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Deities of new temples


As pointed out by CJI Chandrachud, there have been references, calling courts as temples and of judges being deified. This is a dangerous trend, the CJI said, but India already has had a long history of deifying people, and such unnatural societal acceptance becomes a big hindrance towards developing a modern approach to life

By Sujit Bhar

Recently, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, during a lecture at the Regional Conference of National Judicial Academy in Kolkata, made a very remarkable comment. He said: “There is a very grave danger when people say that the court is a temple of justice. There is a grave danger that we perceive ourselves as the deities in those temples.”

The remark was in response to a comment made by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was also present at the event. The chief minister had equated courts with places of worship.

As Justice Chandrachud elaborated on his comment, he observed that this attempt at adding religious context to courts and of, also contextually, deifying judges was dangerous since the basic task of judges is to serve public interest.

The CJI added: “...very often, we are addressed as Honour or as Lordship or as Ladyship. There is a very grave danger when people say that the court is a temple of justice. There is a grave danger that we perceive ourselves as the deities in those temples.

“I would rather recast the role of the judge as a server of the people. When you regard yourselves as people who are there to serve others, then you bring in the notion of compassion, of empathy, of judging but not being judgmental about others.”

This was a comment of modern times, an era that India seems to have regressed from in recent times. The CJI also said that even while sentencing anyone in a criminal case, the judges do that with a sense of compassion, since at the end, a human being is being sentenced. “So these concepts of constitutional morality which, I think are the key, not just for the judges of the Supreme Court or the High Court but also for the district judiciary itself, because the engagement of the common citizens begins first and foremost with the district judiciary.”

The “Eternal Civilization”

It was a matter of logical ideation by the chief justice of India, but India, being the “eternal civilisation”, as is said, clings to thoughts of times before science and logic took shape. Deification is real in India, as it was in ancient Greece and possibly with the Sumerians and the Egyptians. In India, even today, politicians are deified with people garlanding them as if they are gods or, at least, messengers on their behalf. Temples have been constructed of politicians.

Why just politicians? Temples have been constructed of film stars in India. There is an Amitabh Bachchan temple in Kolkata, a Rajinikanth temple in Bengaluru, and more. In fact, one of the earliest such temples was of actor Khushboo Sundar in Tamil Nadu. Then there is a Sachin Tendulkar temple in Pune. The list goes on.

It is almost natural for Indians to put somebody on a pedestal and start worshipping him or her. There is barely any underlying faith or logic that accompanies such deification and, so why should the courts and its incumbent judges be left out of the ambit of such “worshippers”?

Before delving further into the judicial issue, one needs to see how society’s leaders, the thinkers, motivators and spiritual guides address this.

Kinks In India’s Spiritual Oeuvre

The apparently tough epidermis of Indian spirituality develops logical cracks sometimes. Words of actual wisdom seep in from those, and one published article by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev is quite surprising in this context.

In the article, published some time back, he writes: “In the East, a whole science and technology of god-making evolved in such a way that we set up god-making factories! This is the only culture that understood that God is our making. Everywhere else, people still think God made them. This serious mistake has caused too much pain to humanity.”

Coming from a popular and extremely rich spiritual figure, these words are interesting indeed.

He continues: “God is your making. Suppose all the (sic) human beings fell asleep for the next 25 years, do you think the birds and bugs will pray? There would be no god-talk on the planet and everything would still be fine. Well, you might say everything is fine because god is working. That is an unbeatable argument because it is not even an argument. It is just what the religious kind of people insist on.

“This land and culture of Bharat understood that god is our making. They made every kind of god for every kind of need. There are over 330 million gods and goddesses in India. These 330 million were created when India's population was 330 million. We are now 1,300 million people (sic). We should have had that many gods but in the last few centuries, not enough gods have been created because of invasions and the poverty that this culture was pushed into.”

These words make sense and confirm the Indian (Hindu) propensity to “create” gods.

The Judicial Aspect

The judiciary is a relatively new concept in Indian culture and, then, it had been properly introduced into the Indian ethos by the Mughals first and more institutionally by the British. Hence the deification process took time, but it probably had to happen. This is where the CJI sees the danger in.

However, the danger could be a tad deeper.

The Supreme Court of India has been earning accolades for a raft of verdicts in the recent past. It showed muscle to overturn the result of a mayoral election in Chandigarh for open rigging by a polling officer, caught on camera, and then the court went ahead and rebuked the official, loyal to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for having rigged the poll. This came on the heels of another verdict in which the top court had ordered the central government to reverse a dilution in the rules protecting forestland. Then, like a cherry on top, it had struck down the electoral bonds scheme as being unconstitutional, striking hard at the ruling dispensation’s acts, just before the elections.

What the public saw in such pronouncements was a power that could challenge even the powerful government. Every worshipped hero in India, except probably Mahatma Gandhi, has been associated with power. Whether the message ultimately is of peace, it must emanate from the womb of brute power. With these acts, the Supreme Court, quite suddenly, ascended this pedestal and the temple and deity analogies came into being.

The judiciary itself has to bear much of the blame. In a system where judges can be seen openly leaning towards one political, religious and even some patently unscientific opinion, then the system has the responsibility of addressing its own lacunae, its own identity.

That will evidently bring us to the issue of accountability. When a judge of a High Court stuns his audience by stating that peahens reproduce by drinking the tears of the peacock, then there was definitely something wrong in the system which chose such a person to sit on the bench. More importantly, there was definitely something wrong with the section of the multitude that eagerly accepted and absorbed this piece of “information” as true, just because a judge has said it.

When the knowledge and intelligence of the audience seems suspect—even if he/she be the highest ranking political official of a state, sometimes even of the country—a deity can surely be born out of thin air.

With all other possible arenas having already been populated by gods of many hues, the courts and the judges remained as fertile grounds for new ambitions, new hope.

Probably an element of accountability would have left the Indian judiciary more on the ground, more attuned to reality, yet independent enough to adjudicate without fear.

The Systemic Differences

If we compare our system with the US system, we get some startling differences.

In the United States, the balance between judicial independence and judicial accountability remains a big issue. One has to say that despite the Bush administration’s effort towards it, no solution has been reached. But there was an effort, nevertheless.

An analysis titled “Holding Federal Judges Accountable” clearly talks about the shortcomings of judicial impeachment and alternatives to such proceedings. This analysis was in the backdrop of the proposed Judicial Tenure Act, penned to hold federal judges accountable.

This Judicial Tenure Act, often called the Nunn Bill, was “designed to set up a mechanism for investigating, disciplining, and removing judges who are accused of misconduct or who become disabled; it was a supplement to impeachment, the primary remedy available for assuring federal judicial accountability.”

The argument was about “...whether impeachment is necessary and constitutional as a way of holding judges accountable is controversial.

What happened then was that five major criticisms of impeachment were offered:

1. Grounds for impeachment are too

narrow.

2. The impeachment process does not provide adequate sanctions.

3. The process is cumbersome.

4. The process is subject to political

manipulation.

5. Impeachment is rarely used.

Therefore, especially due to the shortcomings of the impeachment mechanism in the US, other procedures were forwarded. The senior judiciary remains unmoved, though.

In the backdrop of recent strange actions by many judges in lower courts and even in High Courts, the Law Commission might want to think on these lines. And this is where the CJI’s comments do come in handy.

There is need for change, within the judiciary, as well as among the public which has started viewing the judiciary in some strange light.