Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oh the joys of the Punjab Court System

India really is a fascinating place. Everything here is in such contrast to life in the United States that it really opens your eyes to how sheltered we tend to live there. Life is comfortable and good in America, even for the lower class. Almost every home has heat and the power rarely turns off, weather excluded. Men and women are free to come and go as they please and work if they choose. People spend money even though they say they are broke. We really lead cushioned lives and don't even realize it.

In India, most homes don't have heat and even fewer have air conditioner. (I'm a little worried about the summer to be honest since the temperature here can reach 125 and the house I'm living in is one of those homes, no heat or AC.) Aside from the occasional throw rug, most homes are not carpeted. People do not go out and spend money all the time and focus more on saving money. They argue prices down in the bazaars, with the rickshaw drivers, and just about anywhere else they can find to save Rupee. The power goes out all the time and yet when it goes I barely care as there is so much to do the time passes quickly. Many of the houses don't have hot water and the ones that do mostly have on demand heaters. Showers are mostly taken sitting on a stool instead of standing under the water. Despite all that, India is amazing. Once you get past the dirt the culture is so rich and the hospitality is unmatched by anything I ever experience growing up in the south! 'Please' and 'Thank you' are understood here and everyone who comes into the home is greeted and treated with respect.

In America if you need something done in an government office you simply stop by the office, complete any forms that need to be filled, pay the fee and be on your way. This includes marriage registrations which don't require a couple sitting before a judge. If there is a line you wait your turn. Simple tasks can be done in one afternoon and then you go about your way and don't think about it again. Court cases are docketed and you are given a time and date to state your case. You show up, argue in front of the judge (with or without lawyers) and everyone gets a turn to speak. The judge decides and that's it.

In Punjab, whatever day you feel like it you drop into the court with a prepared file of documents you may need. You bombard your way to the judges bench with all your friends even if they have nothing to do with the case and of course the person you are having fits with is there to argue. You bicker and fuss for 20 minutes or so, not necessarily to the judge as it's acceptable to argue with your opponent and your friends or the reader assigned to the judge. The judge gets pissed and decides she's going out for an hour (even if this is the first case of the day) and then leaves you standing there till you get tired and leave. There really seems to be no real order and definitely no docketing system involved here.

Marriage registrations require a file including invitations, affidavits from involved parties, passports, birth certificates, and a bunch of other paperwork that really has no bearing on the actual marriage. Then all the couples there to register and their lawyers vie for space at the desk once the judge has come back and the reader takes the file from whoever paid him the biggest bribe to go first. Then he makes sure everything is in place and the judge talks to the bride and groom. Whether or not she registers your marriage seems to hinge on whether or not your file and circumstances fit the norm for Indian society.

Hubby and I have been to the court three times after firing a lawyer who couldn't seem to get his facts straight and wasn't even familiar with the marriage laws of India, much less Punjab. The first two times the judge was out and we were starting to think she wasn't coming back. She's the only judge who can see us because here judges are assigned by where you live and handle all kinds of cases. Yesterday we finally saw her. She actually told us she needed to go see the website because she didn't think she had the authority to marry two Hindu's because I wasn't born in India. This was after we spent 4 hours at the court house working with the reader who, try as he may, could not find anything missing from our file to fuss about.

So I guess this means Monday will be round 4 with the Indian Court system. This time I plan to take in printouts of the law since the judge apparently doesn't know them. It never hurts to be armed. Though I'm beginning to wonder if this judge knows anything because we weren't the only couple she sent away. The other couple were both Indian but the poor bride had the misfortune of having lived in the UK too long. I'm sure they will be back Monday as well.

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