Price of a Soul

While delivering the annual Justice H R Khanna memorial lecture on the topic of ‘Judicial Independence: Myth or Reality’, on Sunday, senior Supreme Court lawyer Soli Sorabjee said, that of all the Supreme Court judges, only Justice Khanna had stood up to the Government during the Emergency.

He was referring to the The Habeas Corpus Case , when the majority of Supreme Court judges, deciding against habeas corpus in a judgement in April, 1976, permitted the government to use unrestricted powers of detention during the Emergency.

During the Emergency declared in June 1975, a  large number of people had been detained without trial under the repressive Maintenance of Internal Security Act. Several high courts had given relief to the detainees by accepting their right to habeas corpus as stated in Article 21 of the Indian constitution.  So the question came up before the Supreme Court.

After the Supreme Court decision against habeas corpus was read-

Justice Beg even went on to observe: “We understand that the care and concern bestowed by the state authorities upon the welfare of detenus who are well housed, well fed and well treated, is almost maternal.”

Given the evidence that later came out, about the excesses committed by the then Congress government during the emergency, this was the height of sycophancy!

Recalling this, an emotional Sorabjee said that only Justice Khanna had stood up to the government. The other Supreme Court judges had “sold their souls”.

 Sorabjee said courage as shown by Khanna while dealing with the case is what is required of a judge. “He didn’t care about the consequences. He decided the case according to his conscience.”


I am currently trying to read Arun Shourie’s latest book- “We Should Have No Price.”  This is a compilation of some of his lectures and essays on National security,  Reforms, and Political Reconstruction.

I have to confess that I do not have in-depth knowledge of the topics he has written about, so there is much which I am unable to understand. However I am greatly impressed by what I do understand.

At the very end of the book he narrates a story about Diogenes, a  philosopher in ancient Greece.

One hot afternoon, the Court philosopher saw Diogenes, sitting as usual under a tree, eating pasty gruel ( A thin porridge or soup- a poor man’s meal)  from a wooden bowl.

He asked Diogenes what he was doing. “Eating this gruel.” came the answer.

The Court philosopher exclaimed,”You fool! If only you learned to get along with the king, you would not have to eat this gruel”.

Diogenes answered, “My dear sir, If you would only learn to eat this gruel, you would not have to spend the rest of your life trying to get along with the king.”

Shourie then writes,

” We must learn to eat that gruel.

We must have no price.

And everyone must know that we have no price.”


Sycophancy has reached epic proportions in today’s India.  Almost all the leading newspapers and television news channels bend over backwards in praising those in power.  And if they have to stretch the truth, sometimes distort the truth, to do so- well so be it! A falsehood is repeated so many times that I think they themselves begin to think that it is true!

The price of a soul is different in each case. Some sell theirs for money, some for favours, some for recognition. Some to avoid harassment by the authorities. Some to obtain that which they have a right to get, but cannot. I have known retired government employees who have had their pensions stopped, because they have not ‘pleased’ the concerned authorities.

It is not easy to live in today’s India without selling your soul. I am quite aware that individuals who would not dream of selling their integrity for personal gain are sometimes forced to do so for their families. One cannot always ‘eat gruel’.

But do we not become so accustomed to compromising our integrity, that we do so even when there is no need? Do we not become so used to hearing lies that we cease to believe anything that anyone says?  Do we not find it hard to believe that anyone would do anything without some ulterior motive?

We nod our heads when our ‘leaders’ make statements, because we think that is what they want us to do. We become sheep, bleating when they want us to, staging protest marches when they want us to, and praising them even when they betray us.

Is this how we want our lives to be? Is this really how we want our society to be? Perhaps not.

But then we wonder what one person, or perhaps a few people can do. Will the actions of a few ordinary citizens like us have any impact on this problem? What difference will it make if just a few of us act according to our convictions?

Maybe the actions of a few people cannot have much impact, but the actions of many together certainly can. Then, during the Emergency, some had sold their souls. But many had not. So the combined actions of many ordinary citizens ended the Emergency of 1975-77 declared by a despotic Prime Minister.

