-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
The Indian Judiciary (at least a good section of it) seems to come of age: objective, faithful to the letter and spirit of the law and unmindful of the consequences, the threats and intimidations of their political bosses or the violent mobs! The last week in India has been a vibrant one in the history of India –with several landmark judgements being delivered. These judgements have come as a shot in the arm for democracy in India, for the pluralistic and secular fabric of the country and above all, they augur well for the future of India.
On August 25th, CBI special court judge Jagdeep Singh, held Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the Chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda guilty of rape and criminal intimidation of the two female disciples in 2002. On August 28th, Gurmeet Singh was sentenced to ten years in prison (many, including his victims, feel that he should have been given a life term) by the same judge. Given his mass following and the fact that Gurmeet Singh has the support of the ruling BJP both in Haryana and in the Centre – the judge has been brave enough to transcend political privileges. The fact that there was mob violence (in which thirty-six people were killed and with widespread destruction) on August 25th, , with complete approval of the Government, was another pointer in an attempt to intimidate the law and order mechanism of the country.
On August 28th , the Supreme Court slammed the Gujarat Government for dragging its feet on the trial of another Godman Asaram Bapu, inspite of being arrested for sexual misconduct.
It is common knowledge that Asaram Bapu enjoys the full patronage of the Gujarat Government. Several other fraud Godmen have been guilty for all kinds of criminal activity all across the country. Many of them have tremendous political patronage (mainly from the BJP) and with their mob, muscle and money clout, they literally get away with murder. The landmark conviction and sentencing of Gurmeet Singh will certainly go a long way in upholding justice and sending a message that no one is above the law!
The Supreme Court of India, on August 24th, passed a landmark ruling on the issue of privacy, stating that the right to privacy will be counted as a fundamental right. The bench of nine judges held unanimously that the right to privacy would come under the right to life and liberty (Article 21) and part III of the Constitution. This important verdict is expected to have far-reaching consequences on the lives of millions of people. The judgement is also a slap on the face of the Central Government that is doing all they can to interfere in the private lives of the citizens of the country.
On August 22nd , the Supreme Court set aside a centuries old practice of triple talaq in a landmark 3-2 verdict, in which the majority agreed that the practice was un-Islamic and “arbitrary”. This judgement is bound to have a far-reaching impact not only on the rights of Muslim women but also on gender parity for all women of India.
Some of the Judges in some of the courts in India continue to be coopted and corrupt and often toe the line of their political bosses. Many of those guilty of very serious crimes continue to go scot-free with both immunity and with impunity and obviously abetted by such judges. Thankfully, such judges are more an exception than a rule.
Most mainstream media in India today is either coopted or corporatized. Therefore, in the final analysis, the people of India still look up to the Judiciary for the protection of their rights and freedom and specially to safeguard the secular and pluralistic sanctity of the Constitution. Given also the current political scenario in the country today, the Judiciary is the bastion of hope, truth and justice for many. In this historic past week, our refrain without doubt needs to be “Hail Indian Judiciary!”
* (Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist and is currently based in Lebanon and engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service(JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. Contact: email@example.com