Interview with Dr Vipan B. Kumar, Advocate, Professor, Psychologist, and a Writer

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Advocate, professor, psychologist, and writer, Advocate Dr Vipan B. Kumar is a consummate polymath. He has a thriving practice in most Mumbai Courts and deals in Domestic Violence and Family Law cases. He was a Psychology Professor at National College, Bandra has specialized in Clinical Psychology. His socially compassionate predisposition and the gusto to make a change were his cornerstones in building a career that focuses on closing Domestic Violence Cases, Divorce Settlements, Custody Battles as elegantly as can be done. Keep reading to know about his views regarding the interplay of psychology and law, the rise of domestic violence cases during the current pandemic, his 2 cents of advice for law students, and more.

Trishala: You taught Psychology at Bandra College, Mumbai. What motivated you to pursue Law?

Dr. Vipan: Psychology is not a regulated and licensed profession in India as Law or Chartered Accountancy is. Besides law has considerable “quick-acting relief”. With its practice and application you can, to a great extent, within limitations bring quick relief for the common masses as well as others who are highly ignorant about their rights. You can restrain someone or direct through legal machinery someone to do something that he is legally bound to do or bound not to do.

Many authorities get shaken with the long arm of the law. Some authorities are hard nuts to crack and for that, you need considerable skills, expertise, and of course a face value. Law has another advantage which as a psychologist and a professor of Psychology it is not possible. You can appear as a holding advocate, seek adjournments, take help of Counsel, and the hierarchical nature of legal machinery in India, as well as Indian Laws if properly moved and hit at the right time with the right effect, can create wonders and give reasonably good results.

Trishala: You studied Psychology. How does that play into your career as a lawyer especially while working on Criminal Cases? Also, how does your knowledge of psychology help you in dealing with Domestic Violence or any other Family Matters?

Dr. Vipan: Knowledge of Psychology is both an asset as well as a hindrance. Many things which you cannot achieve legally or will take a long time by following a legal recourse can best be achieved through emotional appeal or by shaking the soul or conscience not only of the judiciary in general and judicial members/officers in particular but also your opponents. How you appeal to stakeholders, talk to them, present them is an art and a skill which today’s young lawyers need to learn. Winning a case is not important, but winning the opponent and your colleague’s heart is important. It should be remembered that your condition should not be like a situation where “operation is successful, but the patient is no more”. A genuine appeal, pleading and plea for forgiveness by Accused can even melt victims or anyone.

In Psychology, especially Clinical Psychology which was my area of specialization there is a concept of Empathy, which means putting your self in other’s shoes. In my initial years as a lawyer, I used to empathize with not only my clients but also opponents and others as a result I found my self to be like a proverbial donkey or that dog “Jo Na Ghar Ka hai Na Ghat Ka”. Law and legal machinery very often are impersonal, devoid of emotions and feelings, and very insensitive and damaging, getting used to it was extremely difficult. In short, the transition from Psychology to Law was not and is not smooth. It has its own advantages and disadvantages, which I quickly learned but often paid a price for it.

Domestic violence and family matters are a different class of cases. Domestic violence matters are Quasi Civil and Quasi Criminal. These matters need to be solved and settled at the earliest but unfortunately due to many factors that have not been possible. It should be remembered that the “Tit for Tat” policy does not work. In family matters hard stand should not be taken, clients should be told to adopt give and take policy. As a lawyer, we must understand when our client is being vindictive and one’s “hidden Agenda” must be understood. Do not get carried away by your client.s story or what the opponent is saying. Read between the lines and always try to uncover the truth.

In family matters including Domestic Violence, an early settlement should be aimed at. Many a time clients do not want to settle the matter, due to their own hidden agenda. One partner gets sadistic pleasure or does not want to part any concession to the other spouse. In some cases, a Petitioner may find a mission or a meaning in life and relationship by fighting and believe me unnecessarily fighting in the courts of Law.

Sending an individual behind the bars, especially in family matters is not to be encouraged and in family-related matters, clients should be taught at the earliest about the futility of prolonged litigation. Settlement and mediation is the best solution not only in family matter but in many criminal and in almost all civil cases.