So can we, in the present time, move mountains, if we act together- with integrity.



  1. That is such a relevant thought. We certainly can move mountains if we act together with integrity and if we act together towards a valid and sensible objective.

    me: Let’s hope that we can do so!


  2. Great post, India needs more people like Justice Khanna who listen to their conscience and act accordingly, without worrying about the consequences. Have updated your feed address in my reader.

    me: Yes, India does need more people like Justice Khanna. He certainly displayed great courage when he made the decision to go against the majority opinion.


  3. very very good and hard hitting post…atleast there are few areas where we need not to pledge our soul, but still people do it..and when they are doing it for luxury its the lowest we can go.
    We need to imbibe morals from the childhood, suddenly we cant change ourselves..I think moral science should be included in the syllabus and then socially we must behave as we say..personally i try to stay away from the people who take bribe..I dont socialise with them..That is if I come to know about them.

    me: That is very true- we have to cultivate the habit of acting according to our conscience from childhood.


  4. Manju, excellent post.

    Today, the government , with its lopsided priorities, ensures that there is no gruel. There are few that continue to make do with what ever little is around, and they make and eat that gruel. And stand up and get counted. They need to be applauded and followed by us.

    But the majority, is still obsessed with getting along with the king, and not only do they have a price, but they are ON SALE .

    We need many more Diogenes to monitor us….

    me: Yes, such people do deserve to be applauded by us. May their tribe increase!


  5. It is a beautifully written piece.
    I am not sure if you witnessed Emergency–I did. It was a difficult time.I know two fellows were picked up from Andheri station because they spoke against emergency.
    It is very rare that one comes across some one of the soul and guts of Justice Khanna.
    But, in today’s system of (non) governance,it is very difficult to remain away from getting your clothes dirty with muck.The political establishment has become extremely greedy for power and money that they ensure souls are sold.We can stand united,but in reality do we?How many of us have expressed our views strongly about
    1..Congress leaders visiting Azamgarh suddenly?
    2..Inflation which is highest in so many years.
    3..Internal security,600 police were moved to protect MNIK, and may be a coincidence that blast took place?
    4..Rathore is still roaming free inspite of Law minister’s assurance of stringent laws?
    5..KODA in Rs 4000 cr scam?
    6..At times media’s bias?
    7.. Minority appeasement?
    Manju, the list is just too long.We have to ask ourselves as to how far can bear this nonsense and what are we going to leave behind for the next generation.How long will behave like a lot of 100cr spineless,speechless citizens?

    me: Chowlaji, yes, I remember it was the summer vacation before my SSC results when emergency was declared. I was old enough to understand most of what was happening. ‘The Indian Express’ left their editorial page blank as a protest for a few days after Emergency was declared. I remember my father explaining that it took great courage for them to do that.

    I agree, it is difficult today to avoid compromising our integrity to some extent. Even if someone wanted to start a project or activity for social benefit, they would have to bribe the authorities to be granted permission! It’s a sad state of affairs.


  6. Beautifully written…

    The country needs more people with integrity.. nd not just among the leaders..We, the people need to change and only then will our leaders be forced to change…

    “My dear sir, If you would only learn to eat this gruel, you would not have to spend the rest of your life trying to get along with the king.”

    How true…

    me: It is a lovely story, isn’t it? And what Diogenes advises- to learn to eat gruel- is so simple, yet so difficult to actually do!


  7. “If you would only learn to eat this gruel, you would not have to spend the rest of your life trying to get along with the king.” These lines are relevant even now, but how many of us are ready to learn to eat gruel?

    I still remember how mother and son (Sanjay) handled emergency. Indira was said to be the lone man in the cabinet and so many adulations for her. Justice Khanna is the real Hero. We need a good leader to shake and wake up the ‘chaltha hai’ attitude of our people and raise together for the sake of our future generations at least.

