Millennium Post

Prejudices of the worst kind

Anyone who has had the experience of going to a police station to file a complaint will have faced, among other attendant hassles, the experience of cop-playing-arbitrator. Whether it is a case of a minor accident on the road or theft or eve teasing, the first ploy of the bored looking man behind the desk is to offer, in lieu of action, kindly advice which amounts to 'patch up and go home'.

That is, if you are not perceptibly a member of the lower income group, or completely without connections, in which case you are interrogated within an inch of your life as if you are the perpetrator, and end up vowing never to enter a police station ever again. When the
is playing the kind uncle and reducing your grievance to the level of farce, he is actually making sure that you are not interrupting his daily tumult – or tranquility as is more often the case – and all that laborious paperwork that requires words to be penned down, severely challenging his standards of literacy, can be avoided altogether. In the process one returns sadder but wiser, having received a bouquet of homespun (gratuitous)  wisdom, invariably of the conservative mould, that has rich references to folk tales, mythology and religion, reminiscent of the moral science classes that you yawned through as a third grader.

I have often received similar valuable knowledge from taxi and auto drivers from the cow belt who have very strong opinions on the sanctity of joint families, respect for elders, the origin of the earth (which rests upon a tortoise), and on working women who return after 7pm (naturally of loose character.)

But it comes as a shocker when senior law enforcers too choose to voice their deeply prejudicial and bigoted opinions and that too in serious cases.  The DIG of Saharanpur has reportedly advised the father of a kidnapped girl to murder his daughter to restore his family honor if she has eloped with somebody. And for good measure to kill himself too.

This is what he allegedly said: 'I don't have magical power to recover your daughter. But if your daughter has eloped then you should be ashamed of it and end your life. I would have committed suicide or killed my sister if she had eloped.' As far as the DIG is concerned, a daughter who is missing from her father’s home is better off dead, since she has lost her 'honor' and brought ruin upon the family name.

Those of us who swear by the sanctity of the Ramayana and think that Ram is the ultimate maryada purshottam will of course agree wholeheartedly, since Ram himself had made Sita walk through fire to test her 'purity' after she had been kidnapped. The DIG, no doubt a devout man, is simply voicing his traditional beliefs, no matter how repugnant in this day and age.

And what is a mere DIG when learned judges, eminently more qualified, take recourse to the same belief system.  While hearing a divorce petition filed by a man on ground that his wife is unwilling to relocate to his new place of work, the division bench of the Bombay High Court observed that married women should take a cue from goddess Sita, who followed her husband Lord Ram even during his exile. On earlier occasions we have also come across instances of judges advising rape victims to get married to their rapists expressing the hope that this will somehow sanctify their relationship and 'restore' the woman’s honor.

That these two incidents have happened so close together is not coincidental; it is a symptom of the wave of orthodoxy and regression running through the country that blurs the line between personal belief and the letter of the law, between the temporal and secular and the religious. It is not that this trend has gone unnoticed in the legal fraternity.

On 12 March, last year while addressing the legal fraternity during the Justice P D Desai Memorial Lecture on ‘Constitutional ethical values’ at Tagore hall in Ahmedabad the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of India S H Kapadia, advised the sitting Judges not to pass comments on social situations beyond those in the legal principles enshrined in the Constitution. He also opined that sometimes Judges tries to impose their own values, own perceptions, likes and dislikes on society.

And more recently this year at the Justice Y V Chandrachud lecture series 2012, Supreme Court justice B S Chauhan said, 'Future lawyers need to equip themselves with knowledge and information if they want to deal with complaints relating to human rights violations.'

The sensitivity required to deal with human rights cannot be derived from the Laws of Manu, nor hoary interpretations of the mythologies. They emanate from the secular framework of jurisprudence as laid down in the Constitution. Our law enforcers and those who pass judgment would be well advised not to bring their ancient baggage of prejudice and bigotry to work.

Gautam Benegal is a writer, film maker and cartoonist.
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