Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Have a Happy New Year

The New Year 2010 is ready to unfold in a matter of hours. I have just arrived in Delhi after a brief holiday in Kochi where the weather is as warm as toast. Here in Delhi, the temperatures have dipped. People feel the chill in their cold and kids as well as senior citizens are falling ill. Hospitals and doctors will work overtime even as the exchange of New Year greetings continue with fervour.

Needless to say, our cell phones will become the cradle to exchange New Year greetings with our near and dear ones.

I thank you all for encouraging my first endeavor in blogging and sharing my thoughts with you. Your comments and feedback have opened new vistas of growth in terms of writing. For me, your comments have been so motivating that I can't really express it.

So, here is my wish for you: Have a very Happy New Year in 2010. As Mark Twain said, " Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What is a Legal Notice?

Thanks Mridula for sharing your query: "What is the difference between sending a legal notice and filing a court case. And if I send a legal notice to someone (no I am not sending one but who knows in future) am I obliged to fight a court case too?"

Scenario 1
You have a great dinner party at a restaurant called Golden Dragon and you find yourself and everyonelse throwing up, hospitalized due to food poisoning and of course, you are livid. You can send a legal notice through a lawyer.

Purpose of Legal Notice: An Example
The purpose of the legal notice is to inform Golden Dragon about the disputed issue that has caused you tremendous difficulty and measure it with a specific compensation that you seek to settle the dispute. In this case, lets call it chronic food poisoning. Your legal notice will state facts and ask Golden Dragon for an apology (if you want) and the amount of compensation. Once Golden Dragon receives the legal notice, they can respond to it with their statement. If the dispute is not settled to your satisfaction, your lawyer can file a case in court by producing a copy of the legal notice, the reply to it and your filing for compensation.

Purpose is to Inform the Other Party
To answer your question, a legal notice is your first step to inform the other party about a dispute that has arisen through a chronological statement of facts. This enables the other party to agree, disagree or respond to your allegations in writing. It also gives both parties an opportunity to understand the dispute, the laws in question and see if an amicable settlement can be reached without the matter reaching the courts.

And yes, to answer the second part of your question, once you have filed a case in court as per procedure, you have to fight it till the end. You can settle it in between if both parties agree to resolve the issue but if you file a suit and you don't fight it, that is tantamount to wasting the precious time of the court and misusing the procedures of law.

Feel free to share your thoughts and queries.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Religious Liberty in India

Much has been written and debated about the reasons why India follows the unique system of letting different people from different religions follow their own religion's personal laws. Delving into the right and wrong of it is not something I wish to get into.

My Perspective on Religious Liberty

As a lawyer, my role is to understand the law, debate its scope and how it will benefit and protect my clients. If there are provisions that hamper or cause difficulties to my clients, that is what I need to worker harder at so that the difficulty is overcome legally.

I do not wish to draw any comparisons between the US and India because they have extremely different cultural connotations. From the ancient period till the modern struggle for Independence, the Indian society has undergone considerable cultural, religious and social invasions and thereby, the overall synthesis has evolved to take in the best of every religion.

Secularism cannot and should not be confused with being Neutral

Take the example of the oldest Jewish synagogue in the world, which is not in Israel but in Kerala. The Kerala State safeguards this Synagogue as well as the well being of its Jewish community. Permitting the Jews to practice their beliefs does not jeopardise the state. It causes no confusion to anyone because only their marriage and inheritance related issues fall under their personal laws. The same applies to nearly every religious group in India.

No other country has ever demonstrated real respect for religion and beliefs in its laws as does the Constitution of India. Much is talked about religious freedom in the UK and US but the truth is that its mostly talk and hardly beneficial in reality.

Religious Liberty

Religious liberty in India is enshrined specifically in the Indian Constitution, which is the Supreme Law of the Land. The provisions are detailed in the Chapter pertaining to Fundamental Rights. It entitles persons in India with the "freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion."

Just to cite an example, consider a provision in the chapter of Fundamental Rights. It permits Sikhs to carry the sacred kirpan (a small sword) in public places and states this to be a "fundamental right" for the Sikhs. While honoring the belief of Sikhs, the law is clear that this provision does not extend to others.

Further, religious liberty also means that every religious denomination or any sect in India will have the right manage its own affairs in the matters of religion and establish as well as maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes. However, this right is not absolute as the Constitution permits reasonable restrictions to be imposed. The State has the authority to pass laws for establishing social welfare and reforms as well as to restrict any religious activity if it is not in accordance with law.

