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The Brave Lawyer Whose 9-Yr-Long Fight Stopped Convicted Criminals From Being Our MLAs, MPs

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Whenever we get to hear politicians with criminal records being removed from their position at the height of power, our faith in democracy is restored once again. But few of us know the struggle of a brave woman advocate whose lifelong fight against injustice has resulted in this law. This is the story of Lily Thomas, one of our unsung heroes who must be celebrated at the outset of the 70th Republic Day.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, soon the country with over 130 crore citizens, is again going to elect and entrust leaders in form of MLAs and MPs. In this context, Supreme Court advocate Lily Thomas must be remembered. Due to her persistent fight against injustice, convicted criminals cannot be found any more in our Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. One of the very first woman advocates of India, the now 92-year-old retired Supreme Court lawyer was responsible for bringing forth the much-needed change in the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

The problem in the Representation of the People Act

Prior to 2013, the controversial Section 8 (4) of the Act allowed a provision for an elected Member of Parliament (MP) to continue enjoying his or her privileges and power, even if they are convicted in a criminal case. The erstwhile law read:

Disqualification on conviction for certain offences:-

(4) Notwithstanding anything in sub-section (1), sub-section (2) or sub-section (3)], a disqualification under either sub-section shall not, in the case of a person who on the date of the conviction is a member of Parliament or the Legislature of a State, take effect until three months have elapsed from that date or, if within that period an appeal or application for revision is brought in respect of the conviction or the sentence, until that appeal or application is disposed of by the court.

The fight for nine years and the final verdict

In 2005, Lily Thomas filed a writ petition alongside Lucknow NGO Lok Prahari, to declare the Section 8 (4) as ultra vires the Constitution, i.e, unconstitutional. Her petition was rejected twice,  but the determined lawyer did not give up and succeeded the third time. Nine years later, the Supreme Court finally abolished the debated section, giving the verdict that convicted legislators will be instantly disqualified from holding their membership. The erstwhile provision allowing a three months’ time for appeal was also done away with. Any administrator, if convicted for two or more years in prison, automatically stands disqualified from his position.

After the verdict, the then ruling UPA government was on the verge of declaring an ordinance against the SC judgement. Lily Thomas promptly prepared a review petition and was again ready for a fight with the Central government. However, the decision for the ordinance was ultimately taken back.

Conviction of Jayalalithaa and Lalu Prasad Yadav

Thomas’ petition has resulted in barring heavyweight politicians like late Jayalalithaa and Lalu Prasad Yadav from fighting elections at the pinnacle of their power, after their conviction in criminal cases. Of late, Lily Thomas’ contribution has again surfaced to the fore after Tamil Nadu Youth Welfare and Sports Development Minister P Balakrishna Reddy had to renounce his position after being convicted in a 1998 case which accused him of damaging public properties.

“Earlier, a convicted politician could file an appeal which could result in a stay on the conviction. It encouraged tainted leaders to contest elections,” Thomas had shared in a 2014 interview with The Economic Times while speaking about what led her to file this petition.

Age is just a number for her

Born in 1927 in Kottayam, Kerala, Thomas studied law and practised in the Madras High Court in 1955, making her one of the first generation women lawyers in India. Thomas also happens to be the first Indian woman to qualify for an LLM degree. Later, she started practising at the Supreme Court in 1960, becoming one of the three women lawyers at the apex court at that time. She hails her father as her idol. He was also an advocate, who notably fought to demolish a church exclusively built for the Dalits, in an attempt to discriminate them from the social mainstream.

Aside from the most famous Representation of the People Act, Thomas has also made her mark through several other significant petitions, that did away with backward laws and societal norms. Her petition against religious conversion to Islam for bigamy ultimately resulted in the Supreme Court verdict of declaring the practice of second marriage or bigamy as null and void if the first marriage is not dissolved. This also led to the amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

Even at this age, she continues to visit the court, offering legal advice to people. Age is just a number for her. Lily Thomas is a true inspiration for every Indian. Efforts For Good will continue to present more such motivational stories from the heroes we have amongst us.

Also Read: Once Struggling For Two Meals A Day, This Farmer’s Son Now Owns A Rs 3,415 Crore Company

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Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
Support the cause you care for. Browse All CampaignsBrowse all campaigns

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19,200 Raised
Out of 20,00,000

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26,651 Raised
Out of 20,00,000

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1,11,860 Raised
Out of 9,00,000

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Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

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Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

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In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
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