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.