Judge Dread & The 12 Angry Men

Between Katju and foolish Indians, there are a dozen reasons why justice doesn’t stand much of a chance.

In the last many months I have often felt that if ever there was a reason to bring back the jury system in India, it is Justice Katju. Although my thoughts remain occupied principally with Justice Katju’s post-retirement outpourings and spiteful TV verdicts, I cannot help but extrapolate them to what his demeanour might have been pre-retirement – a leopard doesn’t change his spots as they say. The more we see of Justice Katju, the more it is obvious that he is very upright, very honest, very stern and very rude. More than anything it is the last two qualities that worry me.

A judge must be steadfast, not stern; he must ruminate and not be rude; and most importantly, neither must he look up to some, nor look down on others. He is the keeper of that most hallowed of values that ever was invented by an animal called man: Justice. For him, no one is a fool, no one an idiot; he mustn’t discriminate against those who read chick-lit or lad-lit and not Kabir or Zola. For if he has read Kabir or Zola, he would know what humility is, that a true intellectual is really a fakir.

Above all, he must let people be.

There is a central dogma that must be busted here, and it is this: that a man may hold firm to his belief, howsoever strong and biased it may be, but he reneges on it the moment he takes up an elevated, independent post. Our new President, therefore, hitherto a minister during the Emergency and more recently the redeemer and promoter of the exalted UPA2 value system, will suddenly become impartial and deliver rulings entirely at odds with what he’s preached and held dear all his adult life. By the same principle, a lifelong Bajranj Dal activist, upon becoming a police officer and posted to a Muslim locality, would act without prejudice during a riot. A Communist will become a Capitalist when he’s chosen to head the IMF, and Sagarika will tone down after joining DD News.

This is akin to saying that a religious man would turn an atheist the moment he becomes a scientist. I don’t know about you, but I find it highly unlikely, and no one would be more pleased than me if I’m proven wrong.

The simple fact is, that unless something dramatic or cataclysmic happens to a person – for example, he loses his memory in a car accident or undergoes a lobotomy he cannot and does not change a viewpoint and a way of thinking he’s honed for the best part of his life. And if he does, all it means is that he didn’t hold true to those values in the first place. He was fooling either himself or the world.

Take the Communists. Someone like Sitaram Yechury, who by all accounts is an affable, erudite, and a reasonable man, will be a Communist till he breathes his last even though he’s seen the Soviet Union collapse right in front of his eyes, is privy to the sheer hypocrisy of Chinese Communism, and knows in his heart-of-heart that Cuba is a dictatorship. In the same breath, Digvijay Singh, the go-to man in every case of ministerial corruption, national loot and electoral thrashings, will forever remain a Congressman. Garibi Hatao is tattooed on Digvijay’s forearm much as Mera Baap Chor Hai was on Vijay’s.

Likewise, a person with views as strong as Justice Katju – 90% of Indians are fools, Anna is an idiot, the media is pathetic, item numbers are disgusting, all journalists are uneducated, only buffoons don’t read Dostoevsky, Lokpal will double corruption – is someone best confined to TV studios. Not decision-making institutions. The very fact that such views haven’t changed over days let alone months, means they were arrived at through years of introspection, decades of churning, and to go against them would be for him to go against his very nature, his very way of life.

And it is for this precise reason that civilised countries have a jury system.

They don’t believe one man can dissociate suddenly from his belief and be impartial. They believe 12 angry men have a better chance of being impartial and delivering true justice. Imagine a judge who shamelessly demanded dowry from his daughter-in-law, or who believes in the concept of a khap panchayat. Now imagine him sitting in judgment in a dowry case, or in a case where two terrified same-gotra lovers are seeking protection from bloodhounds.

The famous Nanavati case that led to the abolition of the jury system in India also sounded the death knell for any prospect of dispensing true justice in this country. A jury is what logic is. For, if selected wisely, it is very hard, if not impossible, for all 12 members of the jury to have the same entrenched viewpoints on anything. Identical yes, but not entrenched. Debate and consensus is the hallmark of a civilised society. Just appearing nightly on TV and spewing venom on ideas or people or movements isn’t.

We need a jury, not a judge.


