Handcrafted Book Summary of The Lean Startup

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                                         The Lean Startup

   Eric Ries

Crown Publishing

336 pages; Average reading time 4 hours 45 min

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The reality is that most start-ups fail. Most of these failures are externalised to ‘not being in the right place at the right time’, ‘product not being perfect for launch’ and many more reasons. With my own start-up experience and of those around me, I believe that startup success can be engineered into a process, and therefore startup success can be learnt as well as taught.  I began writing on the blog Startup Lessons Learned-which has now refined into the theory of Lean Startup. The Lean Startup is not a ‘how-to’ book of tactics-it is an approach that helps entrepreneurs move away from ‘Can this product be built?’ to ‘Should this product be built?’ After all, the biggest risk that a startup carries is consuming precious resources to build a product that nobody wants! The Lean Startup is now a global movement. This book is divided into three parts:

  1. Build the vision for the startup with validated learning
  2. Steer the startup towards success using the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop
  3. Accelerate the Build-Measure-Learn loop while scaling up simultaneously


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Handcrafted Book Summary of My Gita

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                                                 My Gita

   Devdutt Pattanaik

Rupa Publications

256 pages; Average reading time 3 hours 37 min

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This bookbhook summary is handcrafted by Pooja Terwad, exclusively for India’s favourite book summary app-bookbhook. Pooja is a partner in a full service law firm, based out of Mumbai. She loves exploring books and interpreting their theory in her practice.

Why ‘My’ Gita?

The real quintessence of ‘GITA’ lies in ‘TAGI’ (One who lets go), yet I have named this book using a possessive pronoun.  The book is linear and the sequence of themes broadly follow the original sequence found in The Gita. The original Gita is narrated by Sanjaya, who has merely transmitted the conversation between Krishna and Arjun to Dhritirashtra, but did not really know what he was talking about. Through this book I am looking to put forth my narrative of The Gita in the light of several other mythologies around the world. However, this still remains my subjective understanding and my subjective truth. What you understand or take away will continue to remain your subjective truth and no one else’s. My Gita does not merely suit the hermit who isolates himself from the society, but it is meant for the householder, who has much to do with relationships.

 A Brief History of The Gita

Before the Bhagavad Gita (God’s song), there was the Vyadha Gita or the butcher’s song.  Just like the Bhagawad Gita, the Vyadha Gita’s description of dharma, karma and atma focused more on the householders’ way of engagement, and not on the hermits’ way of withdrawal. Hinduism goes back to over 5,000 years, and it is around the Vedic phase, roughly 4,000 years ago that Gita started emerging in hymns and rituals. The Mahabharata has multiple Gitas, but the Bhagawad Gita has been the most read and interpreted. The Bhagawad Gita has 700 verses, split into 18 chapters, of which 574 are spoken by Krishna, 84 by Arjuna, 41 by Sanjaya and 1 by Dhritarashtra.  There are several commentaries, translations and retellings of The Gita which have appeared from time to time and have reflections of the contemporary religious, social and political situations.

  1. Theme of My Gita: darshan (observation) ; Theme of The Gita: Arjuna’s despair

Where Dhritarashtra and Kauravas both consider their own family as enemies, Arjuna is worried about killing people who he considers his own. The Kauravas have already created distinctions on whom they consider their own and who as enemies, while Arjuna is not scared of violence -but violence against his own family. The Kauravas have already separated themselves from the other, the Arjun is unable to separate his own self from the other. The actions of Kauravas, Dhritarashtra and Arjun all involve judgment, thus preventing themselves from darshan. There are either divisions of good/bad, powerful/powerless and so on, or there is cause and consequence.  There is either the judgment or darshan. Where we look beyond the boundaries which are separating one from the other, we do darshan.

  1. Theme of My Gita: atma (rebirth) ; Theme of The Gita: sankhya (analysis)

True wisdom is where death is irrelevant. Life is a battlefield of infinite experiences of the dehi (immortal occupier) and the deha (mortal body). One experiences the world time and again in different deha, till those who fix their minds on the immortal reality break free from this wheel of re-births, which often fluctuates between the form and the formless. Once a soul does darshan, it motivates him to accept the present and take responsibility of the future. Another life is another chance: either to stay entrapped in the cycle of fear or break free by discovering the reality and observing it without judging it.

