Justice and Power

The quest for justice is a slippery slope. We think it is something to be administered in courts by wise judges who listen to arguments presented by learned advocates. The truth however is far more complicated – as can be seen from the vehement public outcry against the Supreme Court judgment allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple.

At one level, women have been given the justice they sought. The court delivered a judgment based on the constitutionally guaranteed right of gender equality. In a dissenting judgment however, Justice Indu Malhotra speculated on the wisdom of the courts in getting involved in matters of faith and religion. Opining that these matters ought to be resolved through dialogue and community consensus, she warned that there could be unforeseen consequences.

Sure enough, within days of the Sabarimala judgment, someone from the Muslim community approached the courts asking that courts direct mosques to admit women. Women from other religious communities could come up with instances of discrimination – real or imagined and drag the matter to court. And therein lies the dilemma.

Religious traditions and practices have been in place for centuries and in general have broad public acceptance. How can these be resolved by judges who may not be fully conversant with the practices involved or the finer nuances of tradition and custom that make up the social fabric?

Religion is in fact, a great example of how those who control power structures deny rights to those who most want it in the name of preserving ‘social’ fabric and continuity.  When a progressive judgment is delivered, they seek to subvert it by mobilizing masses and appealing to their baser instincts, like the desire to be one up over their neighbour. The administration of justice therefore is rendered impotent in the face of raw muscle power.

Therefore, even though the desire to do justice by all lies at the heart of it, the true achievement of it still remains a distant dream.

Shantanu Dutta


pc: Richi Choraria

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