Justice C. S. Karnan is in the news, for wrong reasons again. He made a statement unrelated to his functions as a judge of the Calcutta High Court. That made him look really sorry.
Seven judges of the Supreme Court sat together to enquire into a charge of contempt of court against Justice Karnan after summoning him. When he remained absent at the hearing without justification, the judges issued a bailable warrant of arrest to secure his presence in court. Learning about the warrant he said publicly, as a party called to court, that he was being targeted since he was a “Dalit”, i.e., one belonging to certain caste groups which some other caste groups might look down upon. Of course, no one becomes anyway low in status by birth, but that is a different issue.
Justice Karnan’s accusation against the seven Supreme Court judges is plainly unimaginable. It can only be untrue. He says, in effect, two things: one, the contempt-of-court charge brought against him is groundless; two, he has been spitefully charged because he is a Dalit.
Justice Karnan has no quarrel with the law of contempt of court, and he accepts it as a desirable law. All he says is that he was slapped with a charge of contempt of court for dishonourable reasons even as he committed no contempt. As one trained in law and legal procedures, he should know that first and foremost he should explain himself to show that he did not commit any contempt. He could do that only by coming to court, and that is the way to go about for anyone similarly charged. If he is not keen to answer the charge and merrily makes counter charges against judges who try the case, he will not convince anyone. Assume you are driving, a traffic policeman stops you and he asks for your driving licence. Without producing your licence if you yell at him, “You are checking my papers because of my caste!” what can anyone make out?
Look at another scenario. A judge, also a Dalit, issues notice to someone to answer a charge of contempt of court. The person summoned belongs to a different caste group, he refuses to answer the charge and says publicly, “The judge calls me to court out of ill will since I belong to a particular caste group”. Here, that man is unconvincing as Justice Karnan.
I am sure there are millions of Indians who are not Dalits and who don’t feel any superiority over Dalits. That is the reality, showing that many men and women anywhere in the world are generally good to fellow human beings. Many such good souls in India are not expressing their disapproval of Justice Karnan’s reaction to Supreme Court’s move, so they may not be misunderstood. Their silence would not mean that Justice Karnan attracts less opposition to his utterance.
Dalits who face oppression or other misfortune in life are mostly uneducated and poor, usually residing in villages. Among them if one acquires some university education and gets to do well in life – especially if he shifts to bigger cities and works there – he will not stick with others of his group who are not so well-educated or well-placed. He will keep more distance from them as he gets more affluent, privately relishing his good fortune among the less fortunate. The less fortunate would also naturally shrink from the more fortunate in their group, feeling a little scared. This happens between an affluent person and a poor person in any caste group, Dalit or non-Dalit. This is a common human trait all over the world, in every walk of life. This is because affluence creates a class of its own, and earns a respect of its own. Like the Americans and the Saudi Arabians have it in the eyes of poorer nations.
So when Justice Karnan has come up in life, holds the high status of a High Court judge and is fairly affluent, it is impossible – for a worldly reason – that he will suffer discrimination or hatred at the hands of others. Certainly not from seven judges of the Supreme Court at one go.
With a false and fanciful accusation, Justice Karnan might induce some Dalits to guess a contempt action is brought against him because he is a Dalit. He might also leave some others wondering if his brazen disrespect to Supreme Court’s authority points to a flaw in India’s public policy on appointments to high posts. Both these lines of thinking are incorrect for different reasons, in different measures. In any case, in the present controversy India’s poor innocent Dalits are not being helped though they are mentioned. The consequence is as grave as any contempt of the Supreme Court. But, sadly, no remedial action can be taken by anyone in the cause of the unfortunate Dalits.
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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2017