  1. Theme of My Gita: deha (mortal body); Theme of The Gita: karma (informed action)

The world is primarily divided into four: humans, animals, elements and plants. While elements are a-jiva, (lifeless), the rest three are sa-jiva (living). Plants have sensory organs but are immobile, unlike animals. Animals display emotions and some degree of intelligence. However, humans have manas, the power to imagine in addition to the above qualities. Every human imagines differently and hence has different experiences, even when put under same circumstances. Everything that we value is actually a result of our imagination. The most certain imagination of a human mind is fear and it is this fear which restrains us from gaining insight, accepting immortality as fear and help us function without fear. Immortality is a concept just like 0 and infinite and cannot be measured or proved by pure sciences.

  1. Theme of My Gita: dehi ; Theme of The Gita: gyana

Dehi is the atma which is located in the body. It is the body’s immortal resident, and which is beyond the senses and the mind. Dehi is just like the purusha, located inside nature. Deha-the outer body, on the other hand, is like the prakriti (nature) and these two (deha and prakriti) are within the reach of the senses, unlike the dehi and purusha which are immeasurable and permanent. Dehi is the jiv-atma and has limited experience as it is constrained by the deha it resides in. The purusha, however, is called the param-atma and its experience is unlimited as it resides in limitless prakriti. Every individual is a jiv-atma and every other individual is a param-atma. The dehi does not mean the soul, as soul can get corrupted, but dehi is pure and pious under any circumstances, even if it is in the body of a sinner.

  1. Theme of My Gita: karma ; Theme of The Gita: sanyasa (detached action)

Every living creature feels hungry and indulges in violence. Wherever there is hunger, there is food and the act of fetching food is a violent act as we indulge in destruction of life, that we consume as food. This is the ultimate truth. In anticipation of fear of violence, human refrains from acting but little do they realize that even inaction is going to have a reaction. Action or no action, both equally constitute karma and shall have consequences (karma-phal). As long as a human is not expecting any fruit out of his action, and is content with whatever is the result, he wouldn’t get entrapped. Remember, a good karma can have a bad reaction. We cannot have control over the fruits of our action. Not judging, and accepting things as they are, is the essence of karma- also called the nishkama karma.


  1. Theme of My Gita: dharma ; Theme of The Gita: dhyana

The first word uttered in The Gita is dharma, often referred to as righteousness and debated as paap and punya. At times, it is also referred to as religion. However, as humans, we have the potential to imagine and respond to other person’s pain. When an individual values his needs along with the needs of others, he is following the path of dharma. Dominating the weak or consuming the weak is the animal nature, as humans we are supposed to empathize with the needs of others. Traditions and laws, which develop their own definition of dharma, is not dharma at all. The intent and care we give others related or not related to us is dharma. A person who follows dharma will never care to justify or complain, he will just engage himself in doing the karma, without expecting the karma-phala of their karma-bin (seeds of Karma).

  1. Theme of My Gita: yagna (exchange); Theme of The Gita: vi-gyana (inner potential)

Yagna is one of the only rituals of the outer journey which Krishna talks about. Yagna is an exchange, where the yagna doer (yajaman) gets in return of what he offers the devata. Exchange teaches us to reciprocate and thus value relationships. The concept of offering flowers/ghee or even bali (sacrifice) came later on, and do not propound the intent of The Gita. The true meaning of yagna always was to feed the hungry, it was an action inspired by a justified intent and thought.


  1. Theme of My Gita: yoga (introspection); Theme of The Gita: askhara (liberation)

The process of connecting with the disconnected deha and ultimately finding the dehi is yoga. Krishna refers to disconnecting and breaking things into their parts, and then connecting them through yoga. Yoga helps us establish what the mind should do and what it shouldn’t. While the yagna is referred to as the outer journey, yoga is referred to as the journey of the mind, which one has to take. Yoga teaches us to take a decision with utmost clarity and without being insensitive to the feelings of others. A balance of yagna and yoga teaches a yogi to see the world with utmost equanimity, without judgment. The inner journey should be taken to better the outer journey.

