Chief Justice of India Tirath Singh Thakur on Sunday called the raging row over rising intolerance in the country a “matter of perception” and assured people that they need not worry because judiciary was there to uphold the rule of law.
The newly-appointed CJI, in an informal interaction with journalists, said the judiciary will protect people’s rights, though intolerance might have triggered a political debate.
“Yeh sab perception ki batein hain. Jab tak judiciary independent hai, koi baat ki dar nahi honi chahiye (These are all matters of perception. As long as the judiciary is independent, one should not be afraid of anything),”? said Justice Thakur, who took over as the 43rd CJI on December 3.
He pointed to political aspects or “siyasi pahlu” in the intolerance controversy, but refused to elaborate. “As long as rule of law is there, as long as there is an independent judiciary and as long as courts are upholding the rights and obligations, I do not think anyone has to fear for anything.”
His remarks came at a time of heightened tension between the BJP-led NDA government and the Opposition, which has been disrupting this winter session of Parliament over incidents of intolerance such as the murder of rationalists for their independent views on social and religious matters and the lynching of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly slaughtering a cow.
Justice Thakur said he was not referring to any particular incident, but asserted that India has been home to all religions and even those who were persecuted in other countries have thrived here.
“Itna badha desh hai, kuchh awaaj to uththi hai (It is such a big country. Some discordant notes will be there),” he said.
At the same time, he assured there should be no fear to any section of society. “Our Constitution has given rights not only to the citizens but also to foreigners, who too cannot be hanged without being heard and tried in conformity of law.”
Justice Thakur said the top court will protect people’s rights. “My institution is capable of upholding the rights of citizens.”
To a question on why courts weren’t taking cognizance of recent murders of writers, he said: “An order of the Supreme Court or high court cannot stop. People need to be educated of the benefits of living in an inclusive society.”
The BJP, facing flak even abroad for the growing religious prejudice in the country, leaned on the CJI’s comments to call intolerance a manufactured debate.
“Whatever the Chief Justice has said is absolutely right. There is no intolerance in the country. Some people want to divert the issue of development by raising intolerance,” party leader Shahnawaz Hussain told ANI.
Justice Thakur also made it clear that as the CJI he would not tolerate “inappropriate behaviour” of sitting judges. “The system must react to what is not acceptable and not remain quiet over it,” he said. Recently, a judge revolted against the Madras high court chief justice.