True, India has a peculiar melange of secular and religious elements in the provisions of the Constitution, based on the premise that being secular does not mean being indifferent to the beliefs of people who profess specific religions.

Remember, the Constitution draws clear boundaries on the extent of religious freedom that can be exercised by individuals and communities in contemporary India. The reason India stands tall and proud despite centuries of invasions is not because of its laws, but because of its adherence to respecting the beliefs of every individual.

As Indians, we are proud of who we are and the difficult paths that we have crossed to reach here and we know that there is so much more we need to do to reach greater heights, even when we feel the laws may work against us.

The law has far to go but in each step, the focus has always been on how to benefit and protect the individual.

Why Does India have Different Laws for Different Religions?

My post on Happy Divorce brought forth a lot of interesting comments from my wonderful readers. It has evoked considerable response and I am thankful to those who read it and shared their thoughts on the topic.

A nice question from SG prompted me to write about this issue which may be something that a lot of us maybe wondering about.

His comment read: "Very nice post. Once divorce was a rare occurance in India. Looks like it is not so nowadays. Since I have lived in USA forever, I have a question you may want to answer. India is one country and all are Indians. Then why do they have different laws for different religions? In USA, there is only one marriage act whether you are a Christian, Jew, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Sikh. We cannot escape saying different religions have different laws. That is a no no in this country. Mormon religion allows poligamy. However, if a Mormon U.S. citizen commits poligamy he will be arrested and put in jail. Does not matter if his religion allows it."

I understand what you mean because it is something that has been a cause of debate even within the country. The Preamble to the Constitution of India and the very provisions of the Indian Constitution gives utmost importance to a broad interpretation and application of the word 'secular.' That is the rationale for different personal laws being due weightage in a court of law.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An Introduction to the Love of my Life - Jyotiraditya

My blogger friend Ramesh suggested that I should introduce the little guy in my profile pic. I've taken this feedback seriously and so you are reading this post about my son, Jyotiraditya.

The First Word is...
Well, to begin with, I'd like to introduce the little guy. I owe it to the little guy. His first word was 'Acha' meaning 'Father' and I can never stop loving him a million times more just for that single timeless milestone in his phase of development.

When I was going to become a father, I was so sure that I'd be lousy at it. I hated kids. I didn't know which planet they were from, always creating trouble and making a mess here and there. Even before my son was born, I was cribbing that i will be a terrible parent because I don't know the first thing about expressing love to a kid.

Respect Your Kid
Looking back now, every one who remembers me then makes endless fun of me. Adi is my life, the very purpose for which I live and find joy in everything I do. treat my kid with a lot of respect. I listen to his opinions and tell him to see the other side and the funny thing is that he is open to it and does see the other side if I suggest it.

Be Best Friends
What I love is that he and I are best friends. He talks with me when he is happy, angry, upset or anything. When I sit down to pray, I tell him to join me. I would like him to join me but if he doesn't, I will not insist or force it. The moment you force such beliefs on to children, they will resent you for it and never totally open themselves to its real essence.

Cuddle Up
He talks to me about his day and won't go to sleep if I am not there to cuddle him. He calls out for me in his sleep and I hold him tight so that he knows that I am always there for him. He is a big part of my heart but maybe I'm sounding very cheesy like a crazy dad.

You are just a 'keeper' which means you don't 'own' your kid

As parents, I've thought seriously about my role in my son's life. Yes, it's limited. Here is my perspective. We are meant to safeguard the treasures that we are blessed with.  A gardener who looks after flowers spends a lifetime nurturing them but he doesn't keep them for himself. Those flowers are meant to travel to distant places, gather new experiences and add color and joy to those they visit. The same applies with our kids whom we proudly display as 'ours' to the whole world and we mistakenly believe we own them.

Don't Stifle a Kid with Endless Rules
Too many parents stifle their kids with rules about everything. Rules are fine to a reasonable extent but kids are kids. Give them space to learn and to make mistakes. Don't play with the boys who aren't from well-to-do families. Don't do this, don't do that. Just like laws stifle us, as ordinary people, a lot of these senseless rules that parents follow stifle a child's development and stunts his/her perception.

Stay Connected to Love, not Clout
I see a lot of parents who flaunt their wealth and connections to get children what they want. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with that. But I don't ever intend to do that because that's what my father taught me. Despite his position, he has never used it to promote me or get me something that is beyond my reach. He has always taught me to work harder than every one else if I want to succeed at something. 

