In a conversation with Aaliya Waziri about position of women in India and digital taxation reforms

Ms Aaliya Waziri is an advocate practising before the High Court of Delhi and an International Consultant at UN Women for Women, Peace and Security for Timor-Leste. Ms Waziri graduated from Jindal Global Law School in 2020.

She has been interviewed by Arijit Sanyal, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from New Law College, BVDU, Pune.

 

  1. Please introduce yourself for our readers

Introducing yourself is always a tricky task, I always wonder what part to include and what to leave out. But on the surface of things, I am a lawyer currently working as an International Consultant on Women, Peace and Security (Women, Peace and Security) for the UN Women Office in Timor-Leste. Prior to this, I worked as a National Consultant (Normative Frameworks) at the UN Women India Country Office and a legal researcher-cum-law clerk for a Judge at the High Court of Delhi, India. I hold a LLB degree from O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India and Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy (Hons.) from Hindu College, Delhi University. I often write on the intersection of law and gender with an emphasis on gender justice and the sustainable development goals. In my articles I talk about a range of topics including financing support infrastructure for fast track courts, recognising unpaid care work, working within the international margin of appreciation to gain cultural legitimacy in human rights, strengthening environmental protection laws in India, what constitutes cyber harassment and the legal recourse available to young victims of cyberbullying. I also work as consulting editor at Grin Media Private Limited and global order that is a policy blog on South Asian international relations.

  1. What activities did you pursue in your college days and did that have something to do with your current field of work?

I was involved with the student’s union in my college. Like I said, I went to Hindu College and in Hindu we take great pride in calling our students union the Parliament. We have a Prime Minister who is elected with their Cabinet Ministers and Secretaries, it is all extremely democratic. So, I campaigned for the candidate I believed in, contested as President for one election and lost. I think losing teaches you a lot. About people and team spirit, something that will come in handy when you work with a large team on an international scale. Other than student politics, I interned a lot. I was a Teaching Assistant/Teach for India Volunteer at a government boys’ school in Mehrauli, Delhi for 6 months. That was extremely challenging as I taught History, Civics, Geography and English as per the Central Board of Secondary Education curriculum, to grade 7 and 8 boys. I also held seminars to expand on the concept of patriarchy and societal ideas of masculinity and held an interactive session with Grade 8 boys on gender-based violence and the importance of substantive gender equality. I was also student Chairperson of the organising committee of the Kumaon literary festival where I lead a student committee of 45 student volunteers. The work required micromanagement of logistics, stage management, hospitality and transport of the writers and other celebrities invited to the boutique literary festival held at a nature resort near the Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, India. In the course of the three-day festival, I interacted with over 120 luminaries from the fields of literature, law and performing arts providing a valuable lesson in patience, stamina and crisis management.

When I was in my first year of college, I interned at Perfect Relations (Asia’s largest public relations firm) where I conducted research on the goods and service tax (while it was pending the GST Select Committee’s approval) in Parliament that required meetings with Members of Parliament and lawyers. But my most cherished internship was with Mr A.T. Ansari, Senior Public Prosecutor (SPP), Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi where I liaised closely with the SPP on gender-sensitive normative frameworks for criminal cases against women, gained firsthand knowledge of the legal framework behind medico-legal certificates and rape detection kits. I also attended and analysed depositions in vulnerable witness courts pertaining to child rape investigations, and learnt standard operating procedures (SOP) for Child-Friendly Courts in Protection of Child from Sexual Offences (POSCO) matters and victim-friendly responses and procedures, especially for rape prosecutions in Delhi. As is evident I have been closely working on the intersection of law and gender for a long time now and I can say, with conviction, that it always helps to have your foundation solid.

  1. What challenges do women face in general in the legal fraternity? How do you think can the legal fraternity address these challenges?

The first thing I want to say is that it is a good time to a young woman at the Bar especially with the recent appointment of three women Judges to the Supreme Court. And I say this for an entire generation of young lawyers and law students as this is a leap forward because we are being exposed to gender positive role models. With Justice Nagarathna set to be India’s first woman Chief Justice, my aspirations have a name and face. My aspirations are no longer tabula rasa, they have a goal to live up to, one that is not unheard of or unreasonable or too much to ask.  It is also important to understand that women are successfully making forays into all spheres of life, we are breaching, breaking and smashing the metaphorical glass ceiling but for some reason that is not adequately depicted in our judiciary. Women constitute 48.20% of the population of India. We cannot ignore or be indifferent to this fact either.

In light of all these facts, perhaps there would a view that we need is an affirmative action in the form of reservation for women in the judiciary too. We can also look at this in light of Article 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that talks about enhancing greater access to public and political participation of women. Many States have a reservation policy for women in the lower judiciary (for example Jharkhand, Bihar) but what is missing is its counterpart in the High Courts and the Supreme Court. I say this because presence of women in places of decisions-making signals equality of opportunity for women in the legal profession and this goes a long way in changing the existing discourse of gender equality which is perhaps the most important conversation of our times. A lack of women occupying positions of public importance leads to the question if we are sufficiently representative of the society we serve. Enabling women to continue with their profession by provision of good creche facilities within court premises will ensure that they do not give up their practice of law for raising a family.

