“Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker i.e. the democracy, may burst”, this is what honourable judge of the Supreme Court D.Y. Chandrachud had said in August 2018. Well, the applicability of this statement in judicial sphere remains exposed in the light of the recent series of contempt cases initiated against stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra and earlier against noted lawyer turned activist Prashant Bhushan for scandalizing the apex court.
On one hand, the court stands up for the freedom of speech and expression of selected journalists like Arnab Goswami against the Maharashtra government but on the other, it stifles criticism against itself. One may argue dissent and contempt to be two different words which cannot be equated but contempt happens when a person willfully disobeys a court order (civil contempt) or when they say or do anything that scandalizes, prejudices, or interferes with judicial proceedings and the administration of justice (criminal contempt; what constitutes ‘scandalising’ is undefined in the act though, leaving it up to the judges to interpret).
So what? Shouldn’t the court ensure that its credibility be maintained in the eyes of the general public? Of course, yes.
The onus of establishing trust and respect in the eyes of people needs to be on judiciary itself by pronouncing unbiased judgments based on facts and not on the popular demands as has appeared in the casual attitude of the top court in hearing PILs on significant issues like the constitutionality of annulment of Article 370, arbitrary detention of journalists like Siddique Kappan under draconian Unlawful Activities and Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA).
Why is everyone talking about bail for Siddique Kappan? There should be a demand for withdrawal of all charges & outright acquittal. An unarmed journalist is ON HIS WAY to Hathras & he's charged under terror law for INTENT to cause riots in Hathras. WTF does that even mean. https://t.co/Es5Rajtn9l
— Nikhil (@Nikhilreturns) November 17, 2020
While Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s concern for personal liberty is appreciable, the constitutional guarantee of equality before the law to each and every citizen of India appears compromised. At a time when bail pleas of journalists like Mr Kappan, human rights activists like 80-years old Varavara Rao and Sudha Bharadwaj are being rejected time and again despite their deteriorating health conditions, Arnab Goswami roams free within a week of the arrest.
Bail must be the rule for all. Sudha Bharadwaj, Stan Swamy, Varavara Rao, Umar Khalid, Teltumbde… The list is so long and they have been in jail so long, many of them old and ill. They don't have the Home Minister fighting for their release. https://t.co/WzbPOErb4I
— Vaishna Roy (@vaishnaroy) November 8, 2020
This highlights the gulf in access to justice between ‘privileged’ and ‘not-so-privileged’ citizens of the country.
An Arnab Goswami having the support of the establishment gets bail within a week while 84-years old Fr. Stan Swamy, a patient of Parkinson’s disease, is told to wait for 20 days to get a straw and sipper as his hands shake while holding glass due to the ailment. It is in this backdrop that one needs to see the tweets of the political satirist.
Varavara Rao is wearing a catheter and a urine bag and is suffering from dementia. He is 80 years old and has been denied bail. Try and tell me that we’re living in an equitable democracy
— Ajay Kamath (@ajay43) November 13, 2020
As the SC is all set to initiate the contempt proceedings against Kamra post-Attorney-general KK Venugopal’s approval, it will be interesting to see how the top court reacts especially when Justice Chandrachud, while granting bail to Arnab pointed out that although he may not watch his channel, the court is committed to securing his personal liberties.
J. Chandrachud: We are travelling through the path of destruction of liberty. You may not like his (Arnab) ideology. Left to myself, I will not watch his channel. But citizen is sent to jail, if HCs don't grant bail. We have to send a strong message
— Krishnadas Rajagopal (@kdrajagopal) November 11, 2020
Drawing parallels from the same, can we expect SC to remain as open to freedom of speech and expression in Kunal’s case as it claimed earlier? Will the court ignore its own criticism and acquit Mr Kamra? Certainly, this case will set precedents in the times when every other person has a smartphone and is putting up their opinions freely. Will SC stand by its own judge’s remark regarding dissent cited above or will quell its own criticism even if it is constructive?