  1. Theme of My Gita: deva-asura (trust); Theme of The Gita: raja-guhya (special secret)

Although devas and the asuras have often been termed as Gods and Demons, in reality they stand for believers and non-believers of atma. The God in The Gita has always been referred to as Bhagavan. Neither deva nor asura are given the status of BhagavanAtma is the one which is forever true and it can’t be proven and needs to be experienced. A yogi needs to value yoga, tapa and agni. Devas preferred the yagna and asuras preferred tapa. The devas were always insecure of the asuras and often tried to violate their tapasya, while the asuras envied the abundance that the devas were blessed with. The deva has been successful and the asura strives to be successful. Devas believes God will help them and asuras don’t believe so. Devas believe in param-atma but have not realized the value of jiv-atma and the asuras do not believe in atma at all. Hence, neither of them have completed the true inner journey. Both of them are unable to break free and are trapped in the karma-phala of their own actions.


  1. Theme of My Gita: Bhagavan (potential); Theme of The Gita: vibhuti (divinity)

The word Bhagavan is used in The Gita to refer to God. While every living creature experiences one slice of reality (bhag), God is master of every slice. It means the one who has experienced it all. Finding the hidden meaning of God is an evolution. Understanding that God is not outside but within us and in others. God has been referred in various names since the Vedas to the Puranas. He is one who does not have a form, gender or any other identity. He is the Enlightened Householder. However, The Gita says the Bhagavan is the ultimate source and destination- where everyone and everybody should finally return. The Hindu God, as The Gita says, is located in Humanity.


  1. Theme of My Gita: brahmana (mind); Theme of The Gita: vishwa-rupa ( sight of divinity)

Vanara (monkey), nara (human) and Narayana (God-refuge of nara) are the three aspects of human existence. They respectively denote the presence of animal, human and divine instinct. The animal instinct often wants to identify the prey or rival. The human instinct wants to judge, however, the divine instinct only observes. This journey involves unwinding of aham and eventually discovering the atma, which is the secure mind. This is brahmana. The observer, or the divine instinct, helps others to transform for the good, without making them feel small. A brahmana mind totally overrides the animal brain and outgrows fear. It is a stage where no one can be an enemy. Even someone who is harming you cannot be your enemy, as a brahmana considers the person causing harm merely another human who is indulging in animal like behaviour out of his fear.

  1. Theme of My Gita: avatar ; Theme of The Gita: bhakti

Krishna is addressed in over 40 ways in the Gita. Over the centuries and during every phase of Hinduism, various characters have expressed their love for God in a particular way. The bhava (emotions) of bhakta vary in every yug. Sometimes in form of a mother (Yashoda), at times in form of gopikas, at times like a preyasi (Radha). The devotee can either cling to the deity like a baby or could be passive in devotion.  The God has accepted every form of love and accepted the bhakta with every inadequacy without making him feel inferior. This sustains the relationship between the deity and its bhakta. Eventually, humans began to accept some forms of devotion and rejected a few. But Krishna categorically says that the relationship with god need not be governed by riti/niti (rituals) as long as it emerges from within.

  1. Theme of My Gita: guna; Theme of The Gita: kshetra

Humans are often faced with a dilemma where we wish to act in a certain manner, but end up with a completely different behaviour. This is because our nature compels us do what we do. Every instinct is manifested by a guna, which constitutes an individual. The a-jiv as well as the sa-jiv behave based on their respective gunas. The tri-gunas are classified as ‘rajasik, tamasik and the sattvik’. Every individual will have all the three gunas in proportion, but the guna that dominates at a particular hour, determines the reaction of the individual. Every human should realise that the reason for a particular response is not the dehi but the deha which is over powered by a guna, it is then we do not blame or judge.


  1. Theme of My Gita: kshetra; Theme of The Gita: guna

Humans value everything that can be measured. I constitute of my atma and atma cannot be measured, but everything that is mine, can be. Hence, society attaches value to ‘mine’ rather than ‘me’.  This ‘mine’ is termed as Narayani, and people have forgotten what the Narayan (me) is. Property (kshetra) becomes the substitute for feelings and the purpose of life revolves around acquiring Narayani. While the nature does not classify anything as Narayani, humans create it- to nourish themselves. Kshetra is an artificial construction by human as he relates his identity through this kshetra. Our mind needs to outgrow from the dependence on kshetra to look for an identity from within. This identity needs to be acquired by effort. Society values the social body, but what needs to be values is an individual’s strength and skill. One should acquire kshetra as it is vital for survival, but should not attach or derive his identity from it.

