Lady Justice Cries!

Cedric Prakash
23 Nov 2020

One of the most endearing and consoling universal symbols today is that of Lady Justice! A stranger at first, normally wonders what that woman with a lithe figure is all about – she is blindfolded, with an unsheathed sword in one hand and set of scales in the other; explanations are needed so that the inner beauty and strength of this woman to be revealed.

Lady Justice  is an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems; she originates from the personification of Justice in Ancient Roman art known as  Iustitia or Justitia ( Latin) and an equivalent to the Greek goddesses Themis and Dike. Her blindfold represents impartiality and objectivity of the law; the ideal that justice should be applied without regard to wealth, power, political interference or influence or other status. Her balance scales symbolise fair and equal administration of the law, without corruption, favour, greed, or prejudice; that all sides will be listened to; that all evidence will be looked into – so that there is no travesty of justice. Her sword symbolizes enforcement and respect, and means that justice stands by its decision and ruling, and is able to take action. The fact that the sword is unsheathed and very visible, is a sign that justice is transparent and is not an implement of fear. A double-edged blade signifies that justice can rule against either of the parties, once the evidence has been perused, and it is bound to enforce the ruling as well as protect or defend the innocent party. Understanding each of the attributes of Lady Justice is bound to evoke some confidence in the one who seeks justice!

Lady Justice in India today has been thrown down from the pedestal, from where she so lovingly gazed upon the millions who entered her portals; she sits on the steps of the Temple of Justice- dishevelled and bedraggled; the blindfold is no longer over her eyes but lies near her: a drenched rag; her scales are also on the floor with dents after the fall from her hands and so is her sword, but now broken into two. Her head is on her knees and she cries bitterly…

Yes, Lady Justice is crying! She knows what has hit her; that she has been abused and mutilated. She looks back at these past months:  of how her name has been systematically trampled upon; of how all that which she symbolised and radiated has been broken into smithereens with a sledge hammer. Her sobbing is uncontrollable and grows louder. In anguish, she wonders, if she can put together, mend her broken body and tormented soul???

There is so much that has been happening of late, where the Indian judiciary is concerned. The judiciary, particularly in a democracy (where it is regarded as an essential and indispensable pillar), is expected to be totally impartial and without fear and favour. True, there have been some excellent judicial pronouncements both from the Apex court and from some of the lower courts; this needs to be stressed because in these judgements the spirit and letter of the Constitution and the rights of the ordinary citizen have been protected.
Sadly, some of the recent judgements on matters of national importance make every thinking and patriotic citizen to not merely wince, but to hang one’s head down in shame. The judgments include the two verdicts on the Babri Masjid- Ram Mandir issue which are blatantly communal and on all counts go against the secular fabric of the country; the one on the Raffaele jets corruption scandal which defies all logic, despite hard evidence; the contempt of court  one foisted on Prashant Bhushan for his two tweets, one against the current Chief Justice and the other against some of the former CJIs and of course the ridiculous ‘token’ punishment meted out to him; the blatantly one-sided judgements given to crony capitalists even as they continue to destroy the nation for their own profits. 
Then there are the whole range of contentious issues which need urgent verdicts, but for obvious reasons are just postponed; these include the abrogation of article 370 and 35A in Kashmir; the plight of the migrant workers; the draconian ‘Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act - UAPA 2019 (Amendment Act)’ and several others. 

Then the Apex Court can always do a suo motu on issues ranging from speech and expression to blatantly anti-Constitutional policies of the Madhya Pradesh Government like ‘love jihad’ and ‘Cow Cabinet’.

The Supreme Court has failed to respond with the necessary alacrity, objectivity and judicial wisdom to strike down the UAPA (and with it the 2019 amendments) which infringes on the fundamental rights of citizens. The amendments allow the Centre to designate individuals as terrorists and to seize their properties. They are violative of the fundamental right to reputation and dignity which is a facet of the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution; besides several hundreds being incarcerated under the UAPA, there are others being charged and arrested  under the archaic ‘sedition’ law and even on ‘contempt of court’

The dreaded UAPA shot into prominence with the arrest of sixteen of the most well-known human rights defenders and intellectuals of the country, in the Bhima-Koregaon conspiracy case; some of them have been languishing in jail for more than two years now! The sixteen jailed under the UAPA are Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Anand Teltumbde, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Gautam Navlakha, Hanybabu Tarayil and three members of the Kabir Kala Manch (Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and Jyoti Jagtap). The sixteenth was the 83-year-old Jesuit priest Fr Stan Swamy who was arrested on the night of 8 October from his centre in Ranchi and is today lodged in the Taloja jail.

