Wasn’t toddler trying to wake up the conscience of the nation?

Shafeeq R. Mahajir

Criticism of Critical Criticism: Whither National Conscience?

Once upon a time, we had a judgement based on the national conscience.

Video: Toddler tries to wake up dead mother lying at a railway station: reportedly collapsed and died due to extreme heat and hunger soon after she deboarded a train from Gujarat.

The kid’s situation: unaware mum was dead, trying to get to safety and home, like lakhs of others.

Wasn’t the toddler trying to wake up the conscience of the nation?

Where was the army? Why no field kitchens, field hospitals, transport for these poor people? Where were the politicians? We don’t know how long we shall live, but that we were living in our country at this time to see this treatment given to our fellow citizens will haunt, and shame, us. Or should.

The principle of the contract between people constitutes society. Therefore it is crucial for leaders of that society to uphold that contract if that contract is to remain valid. That’s why we tell elders, parents, teachers, managers, officers, to be good examples for others.

We don’t tell children to be good examples for parents. We tell parents to be good examples for children because as the more powerful party in the equation, it’s their responsibility to uphold the contract. So what happens when the police are corrupt? Or when uniformed forces vandalize property or assault or torture those in custody or in any way, violate the law? That’s betrayal. You can change police to politicians, or lawyers, or judges, or anything. It remains betrayal.

What do you think happens when you watch this kind of thing happening and the perpetrators getting away with it because those sworn to uphold the law decided to uphold its abuse instead? The rot takes root, entrenches itself, becomes more difficult to uproot.

Standards however, are now very different. Focus on jobless migrants with no resources stranded while attempting to go back home compelled Court’s asking questions on stranded “migrant” workers, the solicitor general tried to deflect focus by questioning the credentials of those seeking accountability. Stunning, no? The Court and the BCI must respond and express displeasure, lest their reticence be seen as endorsement of a regrettable stand. 

A lawyer pontificates: “There are people who go out and say the Supreme Court is hopeless…will not give you justice. The very next day, they are back in court. Should the SC be supporting them?” I find that juvenile, and mean. Whether people are happy or upset with the Court can never be a determinant of what the Court’s adjudicative process results in. Courts are expected to rise far above such pettiness. And no, the Court does not support them: Courts should never support anyone. That is not their job. In perspective, the critic are lawyers, the seeking of redressal is by aggrieved citizens, so is the pontificating lawyer suggesting the client’s cause must be declined a hearing because of criticism of the Court by his counsel? Is that not like saying if counsel criticize courts, courts must refuse to hear them?

What next, sir? Lawyers start ingratiating themselves with judges?! Where are these great pontificating lawyers trying to lead the nation’s conscience?

“In certain respects, a lot of frustration the citizenry feels by poor governance is addressed by a feeling that you can go to a Court and get relief.” Damn right. Where else would the citizen go?

“…if criticism is of the kind that at the end of it, the institution will emerge stronger, that criticism is justified.” You will decide what that criticism qualifies as?

“criticism that is meant to undermine the authority of the system, whereby judges are ascribed a motive…” 

Excuse me! Some people think criticism they don’t agree with is “meant to” undermine the system. It is not. You think it is, so you are ascribing a motive to the critic. Such words are unbecoming of even young inexperienced lawyers.

He says one can say “…the judges have taken such a conservative view that they have made rule of law subservient to tyranny.” Like saying criticism in these words is acceptable. This lawyer will tell us what words we can use, what words we cannot. Well, what can one say?

Hear his own criticism: “Some of the judgments are deeply, legally flawed. Very clearly, they show that the Court took a view that is very difficult to sustain.” In other words, contrary to law. Why don’t you speak more plainly sir, instead of taking shelter behind this “very difficult to sustain”? Like “seamlessly integrated fifth-generation juxtaposition”: sounds incredibly intellectual, even profound, but means nothing. Pebbles “Abba dabba goo goo”, like.

…”certain people … using the court for pushing their own agenda.” Who? Who appears for such people? Are these “certain people” political figures pushing an “agenda”? Which people? Which agenda? How one wishes people speak clearly!

Let me paraphrase someone. “Everybody who has a point of view today thinks every critic of the system is a public dartboard, on which everybody who has a public voice has the right to throw a dart. This must stop.”

if this growing menace is not curtailed “20 years from now, you will have no courts to practice in.” Well, if criticism of institutions is stopped, and their health is not restored, it won’t take 20 years.

We hear of lawyers who get stays in SC for parties squatting on land adjudged another’s and aware of the real situation, emerge from courtrooms advising “Sell as fast as you can”? What does one do about these?

Another gentleman in a lecture said, “If there is mistrust in every system, every organ, then you don’t have a system, you have an anarchy.” That is what the citizens are apprehensive about.

If serious criticism comes from retired SC judges themselves, attributing motives to that criticism is hardly the response that strengthens the institution. Instead of criticising the critics, those armchair pontiffs can perhaps suggest intense introspective measures.

Shafeeq R. Mahajir is a Hyderabad-based nationally known lawyer

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