Tamil Nadu: Judge memo to Dalit for not washing wife’s clothes

On February 4, the woman responded in a note: “My humble explanation for the memo dated February 1, 2016, I humbly submit that I will guard against any lapses in the future and undertake to do my duties properly."

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai | Updated: March 4, 2016 2:53 pm

THE JUDICIAL employees association in Tamil Nadu is preparing to approach Madras High Court after the judge of a lower court in Erode served a memo on his office assistant, a 47-year-old Dalit woman, for “failure to wash the inner wear” at his house and “retorting in an arrogant tone” to his wife.

The memo, dated February 1 and signed by subordinate judge D Selvam of Sathyamangalam court, stated: “Please explain within 7 days why disciplinary action should not be initiated against you for your failure to wash the inner wear which were put for washing in the Sub-Judge’s house, and for throwing them away disgustingly, and when your attitude was questioned by the officer and his wife for retorting in an arrogant tone.”

On February 4, the woman responded in a note: “My humble explanation for the memo dated February 1, 2016, I humbly submit that I will guard against any lapses in the future and undertake to do my duties properly. I request that the disciplinary action against me may please be closed.”

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The Indian Express has examined the memo and the reply. T Senthil Kumar, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Judicial Employees Association, said they have verified the incident and will file a petition before the registrar general of Madras High Court and Justice S Nagamuthu, the High Court judge who heads administrative affairs of judicial employees in the state.

When contacted, judge Selvam said he cannot “react immediately” as the memo “was issued a month ago”. When the contents of the memo were read out to him, judge Selvam said: “I need to go back and check the file.” Asked if it was legal to use an office assistant for menial jobs at his home, he did not respond.

When contacted, Vasanthy confirmed the incident but refused to comment, citing her “vulnerable condition”. But reliable sources at the court said Vasanthy and other court staff continue to work at the judge’s house, doing menial jobs, including washing, cleaning and cooking.

Sources said that Vasanthy, who stays at Gobichettipalayam, about 27 km away from the judge’s residence, is the sole breadwinner of her family as her husband is unwell. She has two daughters, both students.

“Ever since the judge took charge here last May, she has been posted at his home along with one more staff. They work there till 7pm. That day (February 1), the judge’s wife asked her to wash her inner clothes, she refused. The same afternoon, she was served the memo,” said sources.

However, such instances are not new in Tamil Nadu, said retired Justice K Chandru of Madras High Court. For instance, J Cristal Babitha, a judicial magistrate at Valliyoor court near Tirunelveli suspended her office assistant, M Velmurugan, on November 21, 2012, citing his inability to cook fish curry.

Following the incident, the Valliyoor Bar Association sent a memorandum to the higher judiciary. A public interest writ petition was also filed in Madras High Court to revoke the suspension, which was dismissed because the matter was not brought to court by the employee.

“One of the earliest recorded cases known to us was an order issued by the then High Court registrar in 1937, asking judicial officers to not use Class IV employees for house duty,” said Justice Chandru.
Citing increasing cases of humiliation, a Class IV employees association, which was formed in 1980, passed a resolution asking the Chief Justice to “define the work of an employee sent to house duty”.
“After a prolonged delay, in 1992, the then Chief Justice Kanta Kumari Bhatnagar wrote on the file that ‘they (employees) are asked to perform such duties as may be assigned to them by the respective judicial officers’,” said Justice Chandru.

There have also been instances of the judiciary ruling in favour of assistants who have faced action for similar reasons.

The Madras High Court ruled in favour of an office assistant from Kanyakumari who moved a plea against his suspension by a judge for leaving without permission to buy tablets for his stomach ache. He was posted at the gate of the judge’s house.

The judge chargesheeted and suspended the employee, arguing that he should have taken permission to leave from “Amma” (his wife), in his absence. Quashing the chargesheet, the High Court pointed out that “Sir” has a post in the court but “Madam” didn’t.

A senior jurist also cited another case from Trichy in which four office assistants were suspended for refusing to do house duty. “When they dared to protest, they were asked to write an apology for the suspension to be revoked. And when they did so, they were dismissed from service with the apology letter used as an admission of crime,” he said.

