A troubling account of prejudice in court
I have always believed judges are rational, objective, balanced, and fair. Their judgments, I would say, are thoughtful. This is why we accept their pronouncements even when they go against us. But the arguments recently put forward by a judge of the Allahabad High Court (HC) have rudely shaken my assumptions. In fact, it’s shattered them.
Rejecting the bail petition of a man booked under the Uttar Pradesh Cow Slaughter Act, Justice Shekhar Kumar Yadav delivered a series of opinions that smack of prejudice and ignorance. Here’s a flavour of what he said. Read on and then judge for yourself.
“The cow must be declared [a] national animal and protection of cows must be a fundamental right of Hindus.” That, I presume, is the core of his thinking. Justice Yadav then adds “the right to eat beef can never be considered a fundamental right.” Why, you might ask? The judge does not explain. You get the feeling this is the personal view of a devout cow-worshipping Hindu being imposed upon a secular country, and in a case where the bail petition was filed by a Muslim.
However, Justice Yadav’s arguments go considerably further. “You can’t take away life for the taste buds of a few.” But if that’s the case, isn’t this grounds for making any form of meat-eating unconstitutional? The judge doesn’t go so far but he, nonetheless, adds “the right to life is higher than the right to kill”: That sounds like another assertion of the moral superiority of vegetarianism.
The judge’s mind, however, is singularly focused on beef. “Eating cow meat can never be a fundamental right.” Why? He doesn’t say. But, once again, what you hear is a Hindu voice, not a judicial one.
Beyond the prejudice and lack of objectivity, the judge also said things he simply doesn’t know the truth about and clearly is not authorised to proclaim. “Scientists believe that the cow is the only animal that inhales oxygen and exhales oxygen too.” For a start, scientists don’t. More importantly, all breathing creatures inhale and exhale some oxygen. For example, exhaled human breath contains 78% nitrogen, 16% oxygen and 4% carbon dioxide. The rest are minor gases such as acetone and ethanol and other compounds.
Elsewhere, Justice Yadav claims “Jesus Christ said that killing a cow or ox is like killing a human.” Did he? If he did, few Christians heard him and none seem to remember!
The judge also claims that “as per Hindu religion there are 33 Gods and Goddesses which reside in the cow”. Now, I’m not an authority on Hinduism and so I won’t dispute this, but I’ve never heard this said by anyone else. Perhaps as a metaphor, but as a fact?
For me, the worst part is the unsubtle admonition in his judgment. “If today also we don’t become alert”, Justice Yadav warns, “then the example of [the] Taliban taking over Afghanistan is in front of us and we should not forget it.” What is he trying to say? Is he suggesting that India’s Muslims — in every way equal citizens alongside its Hindus — are the equivalent of the Taliban? And why, again, is this part of a ruling on a bail petition?
Can you now understand why the judge’s arguments have shaken my belief in the Allahabad HC’s commitment to justice? Javed, the petitioner, hasn’t responded, but in his place, I would be shattered.
There’s only one thing that’s, arguably, more troubling. Why are Justice Yadav’s peers — leave aside his superiors in the Supreme Court — silent? I realise they can’t pronounce judicially until there’s a case before them. But judges have ways of making their opinions known. There are occasions when they’ve used felicitations and lectures to cross swords with the government. In this case, as far as I know, not a single judge — retired or serving — has had anything to say.
Finally, there are times when silence speaks louder than a Tower of Babel or, even, a cacophony. Is this one such?
Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
The views expressed are personal
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