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  • Ashok Jahnavi Prasad

    While I agree with the main thrust of your article Anand (that a committed ideologue and a person who has the habit of shooting from the hip should not be entrusted a judicial role),there have been instances where a judge has surprised everyone by growing in his job. The most outstanding example is that of Justice Hugo Black whose past links with the Ku Klux Klan were exposed after his appointment. He turned out to be outstandingly liberal judge. Then there is the case of Earl Warren the Chief Justice who was appointed by Eisenhower as he was considered excruciatingly conservative-as a Governor of California he had ordered compulsory internment of all Japanese Americans under the Emergency legislation and when appointed CJ the landmark Brown vs Board of Education was to be ruled on to decide segregation in schools.Eisenhower wanted segregation to be retained and along with Warren had appointed Brennan another junior judge with conservative leanings to ensure a comfortable majority in the 9 judge court. The day prior to the ruling Warren went on a drive and as it became cold and foggy decided to check into a hotel for the night. The following morning he found his chauffeur shivering in his car.On inquiring he learned that he could not check into a cheap motel as none allowed Afro-Americans which he was. Warren was so moved that he made up his mind during the drive back.He summoned a meeting of all the other 8 judges declared that he was convinced that segregation was amoral and he would like a 9-0 verdict which is what it was.Eisenhower and conservatives were stunned!Warren Supreme Court then went on to come up with the most liberal judgments so much so that when Ike was relinquishing,he was asked if he had made any mistake to which he retorted that he had made 2 and both were on the Supreme Court! Justice Anthony Kennedy was regarded a conservative when Reagan appointed him .Many including myself had reservations about him. Yet he surprised everyone with his ruling in the Roe vs Wade review and Texas vs Johnson flag burning case(I regard his concurring note in the latter as the best example of judicial wisdom). The point here is that judges have a tendency to grow in their jobs and it is important to provide them the mileu where they can. Closer ,Justice Krishna Iyer was a minister in the Communist government before he became a judge-and no one would accuse him of favouring the communists.I think the judges can grow but we need a blend of outstanding judicial scholarship and commitment to justice. Being the son of a judge myself ,I would be uneasy if only those who did not believe in upsetting that applecart were to adorn judicial positions. We would not have had people like Thurgood Marshall because of whom not just Americans but all of us are better off. And Kuldip Singh who ensured that Delhi became a more habitable place. My concern with the jury system in India is based on the fact that we still have a tendency to pre-decide on an issue without applying our minds.Caste,religion and region play an unacceptable role in our day to day functions. Look at the way we vote in elections! And there is one area where we do entrust jury functions to our MP’s-impeachment of judges! The last time we were confronted with that in Justice Ramaswamy’s case ,the Congress (I) government had pre-decided that because he was close to Rajiv Gandhi,he had to be saved despite a scathing indictment from his fellow judges. Mukul Wasnik was disgracefully seen convassing during the vote. Eventually we would have to move to a jury system but are we ready just as yet! I think the jury is out on that one! But my compliments on the article!

    • Aman Dogra

      Ive never before entirely agreed with an article only to change my mind 5 minutes later.

    • Roark

      I completely agree with Aman…In fact, this was the first article by Anand which I read with interest…but the first comment I read on it….I realised how vulnerable am I..???….An article can influence my thought process….and when we just change the perspective the reality turns on my face….!!!

      But I would like to congratulate both Mr Anand and Dr Prasad on putting up there viewpoint…Though the comment by Dr Prasad reflects that it is Mr Anand’s own personal view on the matter…the history had its own heroes with split personalities (pun intended)….Also, an excellent job by Dr Prasad in countering the viewpoint gracefully, yet factually…Also Sir, I read your analysis on the interview of Digvajaya Singh in “The Hoot”…Must say, I was again mighty impressed by the analysis and opinions, though with some reservations….I am looking forward to more such articles by you…

    • Sam

      The examples given were all of judges who grew in their jobs to become much-admired jurists. They have no relevance to a former judge who has either stayed the same (as the author suggests), or whose jurisprudence has regrettably regressed over the course of his professional career and after.

  • Anand Ranganathan

    Let me say at the very beginning that one writes to get the kind of comments that have been posted here – all three of
    them thus far, by Dr. Prasad, Roark, and Aman. This is the first time I am commenting on NL, but I was forced to by the sheer beauty of Aman’s comment! The flow in his sentence is exquisite. Thank you, Aman – you made my day.

    Roark and Dr. Prasad are of course, old hands on commenting on NL articles, and one reason why it is so rewarding to
    keep visiting NL site is that one gets to learn and admire Dr. Prasad’s depth of knowledge on all matters. It is astounding. Accuse me of flattery but there, I’ve said it.