  1. Theme of My Gita: maya; Theme of The Gita: Purushottam

The human potential to determine what belongs to me and what does not, is called Maya. It literally means delusion. We measure, we judge, we compare and we compete- this results in conflict and creation of hierarchies. This is all done to merely give ourselves an identity and make ourselves significant.  The dehi however cannot be measured.


  1. Theme of My Gita: moha; Theme of The Gita: dev-asura

Humans feel secure when they cling or relate themselves to a physical identity. Even with a religion like Buddhism that preaches impermanence, the remains of Buddha were converted into stupas. Similarly, humans cling to their property or goals that satisfy their aham (ego) and ultimately lead to the six obstacles of kaam (desire), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (attachment), maad (pride) and matsarya (jealousy). A householder runs behind his goals and a hermit shuns everything that naturally belongs to him. Both do not accept the reality of accepting what comes his way and letting go of what does not. Both these reactions keep us away from the atma and eventually nurture the aham.

  1. Theme of My Gita: moksha; Theme of The Gita: shraddha

Humans derive value from within as well as outside. The within, that is the atma, is immortal and infinite, and the exterior comprises of aham. The within is our primary root and the exterior, a secondary one. One should use knowledge to cut the secondary roots and liberate oneself. This is moksha, when one does not need validation from outside but is validated from within. While moksha begins by realizing that nothing is permanent, The Gita says that one can have two identities. One derived from aham and the other from atma. Atma results in moksha. Our insecurities disconnect us from others, and when we let these insecurities go, we automatically connect with the atma, which then, makes us generous and liberated. This is moksha.


  1. Theme of My Gita: atma (immortal within); Theme of The Gita: brahma-nirvana (discovery of the other)

The continuous tension between building relationships (dharma) and abandoning relationships (moksha) underlines The Gita. There have been various school of thoughts on the superiority of dharma, artha, kama and moksha. The latter three indulge in the self, while dharma ordains that everything is meant for the other. Hence, Arjuna says, instead of finding moksha through abandonment, one needs to surrender and offer all his actions to Krishna and it will lead to automatic liberation. Siddhartha became Buddha by killing Mara (the demon of desire). Buddha, Rama, Pandavas – all of them returned back wiser, and yet disconnected, from the forest. Moksha can be attained by the expansion of mind to accommodate the truths of life and it is the outcome of dharma. Krishna advises Arjuna to take darshan of the other person by looking at him beyond his aham, hunger and fears – which are nothing, but the other person’s imagined identity. This can be done by discovering one’s aham, hunger and fears, and eventually discover the infinite atma. And this is atma-gyana, the ultimate promise of The Gita.

After My Gita

Arjuna’s confusion is now replaced by clarity and the battle of dharma at Kurukshetra begins. But even after the war, doubts in Arjuna’s mind continue. When Arjuna overhears a conversation between Yudhishthira and Krishna where Krishna says craving cannot be destroyed. The only way to destroy desire is by pursuing dharma. Pursuing dharma will lead to craving for more dharma, which then becomes a positive loop, and is good for the entire world. This is when Arjuna requests Krishna to repeat what he said in the starting verse of Bhagawad Gita. Krishna then narrates a follow-up Gita, which is known as the Anu Gita, in which the focus is on karma and gyana, not bhakti. Even after being the recipient of The Bhagawad Gita, Arjuna goes to hell. Why? With all his virtues, Arjuna was not perfect, and the desire to be perfect makes one control the situation, eventually judge the world, and not be secure and satisfied until the world has a happy ending. The Gita does not talk of perfection. It suggests the three interdependent paths of Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Gyana Yoga to be followed. One also does not need have control over expected results. The final outcome depends on will (sankalpa), tendencies (guna) and what one is supposed to experience (karma).

This is a world without boundaries and that there will always be another chance.

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Handcrafted Book Summary of The Sleep Revolution

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                                   The Sleep Revolution

   Arianna Huffington

W H Allen

288 pages; Average reading time 5 hours 40 min

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Handcrafted Book Summary of Ten Judgements That Changed India

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                  Ten Judgements That Changed India

   Zia Mody

Penguin India

256 pages; Average reading time 3 hours 37 min

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This bookbhook summary has been handcrafted by Surbhi Kasid and the editors at bookbhook.com.

