Alen Thomas Pallattu on Translating Landmark Judgment

Tell us about yourself. What motivated you to join the project of translating landmark judgments of the Supreme Court of India into local/regional languages?

I am Alen Thomas Pallattu, a student of B.A. LL.B (Honours in Adjudication & Justicing) at National Law University, Nagpur. I hail from a beautiful village called Chittarikkal in Kasaragod District in God’s own Country- Kerala. When I first saw the Call for Applications initially, my excitement was beyond words. Malayalam literature and the linguistic framework is something which is the dearest to me.

So, I thought of this as an opportunity to contribute to the legal fraternity through a medium I love, my Amma Malayalam. I was also really moved by the Objective of Awaaz Initiative behind this project – to make legal knowledge more accessible to the common man, through his own mother tongue.

Can you share your experience in translating legal documents and specifically the challenges you encountered while working on the Supreme Court judgments?

The experience was amazing! I got to know the deeper, intricate nuances of my mother tongue- Malayalam. But the overall translation was not a smooth ride as such. At times I found it difficult to translate some legal terms to Malayalam. For example, it took me long to frame an appropriate phrase for ‘Question of Law’. It was only after some hours of thought, I could finally frame a satisfactory translation – “Vicharana Cheyyappetta Niyama Prashnam”. So yes, it was challenging, but thought provoking and fun at the same time.

How do you ensure accuracy and maintain the legal nuances of the original content while translating into local/regional languages?

For translating into Malayalam specifically, it was crucial to have a strong command of legal terminology in both English and Malayalam. I had considered the cultural context to ensure that the translated content aligns with the legal norms and expectations in Kerala. Even though there are regional variations and preferences in legal language within the Malayalam-speaking community, I focused on maintaining an equilibrium between the Standard Malayalam used in textual documents. My prior internship experiences with the Kerala police and the Judicial Internship at the Magistrate court in Kasaragod, really helped me to get acquainted to the version of Malayalam uniformly used in courtrooms, petitions, judgements and official government documents.

What strategies do you employ to handle the complexity and technicalities of legal language during the translation process?

I had tried my best to ensure that the translated text was simple and comprehensive enough for a common man. There were challenges in between, especially with regards to legal terminology, but I took up a strategy of placing myself in the shoes of a common man from Kerala. It was then which suddenly occurred in my mind that, majority of the population of Kerala are really into news channels and daily newspapers. It was like a Eureka Moment for me! Based on my own observations of watching popular news channels like Asianet News, 24 News, the Reporter TV etc. and reading Malayalam daily newspapers like Mathrubhumi, Manorama, Deepika and Deshabhimani, I could frame sentences in the legal context which even a common man could relate to, noting the popularity of news channels and newspapers in Kerala’s populace.

In your opinion, how does translating legal content contribute to legal literacy and awareness among the local population?

Translating legal content into Malayalam for the people of Kerala plays a pivotal role in spreading further awareness in a state like Kerala, with a 96% literate populace and its rich cultural diversity and a population deeply rooted in tradition, benefits significantly from accessible legal materials. By providing translations that capture the essence of complex legal concepts in a language familiar to the local population, we bridge the gap between legal jargon and everyday understanding. This not only empowers individuals to comprehend their rights and responsibilities but also encourages active engagement with the legal system.

In a state like Kerala, where education and awareness are highly valued, translated legal content serves as a tool to demystify the intricacies of the law. It enables individuals to navigate legal processes, understand landmark judgments, and participate more meaningfully in civic life. Ultimately, the translation of legal content into Malayalam contributes to a more informed and legally literate society in Kerala, fostering a sense of justice and equity among its diverse population.

What were the learnings to ensure a successful translation project, particularly when working with a team of translators on such critical documents?

Even though the translations were done individually, a sense of team work is crucial to such a compendium. Even though there is indeed a touch of uniqueness to the translated versions of each translator, it was necessary to ensure some uniformity in the overall document, especially with regards to legal terms and words used repetitively . Developing and adhering to a consistent set of legal terminology and style guidelines across the team helps maintain uniformity in the translated content, crucial for legal accuracy. Also , the team meetings held under the leadership of the language lead , Toolika Ma’am, allowed our team to discuss challenges, share insights, and collectively enhance the quality of the translations.

How do you maintain consistency across translations, especially when working on a series of landmark judgments with different translators involved?

Initially, we referred to a comprehensive glossary of legal terms in both English and Malayalam. This shared resource helped standardize terminology, ensuring that different translators use consistent terms across all documents. It is also noteworthy to mention that a centralized review process where a designated reviewer, with legal expertise, examined the translated document, was utilized by Awaaz initiative. This ensured that all documents adhere to the established glossary and style guide, promoting consistency.

We, as translators also took reference of previous translations of ourselves and co-team mates on the same compendium. This helped maintain continuity in language and style, especially when dealing with recurring legal concepts or terms across multiple judgments.

From your perspective, what impact do translated judgments have/will have on legal discourse and understanding within local communities?

In my opinion, translated judgments make legal content more accessible to a broader audience. Malayalam translations enable individuals who may not be proficient in English to comprehend complex legal concepts, fostering inclusivity in legal discourse. Translations facilitate active participation in legal discussions within the community. Local residents can engage more meaningfully in legal discourse, contributing to a more informed public opinion on legal matters affecting Kerala.

By providing judgments in Malayalam, the legal system becomes more transparent and comprehensible to the local population. This, in turn, contributes to increased legal literacy, empowering individuals to understand their rights and responsibilities.

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