    I am happy that what I wrote has sparked a debate – that’s what every writer wants, never to write in a vacuum but in a
    throbbing fiery storm. I would like to contribute to this debate if I may, and I hope my fellow commentators will take it in the right spirit.

    What is more troubling – to put your life in the hands of a corrupt, sold-out, emotional, subjective, rooted, parochial,
    ultra-religious, narrow-minded judge, or to put your life in the hands of a 12 member jury, one or two, or three of whom might be corrupt, sold-out, emotional, subjective, rooted, parochial, ultra-religious and narrow-minded?

    Is there some “intellectual” and “scholarly” line that a nation has to cross before its people are eligible for jury membership? If yes, then how long must we have to wait to cross that line in India – 20, 50, 100 years? Wasn’t the same thinking used by those who advised India against going for a universal adult franchise and a general election in 1952? That most Indians are illiterate, parochial, narrow-minded, ultra-religious, emotional, and rooted?

    In order for democracy to function, we must have faith in its people even if the majority of them aren’t rocket-scientists,
    or authors, or lawyers, or technocrats or IT whiz-kids or erudite journalists. How else can I put it – We are all animals and no one is more intelligent than the other. The whole point of the jury system is that these 12 men are laymen, not lawyers or judges who are well-versed with the principles of law, but people like you and me who will exercise their thinking to the best of their abilities, howsoever skewed or unbalanced an outsider or a foreigner from a “developed” country might find this thinking to be. We are a nation of 1.2 billion people, and if we have the same viewpoint as regards them as Justice Katju does – that 90% of them are idiots, then do we wait eternally for them to transform into “intelligent” men and women so they can be selected for jury duty?

    May I also humbly state that most of Dr. Prasad’s examples of judges changing their point-of-view were non-Indian ones. I’ll address this point a little later but let me come to another point, which is, that when a Supreme Court chief Justice says that an overwhelming majority of judges in India are corrupt – especially from the lower judiciary, it shocks me to my core. But it portends something much worse – that one among these judges is going to decide on a matter of life and death, or of wealth and ruin.

    If we believe that the people of India are not yet ready to serve in a jury – and by corollary the people of USA or UK very
    much are – then why criticise the OJ Simpson verdict at all? Yes, a jury can have potential pitfalls and fluctuations – “all black”, “all white” etc – and it goes without saying that the jury selection process has to be stringent and thorough – but not having a jury in India is in effect an indictment of Indians. And this is terrible and unacceptable, and for this reason alone we forfeit any right we have to call us a civilised nation – how can we when we ourselves don’t believe we are “ready” for something, when an illiterate, parochial, emotional, rooted, redneck from a southern state of America is!

    Lastly, about the judges changing their viewpoint, yes, I agree that some may indeed change a deep-seated viewpoint,
    but are these exceptions to the rule? Some more data needs to be presented before we can safely say that a judge will *always* dissociate his verdict from his deep-seated viewpoint. The thing is, should we rest assured waiting for the goodwill of a judge to see sense, when, if he doesn’t see sense, it can lead to a miscarriage of Justice? Shouldn’t even a single miscarriage of justice be unacceptable?

    Needless to say, this might be the silly torrent of a novice, and so we need another erudite and thoroughly educating comment from Dr. Prasad here to take forward the debate! I end with another remembrance of Aman Dogra’s magical comment…


  • Ashok Jahnavi Prasad

    First of all let me state how deeply humbled I feel having being showered with so much of panegyrations! Thank you very much indeed! I am not sure how to reciprocate your generosity except to be totally honest with my comments here which is what I would like to believe I have always attempted. There are occasions I would go wrong and it is gratifying to realize that I shall be corrected by all of you.

    Anand’s columns have always been a source of enormous enjoyment. His grasp over the issue he deals with is without peer and his expressions make the whole exercise unputdownable!

    At the very outset Anand let me state that the absence of a jury system is a serious indictment of our system of justice,Eventually we have to move towards a jury system and I would like to see it in place during the remaining years available to me! Eventually we have to aim for a society where peer judgement determines our code of conduct and penal provisions for which there is no real alternative to a jury system. And it is worthwhile recapitulating the sentiments of the Law Minister who played a role in the abolition-he made it very clear that he would like the reinstatement at an early date.