If my son asks for something that is either not right or not within my reach, I tell him that honestly. It's my father's legacy. Besides, I don't want to build false expectations in his mind. I don't want to be a perfect parent. I just want him to accept me with all my limitations too. And yes, if I start bribing my connections to get things done for him now, I am giving him the wrong signal that will become very dangerous for his own future when he grows older.

I want my son to achieve his dreams but with his own hard work and not because I have the clout to get it done for him. I am not too thrilled that he munches on Lays and Cheetos all day or that he loses his temper too fast (like me) and that he is very blunt about nearly everything but when it comes to the individual he wants to become in life, I will support him, help him reach decisions that are ultimately his and take pride in the fact that even when he's made his share of mistakes, he's learned to be confident to take them, no matter what.

That's what I want for my kid. Now, tell me your perspective.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Divorce

That morning, I began my day as usual but what happened was something unusual. A young, well-to-do couple walked in quite happily into the chamber. They looked sophisticated and in sync with each other. It's funny how we leap to conclusion about other people by the way they speak or dress but it's the sad reality of the lives we lead now, isn't it?

A Happy Couple: Is it a Myth?

Coming back to my story, I expected they wanted some advice about a rented home, or something on those lines. Agreements, that kind of stuff. What they asked with smiling faces was for a divorce. That truly stumped me. I couldn't imagine why they looked so united and happy about it. Of course, I have dealt with a variety of divorce cases but this is the first of its kind that was so 'urban and cultured' from start to end.

India, we now say is a very liberal, cosmopolitan country despite a lot of confusing bundles of personal laws for its citizens. The result is chaos for the parties concerned because each Indian citizen is governed by his/her personal laws relating to marriage and divorce.

For Hindus, they are governed by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. which grants divorce based on grounds such as Cruelty, Bigamy, Adultery, Renunciation, Desertion, and so on. The Muslims are governed by their personal laws under which marriage is "Nikah" meaning, a contract. For Parsis, they are governed by the Parsee Marriage & Divorce Act, 1939 and for Christians, there is the Indian Christian Marriage Act 1889. Persons of different caste or any religion can marry under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 and remain governed by this Act. There are certain penal provisions also in the Criminal Procedure Code providing for the maintenance of the wife and punishment for bigamy.

How does this sound? It sounds like I'm about to make a pot of money. The truth is that I don't enjoy watching couples let go of their life and dreams any more than their families do. The truth is that I try very hard to understand what their mutual gray areas of perceived weaknesses are and then guide them to look inward to find solutions to those problems, rather than run off to the nearest lawyer for divorce. The best lawyers are always focused on finding solutions for the client rather than letting the clients go ahead and demand what they believe is the best solution.

Believe it or not, divorce rates are multiplying in India. Delhi tops the list, followed by Mumbai and Bangalore. Even traditional Kerala is not far behind.

So, how did I deal with this happy couple?

First, I tried to first help them see whether they can look back on the difficult areas in their life and make light and sense of those depressing realities but they were firm. They do not want anything but a divorce -- smooth and easy. They said they were not compatible as man and wife and could not live together under the same roof any longer.

The end is no longer the stuff that fairy tales continue with, "....and they lived happily ever after."

The changing lifestyles and perspectives of this country need to redefine and make a new amendment to the conventional fairy tale like this: "............and they lived happily divorced ever after."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Can we teach our kids to be kind? Say Yes!

Kindness is one of the world's most scarce resources, especially in kids. In many cases that I've heard or dealt with, the brutality that enters the world of kids is unimaginable. There are kids who bully one another as early as in pre-school and mostly the teachers and parents are totally ignorant about what is happening because educational pressures have become more competitive and less meaningful to a child's actual development.

What parents and teachers forget is that kindness is something kids learn from them. A parent who treats the domestic help like an animal can never set a good example to the kid. A teacher who lies to the children can never inspire the children to be honest. Funny enough, we don't pay much attention to such important details but yes, we give a lot of importance in saying that our kid studies in X school without thinking through that it is the teachers and the values they impart that is more important than anythingelse.

A lot of young parents believe that teaching their kids kindness is not a good thing to do becaue the world will exploit it. Kindness is not something that parents and teachers should equate with weak will. Some of the world's greatest leaders reached where they are because they could balance their dynamism with kindness and compassion.

Kindness is also closely linked with positive action. Through kindness, your kid may learn to excel and be confident about everything he/she does. Kids, who are kind, will also grow a good, positive network of relationships around them that they can grow for their entire.

Kindness is not about volunteering at a starvation camp or during an epidemic or an earthquake. Its value increases when you use it everyday in your life. Why don't you make kindness a part of your daily routine with your kids so that you can help them and yourself grow a positive cycle?