This handcrafted book summary will help you learn

  • The judicial history behind the recent Supreme Court judgement on triple talaq
  • How the Court interprets the fundamental rights of the citizens of India?
  • How Vishaka guidelines led to safer working conditions for women?

We the people of India

The people of India gave themselves The Constitution of India on 26th January 1950 with these words ‘We, the people of India’. The Constitution is the bedrock of the world’s largest democracy and this holy grail of democracy is interpreted from time to time. The interpretation of the Constitution goes through various levels till it reaches the ultimate interpreter- the Supreme Court of India.

As the name suggests, the book 10 Judgements That Changed India is a concise account of the way the Indian judiciary evolved over the course of time. It is important for us to understand how the various liberties and the safe recourse that we enjoy came to exist. The Constitution forms the back bone of Indian democracy and the apex judiciary is the cornerstone of the unflinching faith that the Indian citizen has in getting his or her voice heard. Since independence, the Constitution has been interpreted on numerous occasions by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. The 10 judgements discussed in this book are regarded as the turning points in the Indian legal system, and are somewhere or the other, linked with the Constitution.

In this book summary of 10 Judgements That Changed India, we will cover three out the ten landmark cases. For a detailed perspective of these four judgements and to read the other six judgements, please buy the book.

 Mohammad Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum

‘The law’ & then personal laws

India is a democracy and hence the right of equality is extended to every citizen. However, where matters such as marriages, divorces, and property settlements are concerned, there are different laws for different religions. These laws are also referred to as personal laws. Even before this case, the Supreme Court had passed several judgements regarding providing maintenance to a divorced Muslim woman by her husband but this case flared up the communal atmosphere in the country.

A divorce

In 1978, Mohammed Ahmed Khan divorced his wife of over forty years, Shah Bano, by pronouncing ‘triple talaq’- a Muslim religious custom that gave Mohammed Khan the right to do so, as long as the husband paid the pre-agreed amount mahr. The mahr amount was Rs 3000, something that would not help Shah Bano live the rest of her life without any financial support.

Shah Bano filed a petition under Section 125 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure), claiming maintenance from her husband as the mahr amount was grossly inadequate to help her lead the rest of her life.. The Judicial Magistrate at Indore, Madhya Pradesh, ordered her husband to pay a meagre sum of Rs 25 every month. Shah Bano then moved to the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which revised the maintenance amount to Rs 179.20 every month. In response to this, Mohammed Ahmad Khan challenged the Madhya Pradesh High Court decision at the apex court- the Supreme Court of India.

The problem

Mohammed Khan’s claim was that as per Section 127 of CrPC, since he had already paid the amount of mahr, he was not entitled to pay any further maintenance under Section 125 of CrPC. While Section 125 required a divorced woman (as long as she did not remarry) to be paid a monthly allowance of up to Rs 500, Section 127 of CrPC states that if the woman was paid any money under personal religious laws, then she could not claim any allowance under Section 125.

Section 127 aims to ensure that dual monetary allowance probability under both Section 125 (all citizens) and Section 127 (religious or personal laws) is reduced to zero. Mohammed Arif Khan claimed that since he had paid Shah Bano the mahr of Rs 3000, Shah Bano could not claim further support allowance under Section 125 of CrPC.

Is iddat enough for the dependent’s future?

The two judge bench hearing the Mohammed Khan’s petition decided to form a five judge Constitution Bench as the judges believed that the previous judgements in similar cases were not robust. Out of these five judges on the Constitution bench, four were Hindu and the fifth judge refused to be categorised under any religious label.

The question faced by the Supreme Court was a difficult and emotional one. Does providing financial support during iddat (the period set by Muslim personal law till which time a husband has to provide for his divorced wife), however meagre it may be, absolve him of his duty to provide for his divorced financially dependent wife’s future? In April 1985, the Supreme Court delivered its judgement on the Mohammed Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano case.

The verdict

The verdict of the Constitution Bench said that Section 125 of CrPC aimed to prevent dependents from financial penury and the struggle of living without financial support, irrespective of religious identity of the dependents. The judgement then distinguished between personal laws and Section 125 of the CrPC.