    My concern arises over the fact that whenever we have been asked to perform a quasi-juridical role, we have let everyone down on 9 out of 10 occasions. The great judge Wendell-Holmes had made an observation that for a jury system to be functional, the essential pre-requisite was a firm belief that all of us are entitled to equal protection of law.

    With religion,caste ,region and political affiliation still governing us in an unacceptable measure ,I think we need to work on this pre-requisite. I long for a jury system but whenever I listen to the news and read the newspapers I am gripped by a sense of despondency. Admittedly other countries have had their own share of jury miscarriages eg letting off of the LA Police in the Rodney King episode by an all white jury,I think we would have to concede that this was by an large an exception.Having been called up for jury duty once in the UK , I know that our discussion never focussed on extraneous factors with the judge;s regular directions .

    Take for instance the PAC of the parliament or the different JPC’s where parliamentarians are expected to discharge quasi-jury functions. I do not think I need say any more on that.

    What depresses me is the passive acceptance of our society that some have a greater entitlement than the others.This belief itself is inimical to a jury provision.

    I recall post Watergate revelations Nixon was being referred for impeachment-and all the Republicans joined hands with Democrats. Nixon knew his time was up and resigned. Can this happen in India-where a PM who had suspended the Constitution was not only recalled but deified and still continues to enjoy posthumous popularity.

    Second problem with the jury system is the quality of lawyers we have specially in the lower courts -to my dismay I find many of them lacking in their basic understanding of law, I think an improper presentation before a jury would be catastrophic.

    I agree with Anand-no tolerance even for a single miscarriage of justice! But that is precisely the mindset we have to change in the society.

    And yes, a verbose judge who shoots from the hip ends up embarassing everyone. The best judges we have had in the last 20 years-Jeevan Reddy, Bharucha, , JS Verma displayed grace through their circumspection.

    Thanks once again !

  • Aman Dogra

    Dear Anand, Thank you for your article and subsequent comments, you made my day too.

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  • Arti Shukla Wankhede

    The worry with having a jury in India is that, if not selected wisely, it can be a total lynch mob. Whatever be the viewpoint of a judge, you can hopefully take solace that they must know the law well and wont act just on emotions, as most commoners on a jury are likely to do. And the justice system in India (yes sigh) is not defined by one judge. You can appeal in a higher court and most Supreme Court rulings are decided by a bench. I would say Justice Katju makes for good sound bytes but does not mean he defines the justice system. Also it would have been good if you showcased if Katju indeed took his decisions sitting on a high horse while as a judge. Your article lacks any evidence of that.

  • I completely agree with Ashok as we are really not ready for the Jury system. Some other reasons for the jury system to work would be the independence of the individual meaning that he will not give in to social pressure, will take an independent decision based on the merit of the case, will not give in to corruption. This will be quite difficult for most Indians.The jury must truly value democracy and uphold Human rights. This is near impossible for Indian Society as most do not value Democracy or uphold Human Rights. Right to privacy among other things is not valued at all. The police attacked Swami Ramdev in a meeting. A lady protestor was killed and nothing has happened about it. Nobody understands that when one person loses their rights everyone does. Women teachers travelling from Gharwal to Delhi were raped by UP police, nothing happened. Worst the food is injected with steroids and hormones to make it grow, but have you ever had any real protests. So the upper middle class is mostly asleep. The Government Officers consider themselves elite and behave with ordinary persons with contempt. The law of the land is taken casually. Ethics and morality are on the back burner. The media is biased& corrupt. It is averse to serious discussion and honest serious discussion is a dream. It promotes aggressive speech. People violate traffic signals casually. So Judge Katju is probably right. 90% Indians are Idiots. And we probably need Judge Dreads to enforce law in India. Try travelling to some parts of UP and Bihar where people sleep or even sit on the street with Guns. And many believe that unless you have not killed a couple of men, you really aren’t a man. Now imagine having a jury.

  • projectprivasy

    Let me give couple more examples –
    1) No matter how hard Mr. Anand Ranganathan tries to be an impartial journalist, his writings are influenced by his Pro-BJP opinions

    2) No matter how hard the BJP ministers at the centre try to act secular and inclusive, their hatred towards Muslims still remains as strong as ever

    Just trying to balance your criticism here –

    “In the same breath, Digvijay Singh, the go-to man in every case of ministerial corruption, national loot and electoral thrashings, will forever remain a Congressman. Garibi Hatao is tattooed on Digvijay’s forearm much as Mera Baap Chor Hai was on Vijay’s “