In the last few years, there are several others, who have stood up for the Constitution and for the rights of the voiceless and the exploited, who have been  harassed and hounded( in direct and subtle ways); fabricated cases foisted on them; charge-sheeted and arrested  with bail applications denied to them on flimsy grounds; some are beaten up and even killed. These include human rights activists and academics; rationalists and media professionals (like Siddique Kappan who was on his way to investigate the Hathras case and Patricia Mukhim of Shillong); students and professors from the JNU, AMU, Jamia and other prestigious institutions; anti-CAA protestors and reputed organisations like Amnesty India; lawyers, former Government officials (like Sanjiv Bhatt) and others from civil society. The list is endless! Their only ‘crime’ is that ,on behalf of the sub-alterns( the marginalised and the minorities), and for the sake of truth and justice, they have dared take on a fascist regime     ( which pretends to be a ‘democracy’) and in doing so, they also have to take on a corrupt and biased system which includes the judiciary and other vested interests. 

Fr Stan Swamy is a case in point: he should never have been arrested, whatever the ‘reason’. The only ‘crime’ he seems to have committed is to have accompanied the Adivasis in their struggle for their rights of ‘jal-jungle-jameen’ and particularly, for a life based on justice, dignity and equity! All that he was doing is guaranteed for all citizens in the Constitution. In doing so, he has naturally disturbed the nefarious deeds of powerful vested interests. He has been implicated in the Bhima Koregaon case, in which he was never involved. Today this feeble, aged citizen of India also suffers from Parkinson’s disease; it is common knowledge that, Parkinson’s is a debilitating disorder of the central nervous system that can cause involuntary tremors, or muscular spasms, which makes carrying out even everyday actions, such as drinking, difficult. 

A recent message from imprisoned Swamy says, “My needs are limited. The Adivasis and the Society of Jesus have taught me to lead a simple life. I had brought with me a “sipper-tumbler”, to drink tea and water. However, the same was disallowed at the prison gate, on entry on 9 October. Now, I am using a baby-sipper mug, which I purchased through the prison hospital. I have communicated this need to our lawyers. I am still waiting to receive the sipper-tumbler”. 

On 7 November, in a written submission made before the special court, the lawyers of Swamy moved the Special Court saying in Swamy’s words, “I cannot hold a glass as my hands are unsteady due to Parkinson’s and seeking permission that Swamy be allowed to use the sipper glass which he was using before his imprisonment. 

In a response that defies human compassion and logic the National Investigation Agency (NIA) sought twenty days to respond to Fr.  Stan’s plea; and the Special Court in a move which contradicts the very notion of jurisprudence, has fixed the next hearing for 26 November. 

Could the court have granted Fr Stan’s plea? Of course, it could have on multiple reasons. Earlier, Fr. Stan’s application for health grounds was also rejected. Then there is the case of Varavara Rao, the aged and severely ailing poet who is in jail on similar grounds, who is still being denied bail. Fortunately, the High Court has recently permitted him to be admitted into a private hospital and that his relatives can visit him.

What takes the cake however, is the case of Arnab Goswami! He is well-known as the blue-eyed boy of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the editor-in-chief of Republic Media Network and the self-proclaimed ‘idol’ of Indian news television; his core competency seems to be spewing hate, venom and divisiveness against the minorities and all those who critique or take a stand against the ruling regime. Towards the end of October, he was arrested in a suicide abetment case; his arrest smacked of some kind of political vendetta. In some ways, it could have been challenged on its own merits!

But what took the nation by surprise, was the way the members of the BJP including high profile ministers came to the ‘rescue’ of Goswami! They tweeted and came out with public statements. A delegation went to meet the President of India. Their contention was that it was an assault to ‘freedom of speech and expression’; there cannot be a statement further from the truth. 