The Court said that while personal law declared that mahr should be paid, but the personal law did not take into account how the divorced dependent wife would lead her life beyond the iddat period, and hence the need for the divorced to get financial support under Section 125, irrespective of religious identity. The Court also said that in case of any conflict between Section 125 of CrPC and Muslim personal law, CrPC would take precedence over personal law.

The court asserted that mahr was not a payment similar to divorce settlement. Just because mahr was paid at the time of death or divorce, it did not classify as a divorce payment. Thus, the Constitution Bench granted the maintenance amount as decided by the Madhya Pradesh High Court and additional legal costs to Shah Bano Begum.

Soon after the judgement, the cauldron of communal affiliation and dissatisfaction started getting stirred. The judgement, delivered to improve the lives of dependent women after their divorce, became an issue of interfering with religious customs and practices. While there were vociferous protests from Muslim community, there were many liberal Muslims and Hindus who supported the judgement.That the Constitution Bench interpreting Muslim personal law did not have a single Muslim member also became a bone of contention. There was a scathing attack on Shah Bano and she dissociated herself from the case.

Facing the political heat

More than the judgment, it was the way that the judgement was delivered became the point of uproar. Did the Constitution Bench need to interpret the Muslim personal law? Could it not have taken the decision just on the principles of The Constitution and the CrPC? Around the same time that this judgement was passed, the ruling Congress party, led by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi suffered electoral defeat in state legislative assembly elections. Fearing that supporting the judgement in the Mohammed Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum would lead to loss of the Muslim vote bank, the Rajiv Gandhi government enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights in Divorce) Act, 1986- also called the MWA.

The MWA, in a sense, reversed the judgement. According to the MWA, mahr and maintenance for a Muslim divorced woman was to be paid only during the period of iddat, and not beyond. The MWA did not explain what financial support the dependent divorced woman would get after the iddat period was over. It also closed all doors for Muslim women to seek financial support under Section 125 of CrPC after divorce.

Polarisation of the social fabric

This enactment of the MWA, as a response to the Supreme Court Constitution Bench judgement in the Shah Bano case, changed the history of India. This was the beginning of the rise of religious fundamentalism in post-independence India.

The MWA was challenged in 1994 and a petition was filed to implement the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) that would overrule all religious and personal laws. This petition was rejected by the court saying implementing UCC was a matter of the legislature, not the judiciary. The debate over MWA’s provision of providing financial support to a Muslim divorced only during the period of iddat was interpreted by courts as the amount being given only during iddat, but the amount being sufficient enough for the dependent to be able to lead the rest of her life or in some cases, reach out to her relatives or the Muslim Wakf board for financial support.

In 2001, the  Danial Latifi v. Union of India case challenged the constitutional validity of the MWA as the MWA  did not stand up to Articles 14 & 15 of The Constitution ( which guarantee right to equality) and Article 21 (which guarantees right to life) . The Supreme Court did not accept this argument but highlighted that the under the MWA, the husband would not only provide financial support during iddat, but also ensure that this payment is sufficient for the dependent divorced woman to lead the rest of her life.

In yet another decision later, the Supreme Court ruled that a divorced Muslim woman can file a petition under Section 125 of the CrPC. These two rulings, after the MWA came into force, ensures that the divorced Muslim woman is free to either seek financial support under Section 125 of the CrPC or claim a reasonable lump sum alimony (an amount that is fair to help her lead the rest of her life) under MWA act.

Bookbhook.com editor’s note: On 22 August 2017, the Supreme Court of India declared the practice of triple talaq as unconstitutional by a 3:2 majority. The bench comprised of five judges who belong to different religions, including Islam.

Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985)

Please move, we want to help you

In July 1981, just when the monsoon clouds started hovering over the skyline of Bombay (now Mumbai), the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra A.R. Antulay announced that all slum dwellers and squatters in the city would be evicted out of Mumbai if they cannot prove their identity (with photo identity cards).

 Bombay then, even more so Mumbai now, is a city creaking at the limits owing to massive population influx with most migrants being part of the informal economy as daily wage earners living in slums or the footpaths. The Chief Minister believed that his decision would help the squatters and slum dwellers avoid the troubles associated with Mumbai’s rainy season. The irony was that the slum dwellers were being evicted from their place of stay (and work, as most of them stay close to their working area) to help them avoid the inconvenience of rains. The Municipal Commissioner of Bombay went about executing the order of the Chief Minister under Sections 312-314 of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act (BMC Act) and started evicting the squatters and encroachers.

