One Judiciary, Two Judgments

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By R. Raj Rao

LAST week, I wrote about journalist Arnab Goswami’s arrest by the Mumbai Police in a suicide abetment case, and his failure to be given bail by the Bombay High Court.

A day later, however, Goswami was granted bail by the Supreme Court and released from the Taloja Jail where he was lodged. Following Goswami’s release, his channel, Republic TV, made him out to be a veritable hero and gave him a homecoming worthy of a prodigal son, though unlike the prodigal son in one of Jesus Christ’s parables, Goswami was hardly repentant for any of his actions. If anything, he and his cronies appeared on his channel the very next day with renewed arrogance.

Lodged in the same Taloja Jail as Goswami is 80-year-old ailing Telugu poet Varavara Rao who was arrested in what has come to be known as the Bhima-Koregaon case. This refers to a riot that broke out in a village named Bhima-Koregaon, near Pune where I live, on 1st January 2018, during a celebratory event that was held to mark the 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle, in which the upper-caste Peshwas and the British were defeated by the lower caste Dalits. Varavara Rao along with some of his communist comrades like Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira and Hany Babu, all were accused by the Pune Police of triggering the riot. They have been branded as ‘Urban Naxals’ and are in jail without trial ever since, although there is no evidence to link them to the violence.

Varavara Rao is very sick. He tested positive for Covid 19 at the same time as actor Amitabh Bachchan in July this year, and in fact was in the same Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai as Amitabh Bachchan. But after treatment, Varavara Rao was sent back to jail.

On the very day that Goswami was granted bail by the Supreme Court, Varavara Rao was once again refused bail by the Bombay High Court, his medical condition notwithstanding. This is patently unfair. However, the thing about court judgments in India, unlike court judgments in the UK and US, is that one cannot pass adverse comments on them without being held for contempt of court.

This is exactly what Goswami’s bête noire, stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra did. He tweeted against the judgment, parodying the two judges who delivered it. Contempt charges were immediately levelled against him.

A few months ago, similar contempt charges were levelled against Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan for passing critical comments on Twitter against the office of the Chief Justice of India. Bhushan got away by paying a nominal fine of a rupee, and this was like the one day jail sentence awarded to writer Arundhati Roy for questioning a Supreme Court judgment. But Kamra, it is possible, will not be so lucky. After all, as I pointed out in my previous article, many airlines imposed a six-month embargo on Kamra for heckling Arnab Goswami on a Mumbai-Lucknow Indigo flight. Could they have received orders to do so from the Civil Aviation Ministry?

Justice Krishna Iyer has famously said that “Bail should be the rule, and jail should be the exception.” If one goes by this rule, and compares the arrests of Arnab Goswami on the one hand, and Varavara Rao and his colleagues on the other, one comes to the conclusion that rule is selectively applied in India today. What is ironic is that in the case of Varavara Rao and the others, the Pune Police have been unable to furnish evidence that connects them to the Bhima-Koregaon riot. Whereas in Arnab Goswami’s case, evidence that architect Anvay Naik ended his life on account of the financial loss of Rs. 83 lakhs that he suffered at the hands of Goswami exists in the form of a suicide note that he left behind, in which he actually names Goswami. Still, today it is Arnab Goswami who is out of jail, while Varavara Rao and his colleagues are behind bars. This is a shame.

Goswami’s release also invites us to spare a thought for the bereaved family of Anvay Naik. From their point of view, it is as if justice in India is merely for the high and mighty, while ordinary citizens are doomed to suffer injustice. To Naik’s daughter, whose hopes of bringing justice to her dead father were revived when she met the DIG, and the Mumbai Police reopened the case that had been closed during the reign of the Fadnavis government, Goswami’s bail must come across as insensitive.

Likewise, continual refusal of bail to Varavara Rao, without regard to his age and his health, must seem insensitive to his wife and children. They must painfully wonder whether they are ever likely to see their beloved husband and beloved father alive, or whether some day news of his death might reach them through a dreaded telephone call.

Yet neither Anvay Naik’s nor Varavara Rao’s families, and the families of others arrested in the Bhima-Koregaon case, as well as the families of hundreds of Kashmiris who are in jail without trial since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, can express their displeasure with their respective court judgments, which are invariably against their favour, for fear of being held for contempt of court.

I would like to end this article with a poem by Varavara Rao, translated from the Telugu by Maithri and me:

BLOOD FOR LIGHT

A freedom-seeker is always in jail.

The coloniser won’t sleep

before putting an innocent

In shackles.

Only in nightmares

Do the echoes of the oppressed

Resound.

Boundless thoughts

Are wound by steel chains.

The warriors who tread the path of pain

Become lamp posts

That light the path

To revolution.

Views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect that of Kashmir Observer

  • Dr. R. Raj Rao is an internationally known Indian English novelist, poet and critic. He was Professor and Head of the Department of English at the University of Pune in Maharashtra. He has also been a Visiting Professor at universities in Canada and Germany

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