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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On July 17, 2022

    By Karan Thapar

    At a time when many are afraid to speak out, among the most blunt voices of criticism are those of former senior judges. Perhaps their conscience has been so sharply pricked they’ve cast aside restraint in favour of an outspoken critique. So, today, I want to tell you about three. Two are former Supreme Court (SC) judges. The third is a former high court chief justice.


    After the SC delivered its Teesta Setalvad judgment, justice Madan Lokur said, “Heaven help us,” if the court intended her arrest. The sentence in the verdict that attracted his dismay was: “As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law.”


    In no uncertain terms, justice Lokur said the judges concerned “should hold a special sitting and issue a clarification that they did not intend Teesta’s arrest.” If they happen not to be in Delhi – because the SC was on vacation, then – “they could have instructed the secretary-general of the Supreme Court to issue a statement clarifying it was not our intention that Teesta be arrested.”


    “Why is it necessary to say you need to be prosecuted for a false case?” he asked. “Thousands of false cases are filed; will everyone be prosecuted?” Justice Lokur then specifically added: “What about the police who file lots of false cases?” The court, he concluded, has diminished itself. Then, agreeing it was a black day, he added: “No one would have expected this from the Supreme Court.”


    Justice Deepak Gupta was, arguably, even tougher on a lower court when he commented on the Mohammed Zubair case. “Somehow I feel he’s being targeted,” adding “something [is] amiss.” He willingly agreed that Zubair’s case is an example of police prejudice. “Definitely, there’s no doubt about it.”


    “I’m a bit worried and confused why he has been taken into custody at all,” justice Gupta explained. “The incident happened in March 2018. Four years have lapsed and there is no indication his tweet led to any dispute between two communities.” But he went a critical step further. “I’m more worried by the fact the court refused to grant him bail. The judge should have asked the police if you didn’t arrest him for four years and nothing untoward happened during that time, why do you need to take him into custody now?”


    Perhaps the most blunt of the three is the former chief justice of the Madras and Delhi high courts, justice AP Shah. He spoke about the demolition of Muslim-owned homes in Jahangirpuri, which happened in defiance of a SC stay order. “If the Supreme Court wants to do justice, then it must take appropriate action and send the guilty officers to jail.” But, more importantly, the court must “restore status quo ante” and “fix compensation for this.”


    “I see a clear campaign against Muslims,” justice Shah said unhesitatingly. He also called for “an apology at the highest level.” He did not demur when he was told that in Delhi’s case, this meant the home minister. However, it was when he was questioned about the government’s silence in the face of hate speech and communal violence that justice Shah pulled no punches. “The most worrying part is that those highest in power are silent”. He said he had no doubt “the whole object is to create more polarisation and more tension”. Of the Delhi Police, he said they are “completely compromised and completely biased”.


    His conclusion was stark: “I see a clear emergence of electoral autocracy … leaders use democratic institutions to kill democracy,” adding “the Election Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the media have been compromised.”


    These three judges seem uniquely brave and bold. I can’t think of many other leading luminaries who’ve expressed similar disillusionment and defiance. This is why I believe they’re the voices of our conscience, defiantly speaking out when many of us are shrouded in silence. We owe them a big thank you.

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