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Open Letter To High Court Judge

Open Letter To High Court Judge

Dear Justice S. Vaidyanathan,

A judgement, once delivered, is considered final. Only a larger Bench of the same court or a higher court can review it or even nullify it. A judge may in his judicial wisdom award capital punishment to a person. After a few days, he cannot make amends in the judgement and acquit him.

There is only one judge I know of, who did something like making amendments in his own judgement after some portions of it created a hue and cry. The judge in question was the then Chief Justice of India, Mr Justice Palanisamy Sathasivam.

While dealing with the case about the horrendous killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two teen-aged children Philip (10) and Timothy (6) in 1999, he made some horrendous statements virtually justifying the killing. Anyone who read it was shocked.

It forced Justice Sathasivam to expunge some lines from his verdict a few days later. At that time also, I questioned the practice of a judge reviewing his own verdict after it is delivered. 

The verdict might have been shocking but, whatever be the proximate reason, he was given a gubernatorial post which he accepted though as the Chief Justice of India he had held a higher post. It was like Babulal Gaur, who was replaced by Shivraj Singh Chouhan as Chief Minister, accepting a minister’s position in Chouhan’s Ministry.

There is a Malayalam saying that if the branch of a banyan tree grows from the backside of a shameless person, he may enjoy the shade it provides, rather than hide himself from the public.

You have followed in the footsteps of Justice Sathasivam by first making atrocious statements about the Christian community and then withdrawing the same when the BJP government-appointed Christian member of the National Minority Commission, Mr George Kurien, and others took objection to your statement. 

Since this is an open letter, I must say something about the background of the case. A teacher of the Madras Christian College, one of the oldest and reputed colleges in the country, approached your court regarding complaints of sexual harassment against him from some girl students. 

The management did not ignore the complaints and it took necessary action against him. It was against the management’s action that he filed the case. It is not proper for me to make a comment on the case. You are within your rights to reject or accept his complaint and make your views known through your judgement.

In fact, I have read some judgements like those of Justice VR Krishna Iyer, with some measure of disbelief. Do you know why? Because of their command of the English language. Unlike Congress leader Shashi Tharoor who uses archaic and “unpronounceable” words like “Floccinaucinihilipilification” and “schadenfreude”, Justice Iyer creatively used the language and in the process, coined many new words. Like William Shakespeare and the translators of the Bible! 

In a six-part article in The Hindu in the early seventies, he discussed not so much the problem of unemployment as the problem of “unemployability” of the thousands of graduates the universities churned out year after year. I would suggest that you read the article by obtaining it from The Hindu archives.

I had an occasion to interview Justice Iyer whom I first heard when he visited my alma mater, Catholicate College, Pathanamthitta, while he was a judge of the Kerala High Court. I also had an occasion to edit his article while I was with the Hindustan Times in Delhi. 

It is with a purpose that I mentioned Justice Iyer’s English. As a policy, I do not comment on anyone’s language because my own language is not above reproach. I also believe that language is for communication and it does not matter whether it is grammatically correct or not. There are few people who write correct English.

English is not our language, though it is one of our official languages. I once had an occasion to read the letter of the great great grandson of Lord Dalhousie, who ruled India. My grandson who is in Class V would find it laughable because of the grammatical and spelling errors it contained.

Britain is one country which has lost both its language and religion and, thereby, its greatness. An average educated Indian speaks and writes English better than an average Brit. Former defence minister VK Krishna Menon was once asked by a British national how he gained a mastery of the English language. He answered, “while I learnt the language the hard way, you inherited it by an accident of birth”.

Let me tell you a story attributed to Michael Madhusudan Dutt who lived in the 19th century. He was the father of not only Bengali sonnets but also Bengali renaissance. Nationalism was a key element of his poetry at a time when the concept was unknown to our countrymen. He could use  Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit and Bengali.

You may be surprised to know that he was one of the first to convert to Christianity in Bengal. Do you know what happened to him? He lost his job in Hindu College, Calcutta, because of his conversion. 

He had to go to your city Madras to eke out a living. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar described his Meghnād Bôdh Kāvya as a “supreme poem”. Sri Aurobindo is another person who praised the work to the skies.

As the story goes, once Vidyasagar jokingly asked Dutt, "As you are a Master in English, can you make a sentence without using a single  'E'?" Dutt, the genius, wrote this...

"I doubt I can. It’s a major part of many many words. Omitting it is as hard as making muffins without flour. It’s as hard as spitting without saliva, napping without a pillow, driving a train without tracks, sailing to Russia without a boat, washing your hands without soap. And, anyway, what would I gain? An award? A cash bonus? Bragging rights? Why should I strain my brain? It’s not worth it." Please note, he did not use the letter E.

