Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

S Gurumurthy: Will the `secular' media heed Justice Reddy's warning? -

Friday January 14 2005

S Gurumurthy

Finally, the highest court intervened in the Shankaracharya case effectively, and soothingly too. The media had to highlight the Supreme Court judgment, and did it well too.

But it kept out of print an earlier and profound judgment of the Andhra Pradesh High Court on the very Shankaracharya issue. Since the High Court had indicted the `secular' media, the judgment was effectively censored by the media, understandably. The Shankaracharya was arrested at Mehboobnagar in Andhra Pradesh where he was camping at a textile mill premises. With his arrest, commenced an unprecedented avalanche of yellow journalism in all media. Two leading newspapers of Andhra Pradesh published a series of articles linking the acharya's name to the death of two young girls in the mill premises.

When? Some six years back. The media reports were to this effect: ``No action was taken by the police. Relatives of the management were involved. Also, at the same time, Jayendra Saraswati came to the mill and performed pujas and yagnas. There were rumours that the girls were killed as `bali' (sacrifice).''

The media also foretold that the labour union would file a writ petition in the High Court. And, indeed, it was filed forthwith. The High Court found the press clippings of the `secular' media as the material basis for the writ plea.

Justice Narasimha Reddy, before whom the petition came up, asked the counsel for the petitioner what was the basis for referring to Jayendra Saraswati in the writ petition. The counsel apologised and agreed to delete a part of the writ plea. Still, the court found the acharya's name elsewhere. This forced the petitioner's counsel to further apologise and also ask for the court's permission to withdraw the petition.

The court did allow him to withdraw the petition, but not before declaring what is `dharma'. But neither the withdrawal of the writ petition nor how Justice Narasimha Reddy gently and with great dignity reprimanded the media and wisely counselled them as to their dharma found place in print. Why did the media suppress it? Read on.

Justice Reddy says that the ``only provocation for the petitioner appears to be the recent unfortunate happenings in relation to a seer'' of Kanchi mutt. The judge describes the Matt as ``an ancient, prestigious, glorious and reputed institution with almost 2500 years' history.'' He says that the petitioner was `swayed' by the media and ``did not want to lag behind in the unprecedented process of denigration of the religious institution.'' That is, the denigrating petition was provoked by the media.

The judge says further it is ``sad and sorrowful that an institution of such glory that withstood foreign invasions and social revolutions'' over the past 2500 years ``is virtually targeted and persecuted in an organised manner in an independent country.''

Who are all involved in the process of denigration? Justice Reddy answers. ``Not only individuals, but also a section of the institutions, such as the State and the Press, appears to be determined to belittle and besmirch the Peetam.'' Justice Reddy also says ``the role of courts, though indirect, is by no means insignificant.''

He notes that ``the proponents of human rights, fair play and dignity to the individuals and institutions have maintained stoic silence.'' He goes on to say that ``a powerful section is celebrating it or watching it with indifference.'' Justice Reddy says this `perfidy' against the mutt has `shocked' the country and beyond.

The judge says that in every country `certain institutions', like the Kanchi mutt, constitute `their conscience and pride' and irrespective of the form of government, `they are respected and revered'. What should be done when aberrations occur in such revered institution? Says the judge, ``Wise and prudent men make all attempts to address them in isolation and try to protect the institution,'' and unwise and short-sighted men ``protect the system, not the institution.''

By this short-sighted approach in the long run, the society will head toward self-destruction. The situation will be more serious ``when the targeted institution is the conscious-keeper of the country,'' warned Justice Reddy.

Then Justice Reddy alludes to the sensitive subject of the judiciary itself. He recalls that some time ago, the Chief Justice of India said that the `reputation' of a `considerable number of judges' is `not above board'. He says that it is `a matter of concern for everyone', but that can never ``constitute a justification to denounce the judiciary as a whole.''

He says, ``the amount of disrepute and sacrilege inflicted upon Sri Jayendra Saraswati, as of now, is so enormous that it has hardly any comparables,'' adding that ``harshest possible words were used directly or in innuendo'' against him. ``Today he is subjected to similar treatment as was Draupati in the court of Kauravas.'' The ``importance of spiritual institutions can by no means be underestimated'' in `building and shaping' a `country' or `society', the judge added.

On the expression ``law taking its course'' which has gained considerable currency these days, Justice Reddy says, ``with due respect, it is not true at least in part.'' For this to be true, says the judge, ``the prosecuting agency should present the case honestly, the witnesses depose truly, the provisions of the law are clear, and the adjudicator is efficient and honest.''

If the prosecution depends on the ``whims of the agency or the government of the day, if the law is framed keeping certain individuals in view, if the witnesses keep changing their versions and if the adjudicator is not up to expected standards, the law will not take its own course, ''the judge courageously pointed out. ``The way in which the cases are foisted or withdrawn, particularly with the change of governments,'' and ``the manner in which the witnesses come forward with conflicting versions'' illustrate why law will not take its own course.

Emphasising the role of the media in criminal justice, the judge says ``in recent times, the freedom of the prosecuting agency and that of the courts in dealing with the cases before them freely and objectively has been substantially eroded by the overactive and pro-active stances in the presentations made by the print and electronic media. Of late, Justice Reddy points out, it has assumed dangerous proportions.

The freedom of expression is, he says, ``subject to gross misuse.'' Pointing out how the petition against the acharya was a product of press clippings, Justice Reddy says that it ``indicates the miserable levels to which the glorious profession of journalism has been brought to.''

At one stage, Justice Reddy says, the court thought of issuing notices to the newspapers and the TV channels. But thinking that if proper message is conveyed, effective results can be expected, it was not pursued, says the judge. But warned Justice Reddy, ``If they still pursue the same path, the day would not be too far when they would be shown their place in the society.''

Understand why the `secular' media have not spoken a word about Justice Reddy? Because, it would shame them. That is the reason why. Will the `secular' media heed Justice Reddy's warning, at least in future? Whether it does or not, Justice Reddy's judgment should be embossed in gold.

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