It’s about right to life

In response to this forceful eviction by the BMC, two groups of slum dwellers filed writ petitions in Supreme Court against these forceful evictions. These slum dwellers argued that it was against their right to life and liberty. As most of the slum or pavement dwellers moved from other villages of the country for finding work and basic sustenance, it was essential that they lived close to their work area. This was about right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of The Constitution, and not just about the need to live in the streets or slums.

More so, the slum dwellers, did not live in slums and on the streets out of choice but due to their limited economic means in a city like Mumbai. Hence, the BMC should provide them alternative accommodation. The BMC countered that these encroachments led to a rise in crime, were a hazard to public safety, and increased pollution and hence, should be demolished and the residents evicted. For the Supreme Court, this was not just about the eviction of encroachers but about guaranteeing the fundamental right to life. But can one have the right to life if he or she does not have the right to a livelihood?

A fundamental right

Human civilization in most parts of the world recognises first generation civil and political rights as core rights enforceable by a court of law. On the other hand, second generation rights like socio-economic rights (e.g. right to health) are more as guidance for the state, known as directive principles in India.

Olga Tellis V. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985) is a landmark case that brought socio-economic rights within the ambit of fundamental rights. In this case, the Court had to decide between the right to life of the slum dwellers and the overall right to health and safety of the community. In its judgement on this case, the Supreme Court not just gave a judgement but also made observations that influence the debate on fundamental rights.  The Supreme Court made some stark observations regarding the life the people on streets lived and pronounced that the right to life includes the right to livelihood. How will a person live if he cannot sustain himself via earning a living?

Right to shelter

The Court, however, did not say that the procedure of BMC for evicting the encroachments was unjust, but that this eviction exercise had to be carried out based on constitutional principles. The Court thus ruled in favour of BMC only after the assurance that basic accommodation and rehabilitation schemes shall be provided so that the weak and the ignored sections of the society have equal opportunities. The Court also ruled that at least one month’s notice should be given to slum dwellers before evictions. The ruling, in this case, became one of the first instances where the Supreme Court of India while looking at a civic body procedure of eviction of encroachers, invoked it as a discussion on fundamental rights and broader policy issues of governance. The Olga Tellis case became the cornerstone for interpreting right to shelter as a constitutional obligation of the government, under Articles 19 & 21 of The Constitution.

Dilution of the spirit

In subsequent cases through the 1990s decade, the Supreme Court also laid down the need to ensure the minimum quality standard of the alternative accommodation for the impacted people, linking it to a certain level of quality of life. Olga Tellis case linked right to shelter to the right to livelihood, given that the under privileged need to stay close to their place of work.  However, by the mid-1990s, the Supreme Court shifted its stance on the displacement of the disadvantaged people, especially in the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) Sardar Sarovar Dam stand-off.

The NBA filed a petition with the Supreme Court challenging that the dam would lead to forced displacement of weaker sections of the society like the tribals, as well as lead to environmental degradation of the area. After extending a stay on the construction of the dam, the Supreme Court allowed raising the height of the dam in 2000, thereby ignoring its earlier precedent set in the Olga Tellis case.

 In recent times, the Supreme Court has further tilted away from the Olga Tellis precedence by comparing alternative accommodation for pavement dwellers with ‘rewarding pickpockets’ (Almitra Patel V. Union of India)

Providing adequate shelter to its citizens is now seen as a right across the globe. While Olga Tellis precedence is being weakened by the judgments of the Supreme Court itself, the fact that the Court took this as a case of not just civil eviction procedure, but as the bigger cause of right to livelihood, and thereby right to shelter, being a part of a citizen’s right to life, it is a strong example of the Court stepping in to protect the human rights of the underprivileged.

bookbhook.com editor note: On August 25, 2017, the Supreme Court passed landmark judgement that has far reaching impact on the fundamental rights of Indian citizens. The Court declared in its judgement that privacy is a fundamental right unless it concerns matters of national security and distribution of scarce resources

Vishaka v. the State of Rajasthan (1997)

Prosperity & women at the workplace

As the Indian economy unlocked itself in the early 1990s, it also opened up avenues for women to go out and seek employment. However, sadly, as the number of women in the workforce started to grow, the cases of sexual harassment against them also started to rise. Cases have been reported from private and public enterprises alike, be it police, defence, BPOs, or MNCs.

