- Apprentice Lawyer
The Kerala High Court, on its last working day before the Christmas vacation, issued an interim order virtually indistinguishable from many of its other orders of a similar character.
The obscure-looking, three-sentence order read:
"Issue notice before admission to the respondents by speed post. Operation of Ext. P3 order date 10.06.2020 in IA No 5 of 2020 in OS No 25 of 2020 shall stand stayed till 15.1.2021. Post on 15.1.2021."
Through this order, the single-judge Bench of Justice Shircy V effectively stayed an ex parte order issued by a munsiff court that had directed the demolition of a temporary shed. The shed housed a certain impoverished family and was located on disputed property.
Temporarily staying the family’s eviction from the property, the High Court proceeded to post the matter for further consideration to January 15, 2021.
In a cruel twist of fate, two members of the family - Rajan and Ambili - accidentally set themselves on fire as they resisted police efforts to evict them from the shed.
Chillingly, the couple had filed a plea in the High Court stating,
“…If Ext. P3 (munsiff court order) is implemented, the petitioner and his mentally ill wife with children would be thrown away to street as they have no other residence except the shed exist in the property situated.”
Around the same time the case was being heard in Ernakulam at the High Court, the police, along with a court-appointed commissioner, had set out to evict the family in compliance with the order of the lower court.
Rajan and Ambili lived on the premises along with their two sons.
Even as efforts to evict them were made, the couple beseeched the police to relent, stating that their case was in the process of being heard by the Kerala High Court. As their efforts failed, the couple threatened to set themselves on fire, pouring petrol on themselves. In a cruel twist of fate, the couple ended up self-immolating themselves after a policeman attempted to knock a lighter from Rajan's hands. The two succumbed to their injuries this week.
A video of the couple’s sons blaming the police for their parents’ violent deaths and demanding that they be laid to rest upon the disputed property sparked a wave of public emotion in favour of the family. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was prompted to promise a new home for the boys.
The series of events leading up to the tragic end of Rajan and Ambili showed how a pandemic, incompetent counsel, and judicial delays conspired to cause a travesty of justice.
The petition in the High Court, filed through advocate Jinish Paul, narrated that the counsel initially engaged by Rajan and his family did not properly contest the original eviction suit, leading to the ex parte order against them. The case was further hampered by the onset of the pandemic.
A second lawyer was engaged to file an appeal before the appellate court. This appeal, filed along with the stay application presented, were never heard, the petition in the High Court stated.
Meanwhile, the lower court proceeded to implement its ex parte order, directing Rajan and his family to demolish the temporary sheds constructed on the property. Failing this, the plaintiff would be entitled to remove the properties in the presence of a court-appointed commissioner, the lower court order additionally ordered.
However, scarcely before the High Court pronounced its order, the act was done. Rajan and Ambili succumbed to their burn injuries this week, and the case remains to be heard by the High Court, on January 15.
One can only hope that the oft-quoted maxim "let justice be done" becomes a reality for Rajan and Ambili's sons. Sadly, in this case, the "heavens" have already fallen.