Trishala: You have matters in almost all courts in Mumbai. What are some of the very important but underrated aspects of working in Civil and Criminal Courts?

Dr. Vipan: The Working and Functioning of Civil and Criminal Courts are not much different. The basic principle of law is almost the same. Civil Courts, I found it to be slow as compared to Criminal Courts. Some advocates practice only on the Civil Side and others only on the Criminal Side. But there is also a sizeable category who practice on both the sides – Civil as well as Criminal. Their task is much difficult as they need to develop considerable skills and hard work at least in initial years to develop and refine their legal knowledge and expertise. The greatest underrated aspect is that Clients don’t understand the amount of time and energy put in by his advocate to defend his client. The other aspects which young advocates have to understand are, do not experiment with a criminal case, be very particular and punctual, and be prepared to spend time and energy on getting familiar and learning various aspects of law and Legal system.

First few years, I would say at least 3 to 5 years, one must spend by working under a senior/experienced advocate/counsel and learn all the different aspects of functioning. Getting oriented and familiar with ground reality and doing all the “donkey’s work” is really important. Clients and sometimes few advocates talk nonsense such as “usne setting kiya hoga”, “kutch kharcha pani dena hoga”, “opposite advocate foot gaya” etc., such nonsense should not be indulged in or paid attention to. Acquiring knowledge and information especially about the substantial law and procedural laws as well as keeping updated about administrative decisions is very important. Moreover acquiring language skills – both in local Court Language and English is very important. Those trail court advocate who practices in a particular state, say for example Maharashtra, must be familiar with Marathi and if they do not know they should learn about it. The same is the case with other states.

Handling criminal cases need promptness, speed, considerable networking, and updated information availability. Slight laxity in that will not only damage the Client’s interest but also your reputation.

Trishala: You generally take up Domestic Violence Cases. Do you think it is better to build one’s practice in one particular field of law or to experiment in different fields?

Dr. Vipan: I basically believe that it is better to be a Jack of all, rather than a Master of one. In the initial years of practice, which I peg it at first 10 years, I feel one must be like a general practitioner and take part in all aspects of litigation, drafting and related assignments – right from stitching a brief to filing to taking the matter on board to arguing, etc. Working in different courts, getting acquainted with its procedure and functioning adds considerably to your knowledge and experience base.

Handling Domestic Violence cases does not mean practising only in one court and in one area of Law. Domestic violence is intimately related to Family Law, Criminal Case, Civil Matters, Mediation, International Law, Psychology, Mental Health, policymaking, Women’s movement, emerging related movements such as Men’s right, a movement for gender-neutral laws, human right, cyber laws, Procedural Laws of different Courts and the list goes on. When a woman files a domestic violence case, she is not limited only to one act, i.e. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Many D.V, Cases are also associated with multiple litigations such as child custody, Criminal Cases (under IPC, Information Technology Act, POCSO, etc,), Civil Litigation, (especially where joint property or family property is involved), Initiation of cases under Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. Then you also need to appear before various authorities such as Police, Women or Minority Commission, etc. These cases go in Appeal in Sessions Court and then escalate to the High Court and Supreme Court. Very few advocates can handle a matter right from M.M/JMFC. Court to Supreme Court. If you practice only in MM Court or Family Court, you may refuse the matter when it goes to Appellate Court or  High Court. Besides you also need to be familiar with Writ, Revision as well as Appeals. Hence, I feel that being an allrounder will enhance your grip and understanding about a given case as well as your knowledge base in varied areas.

Trishala: Amid the lockdown, cases of domestic violence have increased manifold and alcoholics and drug addicts are finding it difficult to cope with themselves in the confines of their home. Recently, Jammu & Kashmir High Court asked the Government to produce a report on how they seek to prevent Domestic Violence amid COVID-19 Lockdown. How do you think these situations should be handled when the aggrieved parties can’t leave home to seek any concrete form of solution to their due to COVID-19problem?

