Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Subhro Kamal Mukherjee is a man who proudly wears his belief on his forehead. While that might be his personal choice, what is problematic is that he expresses his religious affinity with as much pride without bothering about his esteemed position as a dispenser of justice according to a secular constitution.
In July this year, Mr. Mukherjee visited Udupi on the invite of Pejavara Swamy who is one of the founding members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishat. That day Mr. Mukherjee did all the things that a Brahmin devotee of the Krishna Temple does: took off his shirt before visiting the temple, with the rudhrakshi mala dangling around his neck he peeped piously through the Kanakana Kindi at the idol inside, did namaskara to Krishna with precious gems adorning eight of his ten fingers.
Later that day, after receiving an award titled 'Shri Rama Krishna Vittala Anugraha Prashasti' from Pejavara swamy, Mr. Mukherjee said ''we are proud to say we are all Hindus. But our points of view are not the same. Since all of us desire 'Moksha' why should there be infighting amongst us? Though majority of us are Hindus, it has not been possible for us to build a temple and install the idol of Rama inside it. That is why I pray that all Hindu saints should come together to build the Rama temple at Ayodhya. All Hindu saints should come together to protect Hindu dharma.'' Had the likes of Yogi Adithyanath, Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Prachi or even Praveen Togadia uttered such words no one would have been surprised. But the fact that the Chief Justice of Karnataka should utter such words shocked many. Unfortunately, this incident was reported only in a couple of Kannada dailies and that too in local editions.
(Photo credit: Vishveshvani)
When the petition seeking a halt to Tipu Jayanti celebrations in Kodugu district came up before Mr. Mukherjee last week, those present in the courtroom say he was extremely dismissive in this physical attitude. News reports said that while the public counsel M.R. Naik defended Tipu as a great warrior who fought against the British, Mr. Mukherjee orally observed, "As far as my knowledge of history goes, he (Tipu) was not a freedom fighter, but a ruler of a princely state. What is the logic behind celebrating Tipu Jayanti?''
Will someone bring to the notice of his esteemed lordship that even Rani Chennamma of Kittur is considered a heroine of the freedom movement since she fought against the Brits? More than a dozen statues of her adorn various parts of the state. There is even one statue of Rani Chennamma at the Parliament complex in New Delhi. We even have schools named after her. The fly over being constructed in Bengaluru near Deve Gowda petrol bunk will also be named after her. Yet, will Mr. Mukherjee say ''As far as I know she was a queen who fought against the British because of the doctrine of lapse. She would not have fought if she had been allowed to adopt a son!''
Let's take the case of Sangolli Rayanna. After Rani Chennamma was jailed by the British, Rayanna, who was the chief of the Kittur army, fought guerilla warfare against the British inflicting serious damage. The Brits were at their wits end not knowing how to catch this daredevil soldier. Finally, they hatched a plot with some of his aides and arrested him when he was disarmed and bathing. In order to quell further trouble the British publicly hanged Rayanna. Even today, Rayanna is celebrated in folk songs in the northern districts of the state. Recently, a life size bronze statue of Rayanna astride a horse with an open sword in one hand was installed near the Bengaluru railway station which was even renamed after him. Will Mr. Mukherjee dismiss even Rayanna as a mere soldier who tried to protect the interests of his masters?
As Chikka Thimmegowda has questioned on his Facebook wall, ''what will our high court make of Rani Abbakka, Jhansi Rani Lakshmibai, Tatya Tope, Nana Saheb and others who also fought against the British? Will it refuse to call them freedom fighters and instead label them as mere monarchs who fought to save their kingdoms?''
No one expects judges to be experts on all things under the sun. This is especially true when it comes to historicity of facts. When highly sensitive issues come before them it would be wise of judges to hand the matter over to a committee of experts.
Anyways, in a democracy the judiciary is expected to be independent of not just the legislative and the executive, it should also be independent of social biases. Judges are expected to serve justice by giving stress to the spirit of the Constitution of India. It is their duty to look into the illegality, irrationality and procedural impropriety of the cases before them and subject the same to the litmus test of constitutional validity.
A judge who says since most Indians are Hindus, Hindu saints should ensure a temple is built to a mythical god at a disputed place fails miserably when he displays his biases blatantly.
Gauri Lankesh is an activist-journalist.