Bhanwari Devi versus society

Bhanwari Devi was a grassroots worker, locally known as saathin, in the state of Rajasthan. As part of an effort to remove the deplorable practice of child marriage, the Rajasthan government ran a focused campaign against child marriage in which the saathins like Bhanwari Devi played a major role at the village level.

In 1992, Bhanwari Devi made an effort to prevent the child marriage of a one-year-old girl but failed. However, in this effort to resist a deep rooted social malaise, the entire village turned against Bhanwari Devi. The village socially boycotted her family, and then in September 1992, Bhanwari Devi was sexually assaulted and raped by a group of five villagers. The local police were not much help, and the trial court in Rajasthan acquitted the five men. 

A group of five NGOs under the name of Vishaka then filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with the Supreme Court of India, asking it to define how sexual harassment of women at work could be prevented via judicial process. While there are international treaties on safeguarding women, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that India signed in in 1980, there was no judicial process in India regarding sexual harassment at work. So, the Supreme Court relied on CEDAW in interpreting Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of The Constitution as well as a decision by the High Court of Australia and its own earlier decisions to formulate a guidance on sexual harassment of women at work place.

Because under Article 141 of The Constitution all decisions of the Supreme Court are treated as law, the guidelines issued in the Vishaka case became a judicial mandate to be implemented at all workplaces till suitable laws were made.

The Vishaka guidelines consist of eight guidelines with the first one being ‘The employer and/or other responsible people in a workplace are duty bound to prevent or deter sexual harassment and set up processes to resolve, settle or prosecute in such cases.

Vishaka guidelines as the law

Today, these guidelines form the very basis of the human resource policy in every company as Article 141 says that decisions by the Supreme Court are the ‘law’. After Vishaka guidelines were formulated and implemented, many cases sprung up across different High Courts and sometimes even the Supreme Court.

In the Apparel Export Promotion Council v A.K. Chopra case in 1999, the Supreme Court used the Vishaka guidelines to deliver the judgement. In this case, the chairman of the Council was accused of sexually harassing his secretary. Basis her complaint, the chairman’s services were terminated. The Chairman then filed a petition in Delhi High Court, which then observed that since he had never made any physical contact with his secretary, he cannot be charged with sexual molestation. The Apparel Export Promotion Council then made an appeal to the Supreme Court, which reversed the High Court decision and duly recognised that under the Vishaka guidelines, any physical contact is not mandatory for sexual harassment. Anything that compromised the dignity of a woman at her workplace is an act of sexual harassment.

A double edged sword

The Vishaka guidelines are a comprehensive and inclusive set of laws that make workplace safe for women. It is not that this law does not have its negatives. In the case of Usha C.S v, Madras Refineries, the Madras High court heard the complaint of an employee of Madras Refineries alleging sexual misconduct by her manager. She said that she was not allowed a paid study leave, promotion, and salary because she rejected the sexual advances made towards her by the manager.

The Court, after careful examination of all the facts, came to the conclusion that the allegations made by the employee were not true. Further, as per the Vishaka guidelines, a complaint investigation committee was set up, and the female employee had constantly delayed appearance in front of the complaints committee. Did the Supreme Court take on the mantle of the legislature by issuing the Vishaka guidelines, thereby making them the law under Article 141 of The Constitution? The Court issued guidelines when both legislature and the executive did not take up the mantle of creating laws to make workplaces safe for women.

Justice Markandey Katju said that the Court could not keep addressing all social issues for which there are no laws framed by the legislature. Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly, however, said that such judicial intervention is okay if there is a legislative void and if accomplished jurists share this belief of existing void.

bookbhook.com editor’s note: In 2013, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal Act, 2013) was enacted as law by the Parliament of India. This Act plugged the legislature & executive void which was being done by the Vishaka guidelines from 1997 till the time the new law came into force in 2013.

This book summary covered just three of the ten judgements that changed India. To read these three in more detail and to read the other judgements, please buy the book

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