Dr. Vipan: It is a sad state of affairs at present. In fact, there is no Standard Protocols or Policy or attempts as to how to handle domestic violence arising during the period of COVID-19. First, we were not prepared for such a situation and that the lockdown, as well as the situation arising out of COVID 19, is unprecedented. No standard protocol as such has been developed till date to deal with Domestic Violence and or provide reliefs for the victims. There are some NGOs and few Universities State Authorities including Municipalities which have developed helplines. But these helplines have limitations as Phone facilities are not with anyone. Victims of domestic violence may not be that vocal or courageous to call helpline and helpline is not a solution. The solution lies in providing reliefs such as segregation from the abuser, protection, privacy as well as providing accommodation and other reliefs as provided in the DV Act.

The Concept of Domestic Violence in our country has its own limitations as Domestic Violence is very narrowly defined. A male cannot be a victim of Domestic Violence. The Domestic Violence Act, as well as Few Sections of IPC, are not gender-neutral. We need to understand and adopt gender-neutral laws. What relief a man can get when he has been physically thrashed by his wife or abused by his inlaws. In short, he cannot invoke Domestic Violence. Even the concept of Sexual Harassment is not all-inclusive. It appears that under the Indian lawmen cannot be sexually harassed at the workplace or acts of Domestic Violence cannot be done on them. I have seen cases, where men have been victims of domestic violence or mental cruelty, have been inflicted on them by their spouse but they cannot seek relief under IPC of any other law akin to Domestic Violence law. We need to understand that Domestic Violence as well as sexual abuse, either in the family or at the workplace is Gender Neutral.

Trishala: Marital rape is an exception to Rape under IPC, but the Domestic Violence Act comes to the rescue of victims through protection orders or orders to stop the violence. Do you think Marital Rape should not be an exception and should be added in Section 375 of the IPC?

Dr. Vipan: Don’t open Pandora’s Box. If sex has occurred in a marriage without the woman’s consent and will and by putting her in fear or trouble or pain, etc. the route of Domestic Violence is always open for her. Marital Rape makes no sense. It is a luxurious concept or a concern raked up by a minuscule entity wanting to draw attention. Women are protected sufficiently by the existing laws. We need to focus more on an efficient justice delivery system as well as strengthen the working and functioning of Protection Officers and Legal Aid Centres/Services Authority as well as the Police. Both the Police and the Protection Officers can play a very important role, but sadly they are not doing what is expected. Can you imagine that in two different cases a woman having a protection order, when abused and beaten by the spouse went to the police station (both were from different police stations in Mumbai), the police officer on duty charged her under the Bombay Police Act rather than providing protection? Protection officers should be available round the clock like the 911 service in the USA.

Trishala: Lastly, what would be your advice to the young students at Law School as well as Law Graduates?

Dr. Vipan: Young students of Law and recently passed Law Graduates are more knowledgeable and some may be more enlightened than us. However, a few things which I need to share with them, are as follows:

  1. Please take trial court experience for 3 to 5 years minimum. Last year
  2. Bar Council of India came up with a proposal to make the trial court experience for young advocates compulsory. I would further suggest that practice in different trial courts such as Family Court, Civil Court, M.M/JMFC Court, DRT, Sessions Court, Labour/Industrial Court, as well as before various authorities and tribunals such as Women’s Commission, Human Rights Commission, Revenue Officials, etc.
  3. Do not enter Counsel Practice from Day one.
  4. Do not run after money. acquire skills, field experience, study and put in to practice procedural, substantive, and administrative law.
  5. Be sincere, transparent, and communicative. Develop Resilience, Passion, and Perseverance. Develop your communication skills and client relationship. If possible take up some communication skills or language brushing classes, especially learning local/State language such as Marathi in Maharashtra.
  6. Read as much as you can including non-legal literature. For example, if you are practicing in the family court it is very important to learn about the Psychological aspects of marital discord, sexuality, self-development, conflict resolution, etc. If You are having Muslim Clients become familiar with their religious teachings, personal laws, and practices. Etc.
  7. Search for Variety in your cases and read as much as you can. Don’t limit yourself to Case Laws but go beyond that and understand about the prevailing situation in other countries/cultures and their system of laws on a given topic.
  8. Do not immediately jump to become a corporate lawyer or practice in a niche area. The first attempt to be a general practitioner and then move towards selective practice or developing expertise

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