By the way, Dutt’s son practiced in a court in Madras. You may like to know that Tennis player Leander Paes is a descendant of Dutt from his wife’s side. It would be foolish to expect every judge to write like Justice Iyer and Dutt. However, we expect a reasonable command of the language from a High Court judge.

You found it “appropriate to point out that Christian missionaries are always the source of attack in one way or the other and, in the present era, there are several accusations against them for indulging in compulsory conversion of people of other religions into Christianity.”

You also said that “there is a general feeling amongst the parents of students, especially female students, that co-educational study in Christian institutions is highly unsafe for the future of their children and, though they impart good education, the preaching of morality will be a million-dollar question.”

What do you mean by Christian missionaries are “always the source of attack” and “the preaching of morality will be a million-dollar question”? You also accuse missionaries of “compulsory conversion”. I am sure you were just an idea in the minds of your parents when the Niyogi Commission went into the question of conversion and the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh enacted a law to ban conversion.

Anti-conversion law has been in existence in several states for decades. A national law may even be enacted in the next session of Parliament. Yet, can you show me one case of “compulsory conversion” as you call it or “forced conversion” as some others call it which ended in the conviction of any pastor, priest or nun or those whom you refer to as “missionary”?

Your English may be bad but you are a clever person. That is why you refer to “accusations” against Christians. A judge should go by evidences, not accusations. 

You say that “there is a general feeling amongst the parents of students, especially female students, that co-educational study in Christian institutions is highly unsafe”. How many parents of girl students did you meet? A hundred or one thousand?

How dare you reach such a conclusion by hearing the complaint of some students against a particular teacher whom the management sought to punish? Millions of students study in Christian institutions. Do you have any idea of the kind of rush for admission there? Parents consider happy if their children, especially daughters, are admitted to a Christian institution.

By raising such a question, you are trying to fan the flames of propaganda against the minorities that some sinister organisations have been indulging in. Does the conduct of one teacher justify such a sweeping generalisation?

Do you know that a girl who topped in LLM at the national law university in Delhi gave the convocation a miss as she did not want to receive the degree from the hands of the Chief Justice of India because he is accused of sexually harassing a woman employee of the court? It is not the first time that a Supreme Court judge faced such an allegation. We all know about the case involving a green judge.

Does that justify saying that litigants, especially women litigants, are scared of going to the courts for justice?

I am sure you know how a BJP MLA, accused of raping a girl, has been doing everything possible to finish her and her family. Does this mean that the BJP is full of rapists and people are scared of joining the party?

You have been forced to withdraw the statement but it revealed what is in your mind. A drunken person blabbers but he blabbers about only what is in his mind. In fact, it is in a drunken state that many tell the truth.

Before I conclude, let me tell you why Christians run over 15,000 educational institutions, although they constitute less than 3 per cent of the population. Hindus considered education as the preserve of the Brahmins. That is why they never encouraged education of the masses.

When William Carey reached Serampore two centuries ago, the first thing he did was to set up a school there. Christians considered it their bounden duty to impart education to the needy, irrespective of caste and class. When Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara set up a Sanskrit school at Mannanam, he did not limit admission to the “twice-born”. 

The saint created history when he issued a circular asking all the parishes under him to set up at least one school. That is why the original word for school in Malayalam was “pallikoodam” though scholars and writers like C Radhakrishnan strain themselves to disprove this theory. 

Hindus began to start running schools only recently when they saw big business in it. Today, Christian schools have lost their preeminence, as schools set up by big industrial houses boast of better facilities. Even so, for a large majority of the poor, lower and middle class students, admission to a Christian school is considered an achievement in life. No, I do not forget the fact that some so-called Christian schools, too, have turned commercial to rake in profit.

You may or may not know about the Minority Education Commission. When the Christian member of the commission retired, the BJP government appointed a Sikh in his place, although the commission is headed by a Sikh.

It is against this background that statements like the one you made cause anxiety among the Christians. There are some who demand that the special rights the minorities enjoy in running their educational institutions should be done away with.

I do not know whether you are aware that your statement will help them buttress their arguments against Christians. It is in the best interest of the judiciary that judges express themselves on the merits of the case before them.

Yes, a judge like Justice Krishna Iyer would digress but his digression was to substantiate his judicial pronouncement. Persons with lesser qualifications will end up using inappropriate words like “innocent masculinity” and “million-dollar question” in the belief that they lend profundity to their pronouncements. 

Yours etc

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

(Published on 26th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 35)