On Teacher's Day, teach your kids to thank the teacher by stating what all she/he has learned and incorporated thanks to the teacher's love and patience? If your kid doesn't get along with another kid, help them to understand each other and yes, get your kid to at least try and take the first step. Today's life is all about managing relationships smartly. Starting early will help your kid to develop these social interaction skills pretty fast.

Let our kids learn to be kind, not condescending. To help them do that, we need to practice at being genuine too. Kids spot fakes faster than experts. Help your kids to feel for others and to find happiness in helping others. With a spontaneous smile, a truly sincere compliment and a kind gesture, teach your child to make everyone’s day just a little brighter.

Just in case you want to know about whether the law can protect your kid, read on by clicking here.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Making the Right Choice Is Tough

Making the right choice is always important in life. It could be as simple as picking up an aftershave cologne, tweeting with someone you trust about a day in court or getting a gift for your spouse. It could get as complicated as representing a client who you believe is lying or some one whose version you are unable to trust.

Whatever realm you work in, knowing whom to trust and how to negotiate is very important before you make a choice or a decision to go ahead. If you are in business, negotiation is your lifeblood. Same goes for lawyers, teachers, doctors and many more professionals.

Many times, we don' t realize how important negotiation is in every field of life, in the tasks that we do and the practical outcomes we hope to create.

Sometimes, the failure to negotiate properly could land you in deep trouble or mental distress. Lots of problems may crop up because negotiation took a backseat.

My suggestions:

Explain what the benefit is for the other party.

Confirm with yourself that the benefits for you will accrue directly from this deal.

Don’t foster a fall back position beforehand

Invest in your skills
Be honest and open.

If you are a parent, negotiation is what makes you successful in handling your kids' demands. Your kid asks for McDonald burgers. You say veggies but that falls on deaf ears. What do you do? You find a way to negotiate. Starting early helps rather than waiting for the house of card to fall apart, the way it does in many relationships, professional and personal.

Think about it. Do you negotiate enough? More importantly, do you negotiate openly?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Our Kids and Nature Deficit Disorder

People hire lawyers they trust or those they feel comfortable to disclose their personal details with to find solutions that help them grow. Lawyers, as a bunch, steer from solutions and tackle loopholes in processes so that their involvement is mainly with helping the judges interpret the law in the context of a specific case.

In this context, my post is not about lawyers or cases because for me, work will always follow the way its meant to. My purpose of blogging is to interact with non-lawyers to discuss openly on matters other than laws. Its fun to discuss and follow up with those who send queries and discuss general things. Talking about schools and kids is something I do most of the time because I've got a saucy three year old with a mind of his own. It got me thinking about how important it is for parents and teachers to help kids empower themselves.

Richard Louv, in the book he authored - Last Child in the Woods, coined the term 'nature deficit disorder' which is called as NDD. It fascinated many parents and educationists across the world because it is so relevant to our times.

Here are Louv's main findings:

  • Today's children are disconnected from nature because of 'suburban sprawl.'
  • Plugged in culture keeps the kids indoors.

While Louv clearly states that nature-deficit disorder is an alienation from nature, not a medical condition, the truth is that this disorder damages children significantly.

Growing up, in my young days, was fun because it meant I could play outdoors with my bunch of friends. My mother says that I hated coming back inside because I loved playing cricket outdoors.

Today, my 3 year old son comes back from school and refuses to play with other kids or with anything other than playground equipment. He prefers being at home watching TV, reading books or coloring, but we make it a point to take him out and talk about what we see around us in the natural environment.

Nature is Best

Grandma's advice to go out and play in the sun is further strengthened by recent research findings that list the following advantages for kids who spend time outdoors and play in sync with nature:

  • smarter
  • happier
  • more creative
  • better problem solvers
  • healthier

Nature enables them to ask questions, improves their creativity and cognitive flexibility. Show a squirrel munching on a nut to a kid and talk about why it does that. Watch clouds and their shapes in the sky and talk about how thoughts and dreams grow in our mind and change shapes as time passes. There is so much that a child can experience and learn from Nature that it is so devastating if we let our kids not appreciate its true potential.

Actions For Parents and Teachers to Adopt

  • Take kids outside— Create opportunities to play outdoors. Talk, color and experience nature in every day life.
  • Walk or drive to school or around with kids so that you can talk about whatever you are passing through.
  • Request teachers in schools to encourage nature-play as it is good for the development of our children.

