Judge Dread & The 12 Angry Men
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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