Actually, Goswami should have been booked ages ago, precisely for misusing and abusing freedom of speech and expression and for creating enmity among various communities in the country.

However, what shocked several concerned citizens of the country was the alacrity and the extremely selective manner with which the Apex Court responded to Goswami’s application and the ‘justification’ in the accompanying order whilst granting him interim bail in record time!

In the order Justice DY Chandrachud correctly described the responsibility of the Apex Court saying, “forget Arnab Goswami for a moment, we are a constitutional court… If we as a constitutional court do not lay down law and protect personal liberty, then who will?”  

No one can ever contradict this profound statement. The irony of it is, does this statement apply to the thousands of other citizens (like Fr Stan Swamy and the others imprisoned in the Bhima -Koregaon conspiracy case, the anti-CAA protestors and others arrested under the UAPA) whose personal liberty is denied? 

Is Goswami the only citizen in India whose ‘personal liberty’ is denied? The statement reeks of selectivity. Further Justice Chandrachud added that, “If we don’t interfere in this case today, we will walk on a path of destruction” and that a clear message must be sent to high courts.  

He was indeed right on this point too! Perhaps Goswami’s arrest, both in timing and manner, was in nature of political vendetta; what however is  glaringly evident is that Apex  Court on several counts, has not held itself to its own high standard in several other cases of citizen vs state, ranging from habeas corpus petitions in Kashmir, to detentions made on flimsy charges of sedition to the slapping of draconian laws on journalists for no other reason than that they were doing their job. 
All this has naturally drawn a wave of protest and outrage from some of the leading citizens of the country. Excellent commentaries are being penned on what is happening to the judiciary. 

In a hard hitting op-ed ‘Their Lordships and Masters’  (‘Indian Express’ 18 November) leading social thinker Pratap Bhanu Mehta says, “In political science literature there is a familiar term — democratic barbarism. Democratic barbarism is often sustained by a judicial barbarism. The term “barbarism” has several components. The first is the overwhelming appearance of arbitrariness in judicial decision-making. The application of law becomes so dependent on the arbitrary whims of individual judges that the rule of law or constitutional terms no longer have any meaning. The law becomes an instrument of oppression; or, at the very least, it aids and abets oppression…The Indian Supreme Court was never perfect. It has had its dark periods before. But the signs are that it is slipping into judicial barbarism in the senses described above. This phenomenon is not just a matter of individual judges or individual cases. It is now a systematic phenomenon with deep institutional roots. To be sure, not all judges succumb to this; there are still pockets of resistance in the system. There will also be instances of grand pronouncement of principles on behalf of liberty, an occasional relief granted to a deserving plaintiff, to preserve a thin veneer of respectability for the institution, while its daily practice continues to abet the rot”. Mehta refers to all those languishing in prison (also to Stan Swamy) without being given the ‘privileges’ or ‘rights’ accorded to Goswami; he goes on to expound with clarity and dexterity the justification of his use of judicial barbarism.

In an equally hard-hitting and complementing rejoinder ‘Giving up the Good Fight’ (Indian Express 20 November) Advocate Navroz Seervai writes, “while the Sudha Bharadwajs ( he also refers to Fr Stan elsewhere in his article) of this country languish for years in illegal detention, Goswami is released at lightning speed, with hollow, sanctimonious proclamations in defence of democracy, freedom of speech, and about the impermissibility of a person languishing in jail for a day longer than necessary. It is in this way that the SC uses its polyvocality to say and do one thing in one case, but to say and do nothing in so many others. Truly did George Orwell say: All animals are equal; but some animals are more equal than others. Mehta speaks of ‘creeping hues of a Weimar judiciary’. That is a damning indictment of the SC”.

A meaningful quote by Suzy Kassem, an Egyptian-born American writer, fully captures the mood of the moment, "when people can get away with crimes just because they are wealthy or have the right connections, the scales are tipped against fairness and equality. The weight of corruption then becomes so heavy that it creates a dent that forces the world to become slanted, so much so that justice just slips off."

And because of the blatantly selectivity and subjectivity, the abdication of its responsibility and this damning indictment of the Supreme Court, Lady Justice cries!

*( Cedric Prakash is a human rights & peace activist/writer. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com )
 

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