Having said that, I also marvel at how long it has taken us to reach here. On the one hand, it would have taken us 81 years post independence to have a female Chief Justice of India by the time Justice Nagarathna assumes that office and on the other hand we have a steadfastly gender just legal system. While it is remarkable that India is one country that has an impressive legislation on maternity leave, as opposed to the United States that has no federal legislation at all on the subject. The presence of said legislation goes to show that India has a robust legal framework and the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 is a prime example of this. So, while I am excited to be a part of this new generation of young lawyers, it is also a time for us to introspect why gender remains an afterthought in all our endeavours.

 

  1. You are a practicing advocate and have spoken and written about digital taxation. Please tell our readers a bit about it and the issues concerning the same.

With the advent of digitisation, multiple companies now command a strong virtual presence across the globe which allows business/tech enterprises to be significantly involved in the economic index of any given country without any traceable physical presence. As we live in the 21st century that is testament to significant changes in the technological sphere, perhaps the most remarkable innovations of our times is the internet. Jurisprudence has taught us that every legislation propounded must evolve with time and also correspond to the dynamic needs of a society.

 

With the advent of digitisation, multiple companies now command a strong virtual presence across the globe which allows business/tech  enterprises to be significantly involved in the economic index of any given country without any traceable physical presence. The primary question of paramount importance here is: why do need a law regularising digital tax? The expanding domain of e-commerce presents an array of difficulties, for example, constitution of servers/sites as permanent establishment (hereinafter referred to as “PE”), valuation of computerised exchanges and so on. Considering the pace at which digital economy is developing, there has been a worldwide shift towards bringing the computerised economy i.e. digital economy within the fold of traditional taxation regime. These unilateral approaches to taxing giant MNC entities and their virtual presence create a host of convoluted problems without a linear answer.

 

Critics have often cautioned that tax collection in the digital economy will prompt instances of double taxation of different tech companies. This will result in companies being burdened by tax assessment in numerous jurisdictions. It is precisely at this stage that the problem ensues. It is by virtue of this phenomenon that the entire purpose of double taxation is reduced to a redundancy. By broadening the periphery of “business connection” by including the notion of a SEP, undue hardship of twofold taxation or double tax collection is liable to be caused to tech giants. The reason here being that its permanent establishment (PE) may be situated in one country with an SEP operating in multiple countries, thereby posing it at risk for twofold tax assessment by the different countries that it carries out its business in.

 

Upon analysing India’s digital taxation model, one can reasonably conclude that the country is tracing the path laid down by countries like Singapore, Malaysia and France. It is natural that India may want to enlarge its taxing regime by bringing within its periphery e-commerce (in addition to the existing mandate of an equalisation levy on advertising entities) but none of it solves the universal problem of taxing a virtual presence. What it does, in fact, create an unresolved impediment for tax payers (non-resident companies) and also for India itself. Instead of divergent digital taxing models, what we need to prevent double taxation is a single set of interwoven and methodical international tax rules, to sponsor global economic welfare. The need of the hour is a unilateral and cohesive model of digital taxation that ameliorates the confusion created by by the advent of untraceable technology.

  1. What advice would you like to give our readers and specially those who are inclined to work on social issues at international organisations?

The first thing I would recommend to anyone pursing law or hoping to do law is to read. Read as much as you can, on what is happening around the world and remember that there are more than one way to make it big in the field of law.

The world of law is expanding inch by inch, day by day. The world of law we see today would have changed in 10 years time. It has changed drastically in the last 2 years during COVID time. This only means your skills will not go waste. But for you to be indispensable to any organisation, your skills must be the very best and the only way to hone your skills is to read and absorb the knowledge you read. The reason lawyers are so successful is because our skills are transferable, we can contextualise our skill set to the demands of any situation or client. So my second piece of advice is to look for mentors who will guide you. I cannot emphasise enough on the importance of finding a mentor to pull you through. Pursing law and then practising law can get very lonely. Yes, your fellow lawyers and friends will be help you share the burden of this lonely profession but having someone who will always look for your is equally important.

 My last piece of advice is for anyone looking to  work on the intersection of law and issues of public importance such as education, gender or digitisation. Working in this field will feel more taxing than other areas of law. It will require you to work four times as hard as the next person because this is an amalgam of two fields. It may make you question and compare yourself with your colleagues who are making it big in litigation. Reject the notion that success in law demands following a linear of path. So long as you are within the ambit of law and can be considered a problem solver, you are a much a lawyer. But this will require patience and dedication on an unmatched level. Get ready to wear blinkers and focus only on the eye of the bird. Only then can we hope to look back 20 years from now and have made the slightest change to peoples lives and to the academics behind it.

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