It is also important to educate our network of teachers, architects, builders, and community planners to plan 'natural' spaces that foster the imagination of our kids. The importance of natural space is integral to children's overall development. Every parent should get the community involved to achieve a better and more sustainable future for the sake of their kids.

In this context, watch out for schools that discourage children from outdoor activities or restrict their sessions with Nature. Every school's daily activity is supposed to let children outside to observe and enjoy their natural environment and if this activity is not happening, it could affect your child's growth and potential.

My advice is understand your kid better with each day, it will help you grow and make your little one glow.

Friday, March 13, 2009

2009: The Year of Mobile Computing Platforms

The year 2009 is going to witness tremendous increase in mobile travel technologies. Look at the Marriott International, which launched a version of its Website that was built exclusively for smart phone mobiles. Marriott's site earned over $1.25 million in gross revenue within the first 100 days itself. The Kelsey Group conducted research which states that 19% percent of the population in the US use mobile computing devices.

Clearly, mobile computing platforms like the Blackberry Storm and the iPhone will trigger a boom in the use of applications that trigger mobile travel.

Top hotels like the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Hilton Hotels Corp. are transforming their existing Web sites into mobile interfaces. This is a factor that simplify bookings.

In terms of mobile capabilities, Hilton generated over $420,000 in revenue in 2008 October. Hyatt Hotels and Resorts are also geared to launch mobile sites.

Currently, most hotel sites focus on pre-stay functionalities. This may involve simple tasks like paying online or booking a room but this is now broadening. The sites are extending their mobile capabilities to permit customer check ins and even booking restaurant reservations.

Laws relating to any dispute or bone of contention between a hotel and a consumer in the context of mobile computing discrepancies remain vague as of now. The future may spell another story.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Global mergers and R&D Impact

We've all been reading about Merck's plan to acquire SGP or Schering-Plough. The staggering amount of $41 billion is poised to improve the bottom line.

However, a growing concern that experts in the legal field have is that the proposed merger will cut about 16,000 staffers as part of its efforts to streamlines operating costs. That apart, some of Merck's big drugs are at the brink of losing the umbrella of patent protection. That spells a rather gloomy state of affairs altogether. Take the example of Pfizer which seems to have sagging R&D prospects too.

To those of us who are keenly watching the global mergers and changes in the pharma industry, these trends have several implications. The Schering's purchase of a Dutch company known as Organon hardly yieled production of new drugs. Numbers wise, Pfizer spent over $60 billion for its R&D segment for eight years. Have you heard of the company producing a single drug worth its name from this? Mergers impact R&D culture in a rather negative way though they solve some short-term problems.

Takeovers may be just quick fixes for Merck and Pfizer as their best-selling drugs may lose patent protection in the next couple of years. They would have to face generic competition too. Another significant first time for them. Undoubtedly, the legal implications of such defensive acquisitions are bound to be interesting for lawyers.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Law Can Protect Your Child

The year 2009 has begun with greater emphasis on bridging the serious gaps in segments of importance.

Take Obama's latest propositions in changing the face of education in the US where, there are 110,000 expulsions and 3 million suspensions that are known to happen each year. In India, we definitely have little access to these actual numbers but we do know that teachers hitting out at children is almost an accepted form of punishment to correct the behaviors of specific challenging kids. What parents dont realise is that they can take recourse to legal action in these situations.

Coming back to the US education scenario, an interesting approach has been formulated. It's called as collaborative problem solving. This was conceptualised by Dr. Ross Greene, who works at Harvard Medical School's psychiatry deparment. What it means is that behavioral challenges such as lack of flexibility or basic cognitive skills are perceived as developmental delays. So, this principle reiterates that the children shouldnt be punished simply because they are unable to understand and adapt to the demands of the school that placed on their tender shoulders.

Those who have seen Taare Zameen Par, the Bollywood flick, which was a bold and sincere attempt to address the same concept. Countless movie goers appreciated the suffering of the child protagonist, Ishaan, who embodies a classic case of Ross Greene's principle on developmental delays.

But here are some questions that continue to trouble parents:

1. What happens when a school refuses to use diligence and reinforces a system of punishment on a child who is suffering from similar developmental delays?

2. Will lawyers be able to take a proactive approach in initiating preliminary discussions with school authorities in representing these issues relating to a child's educational rights?

To answer question one at a micro level, it is important for parents to assess the situation correctly. Where it does seem apparent that a child is being unduly tormented by the punishment system, it calls for an immediate discussion with school authorities. If that fails to bring out measurable outcomes, we know exactly what comes next. Yes, the law steps in.

That, my dear friends, is just the beginning.