My First Criminal Case
Let me also tell you of the first criminal case I argued. It was a state brief — that is, when an accused is too poor to hire a lawyer in defense, then the government arranges for one. The fees one was paid for such a case those days was Rs 50. Judges used to keep aside such cases to encourage young lawyers. The case I got was of IPC 304 (A), that is, distracted and irresponsible driving leading to death. My husband was keen that I argue this well and gain a victory, and the fame from it, so he taught me all the aspects carefully. The place of the accident was a bend in the road at Changanassery.
The plaintiff’s side argued that the bus was over-speeding and that it did not blow the horn, and that it hit and knocked down and killed an old man who was walking by the side of the road. But the accused side argued that the bus was running at normal speed and that the driver had indeed honked, but the old man had attempted to cross the road suddenly. In order to identify the weaknesses in the plaintiff’s side and to gather enough materials to cross examine the witnesses, we had to visit the place and so we took a taxi there, me and Mr Chandy. He showed me the difference between what was recorded in the mahassar, and what was actually there. He also taught me how the witnesses were to be cross-examined.
I thought cross-examination was an interesting task. As a lawyer, I have always been keen on sending question after question, like an unbroken shower of arrows, against witnesses who come determined to state untruths in court, make them sweat and toil, and finally expose them in open court before the other lawyers and the audience there. If I have been victorious in this matter, the credit for it goes solely to my husband, who taught me the basics of cross-examination. Anyway, because I took the advice of this revered teacher seriously, and studied the case seriously, the accused’s side won and the court acquitted him. When the newspapers reported this case, the fame of the woman lawyer spread in Kottayam and surrounding areas. Following this, I was entrusted many cases. In a year’s time, I became known as a competent lawyer.
In order to register in the High Court, I had to go to Thiruvananthapuram. So Mr Chandy sought and secured a transfer there.
In Kottayam, I used to go to court dressed like a local Nazrani woman, in a kachamuri wrapped on my waist pleated and tucked in, a long-sleeved chatta-blouse, and a kavani-upper cloth on top. I went to register in the High Court in the same dress, to the office of the Registrar Mr Assariya. He looked at this country-woman top to toe and said, “Mrs Chandy, your dress is so prosaic and antiquated. It will look so awkward if you put on a gown in this background. Why not you switch on to sari, it is such an elegant dignified dress.”
I went home and told Mr Chandy of this. He had good aesthetic sense; he bought me white saris and black blouses then and there, and so I went back to the Registrar’s office in the new dress. Mr Assriya was happy that I took his advice and changed my dressing-style. I went with him to the High Court and was registered, taking the oath before the Chief Justice.
After that, I began to earn a substantial sum as fees in the sessions and high courts. We rented a two-storey building near the High Court. We also bought a second-hand car, from the famous lawyer of those times, Malloor Govinda Pillai. I still remember something he said when we went there to buy it: ” Mr Chandy, I have no objection to your wife buying my car. But she just shouldn’t the name I have earned as a criminal lawyer too!” Not me, noone could steal the fame of that doyen of criminal lawyers, Malloor Govinda Pillai. But soon I began to be nicknamed ‘Kochu Malloor” or “Malloor Junior.”
My normal practice was in Thiruvananthapuram. The news of my victories and my cross-examination appeared in the local papers; Mr Chandy was keen that they should appear.
I also had the chance to argue in the Nagercoil district court. I also was the lawyer in the sensational Pottal murder case which was much discussed those days; and also the Kaloor murder case, in the Paravur district court.
Many could not bear the enviable success that I garnered within one year of moving to Thiruvananthapuram. Many police officers harboured anger and resentment in that many cases charged by them fell through. Through their efforts, my guide and teacher Mr Chandy my husband was transferred elsewhere. From then till his retirement, we were unable to live together in the same place.
Though I was a criminal lawyer, I never took up a single case in which Mr Chandy was the investigation officer or the prosecutor; in fact, not even a case which fell within his circle of authority. But I can say that he may be granted full credit for all the victories I secured in seven and a half years as a lawyer.
The appropriateness of this continued ‘judicial separation’ (Mr Chandy’s words) between us through my entire career as Munsif is still beyond me. I also can’t help remembering at this moment that when I was fighting cases in many courts, for example, Nagercoil and Paravur, I was not able to care for him appropriately. But during weekends or other days in which it was convenient, he would come and take a look at my case records, and suggest the defense strategy, and teach me how to cross examine witnesses and especially the investigating officers. Other lawyers used to say that in my cross examination, I cross-examined police officers the best. But seventy percent of that praise belongs to Mr Chandy, that is the truth.
Before I went to the Law College, I had listened to my husband teaching witnesses how to make statements in court. I had been very captivated by how he patiently unravelled many complicated cases and taught the witnesses to depose properly in court. When he noticed that I was paying keen attention, he was delighted.
When a case is investigated, it is necessary to unearth vital evidence. You have to anticipate the arguments from the other side and be prepared with cogent responses. He used to tell me. Whenever he visited a crime scene for investigation or to prepare a mahasar, if he was traveling by car or boat or canoe, he would also take me along. Such trips were often pleasure trips, I can say. Sometimes I was deputed to be his clerk. The exact site mahsar, the witnesses’ statements, the copies of these — he used to make me write all these. The copies of these documents written in very good handwriting, the DSP of that day must have guessed, could be written only by me, and so one day he said smilingly, “Anyway, Mr Chandy, I am reading all the reports that you sent quite well. You have found a constable with excellent handwriting skills!!” (There were no women police those days). Our man was very pleased by this compliment. He told me so when he returned home that evening.
This kind of training is available only to the wife of a policeman. So young women who seek to be good lawyers may be advised to find intelligent policemen as life-partners. But let me also say that their lives are not likely to be beds of roses. It is quite likely that the man leaves frequently at night to investigate murders and arrest criminals. You may have to sit up sleepless and worried and praying for his safety till he is back. And besides, a career in the police is so much more dangerous now than it was back then.