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First Published on: March 4, 2016 4:23 am
  1. A
    Mar 4, 2016 at 1:00 am
    This is very disturbing , if up holders of the law are the ones who are breaking it then we have no hope for India.
    1. S
      Mar 4, 2016 at 5:11 am
      No Sangh angle here ! This happens everywhere in govt. service, and is a legacy of British Raj, which is conveniently 'rationalized' even in minority, communist and mandal bastions by hitherto 'oppressed' cles now in positions of power. Why, it is even seen in private sector! Old timers will recall this comment by an erswhile industrialist to a foreigner : " my company employees are my servants ..." . Mr. Kejriwal does it. Even Mr. Kanhaiya will continue it , when he joins civil service or politics ...
      1. M
        Mar 4, 2016 at 4:50 am
        Judges or any high ranking official should only be provided with security staff. All other staff should be privately hired by them and paid off from their own ries. Or rather buy washing machines for themselves instead of humiliating government employees.
        1. T
          Mar 4, 2016 at 12:54 am
          1. A
            ak dev
            Mar 4, 2016 at 6:40 am
            There is a well planned politics by lefties and Congees to exploit incidence involving Dalits. They used a low cost strategy to create a Muslims herd by simply abusing Modi and RSS day and night. Now the game is in full swing to herd Dalits by highlighting incidents that involve Dalits. This is also a low cost strategy. However, Dalits are not as homologous as Muslims and the success of this game is not guaranteed. However, this game is bound to create more problems for Dalits rather than solving the problems.
            1. A
              Mar 4, 2016 at 5:34 am
              The judge should be immediately dismissed, one is getting an office istant to do work aat home and intimidating her with a memo.
              1. A
                Mar 4, 2016 at 5:14 am
                The Judiciary is treated as a holy cow in this country mostly out of fear of contempt proceedings at the drop of a hat. It's time that atude is changed, we being in a supposedly democratic society. Like Suomoto proceedings initiated by courts whenever the executive fails in its responsibilities, here also the HC/SC should not waste any time in proceeding against this judge.
                1. B
                  Balaji S
                  Mar 4, 2016 at 5:09 am
                  Why is the press so inconsiderate? Does it matter if the judge issued this memo to Dalit or a Non-Dalit? The memo is clearly incorrect. Judges and high ranking administrative staffs are provided with helpers(servants) for their home too, but expectation to wash undergarments is not correct in today's world. But how does it matter if the helper or servant is Dalit or not? Should the readers take it as, if the helper/servant had not been a Dalit, this news would not have been published?
                  1. k
                    Mar 4, 2016 at 3:45 am
                    It doesnt have to do with dalit, it happens even if the worker is any caste , that is india ... daily struggle between Haves and have not
                    1. A
                      Mar 6, 2016 at 4:40 pm
                      Police officers, we know, are known for such behaviour towards their subordinate staff. posted at their residences . They are asked to mage the boss' legs, hands, head, back etc. , wash clothes, cook food, drop to and bring back children from school. They do cattle grazing, compound cleaning, milking cows/buffalos, cultivate land in the residential complex and grow crops, etc. Hesitation on the staff to do it, much less denial invites dismisssal. There are few officers who have conscience and respect for human dignity.
                      1. D
                        Devaki Khanna
                        Mar 4, 2016 at 9:44 am
                        WRT to washing "inner wear": Why in heaven's name can't the judge and his wife wash their own undies? I presume this "inner wear" is a euphemism for the same.
                        1. A
                          Mar 4, 2016 at 6:28 am
                          The headline should have been "Judge memo to office istant for not washing wife’s clothes". The judge should start a suo motu contempt case against IE.
                          1. A
                            Mar 4, 2016 at 6:32 am
                            Then she will become mahadalit.
                            1. A
                              Mar 4, 2016 at 7:39 am
                              There is no ground to focus on caste of the office istant. Indian Express should be prosecuted for creating caste hatred.
                              1. S
                                Mar 6, 2016 at 5:46 pm
                                A senior officer making his/her junior do menial tasks is to be condemned highly, irrespective of the caste and religion they belong. Why make it a dalit-nondalit issue? Would it be a lesser sin if the subordinate was a non-dalit? It is these kind of media reporting that creates divisions and heart burns. A victim is a victim, whether they are forward or backward, majority or minority, rich or poor, urban or rural, farmer or non-farmer.
                                1. G
                                  Mar 4, 2016 at 9:55 am
                                  As an exemplary punishment and as a deterrent for future the Judge should be immediately defrocked. The very guardian of justice is doing justice to fellow beings whom he is meant to protect their fundamental rights. The Judge is misusing his position of authority and trust the consution has placed in him. His fellow Judges will try all means to protect this fellow judge but their conscience should not allow them to sleep. Where is the AIADMK, DMK ? go do higiri in front of Judge's house, wash underwears and put them to dry.
                                  1. S
                                    Mar 4, 2016 at 5:35 am
                                    Talk of washing dirty linen in public ! We need to seriously introspect why such minor incidents become the stuff of public discourse in our country. What does it say about us as a people if we attach so much importance to these petty issues.
                                    1. A
                                      ashok das
                                      Mar 4, 2016 at 6:18 am
                                      What the bjp thinks now, are these judjes and the mlas or mps who support them are anti national or not.
                                      1. K
                                        Mar 4, 2016 at 8:31 am
                                        Make no mistake, this is the type of country sanghis want where this type of behaviour is the norm. I won't be surprise if sanghis call this moronic, illiterate judge a 'desh premi'!
                                        1. K
                                          Mar 4, 2016 at 7:06 am
                                          First, Modi and BJP have nothing to do with this incident. Judiciary is independent organ and must take care of the incident and punish the arrogant judge.
                                          1. K
                                            kulaputra kulaputra
                                            Mar 4, 2016 at 1:23 am
                                            This is a labour dispute and as the report says there are many instances of it. IE Does not do anyone least of all itself a favour by reporting it as "divisive" issue. Is this a part of some campaign to divide the country on communal lines ordered by Vat**can as described in the book "breaking India" by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan ? They also start by saying TN seems to be most vulnerable to division on Dravidian and Dalit fault lines.
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