BY RASHI LOHAAN
Where do you run when your own law system betrays you? Where do you seek answers when your own judiciary is not transparent? What is that thin line between having rights and lawlessness?
Where does democracy end and dictatorship begin?
You might have had the same questions in your mind when you were faced with the breaking headline of August 14, when Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan was held in Contempt of Court on account of his tweets, in which he openly called out the hypocrisy of Judge Arvind Bobde, the Chief justice of India, and his predecessors.
The Criminal Contempt of Court states that words, written or spoken, signs and actions that “scandalize” or “tend to scandalize” or “lower” or “tend to lower” the authority of any court shall be held accountable in front of the law. According to this, Prashant Bhushan, a public interest litigator who has worked cases regarding the environment, corruption, the Bofors case, Narmada dam and has helped countless others, is put in front of the court of law as a criminal.
When the Supreme Court in their statement said “There is no matter of doubt that the tweet tends to shake the public confidence in the institution of judiciary”, “the said tweet undermines the dignity and authority of the institution of judiciary” ,does the Supreme Court really expect us to believe that the supreme body of justice in India was shook by the usage of mere 280 words used to criticise their flag holder. Have we really come to the point in time when a few words against the CJI will be considered as treason to the nation?
The famous English lawyer Lord Denning once said, “A judge who cannot accept criticism is unfit to be a judge.” And yet somehow India is faced with the misfortune of her high ranking, most judicial body being headed by people who are incapable of being called out at a public platform regarding their actions. One example is not wearing a mask during a global pandemic, a disaster which has already lead to the deaths of more than fifty thousand people in our country alone; whatever the claim may be, an act of such carelessness by a person in such power can and must be held accountable to the public. And the public must be free to raise questions to their torchbearers of justice and equality without any fear of being prosecuted by the law, because at its very essence, a democracy is meaningless without rights- rights that give people freedom of thought and ability to question and seek clarification on what goes on in their own country.
While on one hand our country has shown such tremendous growth of telecommunications and is becoming a champion in the eyes of the world for responding to the issues of internet privacy, on the other hand, the right to the Internet and social media comes at a cost, where even using a few characters on Twitter can lead to you being served with a case of Court of Contempt.
The Honourable Supreme Court of India as of today has over nineteen thousand pending cases, which include cases of national importance such as the Citizenship Amendment Act, the detentions in Jammu and Kashmir, and hundreds of bail petitions. But a simple accusation by a respected lawyer becomes the first issue of SC.
Where would the common man escape when his justice system betrays him?
Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel once said, “There may be a time when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
A colonial act such as the Contempt of Court has prevailed in India even after seven decades of independence. The British and the American constitutions have chucked out this act and perhaps it’s time we learned our lesson.
When any citizen of a democracy chooses to criticize and question a person in power, the democracy must hold its head high and answer to their citizens assuring them that the laws that were constructed to protect them will never let harm come their way and if it does, they must protect them and not accuse them of disloyalty to their own country. Any criticism of any body of power must be welcomed and not looked down upon and needless to say, put good citizens like Prashant Bhushan behind bars.
Acts like Contempt of Court must be justified and explained step by step to each citizen so that an act of innocence and in a desperate attempt to receive answers, one does not end up becoming a criminal.