    Beautiful post, Manju.

    me: Yes, Justice Khanna was the real hero. But he had to pay for what he did. It cost him his appointment as Chief Justice of India. Though he was Justice Khanna’s junior, Justice Beg was appointed Chief Justice of India in January, 1977. Justice Khanna immediately resigned.


  8. Excellent post Manju. I loved the story of Diogenes. How true what his words are! I have always believed even a single individual can make a difference and that is always a beginning. What saddens me most is those people who don’t believe things like integrity even exist.
    I once wrote a fictional, rather an allegorical post in response to an argument I had with a friend. He maintained that there was none in this world who hadn’t ‘sold his soul’ and that it was impossible to live without doing so, while I maintained there were still people trying to live without selling their soul (and a very few succeeding too to some extent too) and that I admired them the most.
    You can read the story here:

    me: Just read your post- what a lovely way of expressing what you wanted to say!

    Yes, there are people who do not believe that some still act with integrity. But we can’t really blame them. It’s so difficult in today’s world to differentiate between what is genuine and what is not!


  9. I am still thinking about your post, Manju!

    I still think that we have precedents where people came out to support wholeheartedly during tsunami, flood, earthquakes etc. Our country has come out this far, competing with mammoth countries, quite well. Some good leader might come out into limelight if we get into more serious problems. At present we need someone to keep our country together and stop people who are bent on breaking it into bits and pieces. At present I don’t see any strong leader with selfless integrity.

    Sorry for writing long long comments here…you write so well that you influence me a lot to express myself here. Thank you.

    me: Sandhya, I think the best thing about blogging is the comments on the posts we write! I enjoy your comments, and I’m sure others here do, too!


  10. We need more Diogenes and Justice Khanna’s in our society. I always thought Arun Shourie was a misfit in politics too. A thought provoking post.

    me: Yes, from what I have read, Arun Shourie seems to be very straightforward in analysing any situation. Not like a politician at all!


  11. Nice post….Going through the wiki of Diogenes, corruption existed in those times and i feel the human traits we show now, have all existed from day one……

    so i feel it is a constant fight between good against evil…

    Integrity….i feel most of us compromise according to the convenience we have……how many of us claim the exact auto fare from companies? how many us claim bogus LTA….
    list will go on…

    in the corporate world, i feel most of us compromise with integrity in one way or another… your example u said the newspaper etc bend backwards to power….well they are forced because of their occupation, stakes etc…..they are satisfying the owner….to me, i dont mind a slight bend..but definetly not to the extent of licking someone toes…

    I wish i shuld live with 100% integrity……when our lives are interwined with others it becomes difficult…..

    me: I agree, when we live in society, it does become difficult- maybe impossible- to keep our integrity intact. But we can strike a sort of balance. At least we should not compromise just because of greed, or when there is no need to.


  12. Perhaps it is from here ‘grueling’ takes its root ! Such people are increasingly becoming a very rare commodity in the Indian arena !

    Sychophancy rules ! But more importantly we have gotten so much used to it, that we seem to accept it without too much of a problem..

    me: ‘Perhaps it is from here ‘grueling’ takes its root !’
    Perhaps it does. That did not occur to me. 🙂


  13. One of your best posts Manju. Read this a few days back and found it beautiful. The way you have written it with such conviction.

    Diogenes answered, “My dear sir, If you would only learn to eat this gruel, you would not have to spend the rest of your life trying to get along with the king.”

    Shourie then writes,

    ” We must learn to eat that gruel.

    We must have no price.

    And everyone must know that we have no price.”

    Maybe we are asking for the sky Manju..This is what I think in moments of rare cynicism.
    This post will stay with me for a long time.


    1. Thanks for the appreciation, Abhi!

      In reality, at least in the present times, it is not possible to live as Diogenes did. But even if it is really not possible to live ‘having no price’, that situation should be our ideal. I think we should try to reach that stage as far as possible.

      At the very least, we should not sell our souls when there there is no need to.


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