convocation at the Indian Institute of Forest Management in Bhopal. "Why cannot we have convocation in simple dress instead of coming dressed up as medieval vicars and popes",he had complained while simultaneously gasping for breath and removed his convocation gown. By way of an amendment in the Bar Council of India rules, such a cumbersome ceremonial dress code can be done away with even in the Supreme Court and the high courts.

Clearly, in India, summers, legacies and lawyers do not go in tandem. It's time. Let some legacies lose their relevance. That will make a lot of practical sense.



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