Dalits flag low representation

The Supreme Court's arrest order against Justice C.S. Karnan of Calcutta High Court has galvanised a movement, bringing together scholars and lawyers from the Dalit community in support of the beleaguered judge.

By Basant Kumar Mohanty
  • Published 12.05.17
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New Delhi, May 11: The Supreme Court's arrest order against Justice C.S. Karnan of Calcutta High Court has galvanised a movement, bringing together scholars and lawyers from the Dalit community in support of the beleaguered judge.

Various students' groups within and outside India have started a campaign in favour of Justice Karnan through social media posts, articles and discussion forums.

The Calcutta judge has been awarded a six-month sentence for "contempt" over his failure to explain his serial allegations of corruption against various Madras High Court judges and an apex court judge last year.

Following the sentencing on Tuesday, a team from New Town police station had turned up at the housing estate where Justice Karnan lives but he had by then left to catch a flight to Chennai.

Supreme Court lawyer Nitin Meshram said that Justice Karnan had complained to the Prime Minister's Office about widespread corruption in the judicial system and named certain judges.

"The Prime Minister has the powers to institute an inquiry. That has so far not been done. Therefore, the question of contempt does not arise," he said.

Meshram argued that Calcutta High Court was not a subordinate court of the Supreme Court, and that both were independent courts. He said the judges of both courts were appointed by the President and could be removed only after Parliament passed an impeachment motion after an inquiry.

"Now, by implication, the Supreme Court has taken that power of Parliament away. The wider protection enjoyed by a high court judge has been defeated. This will affect the powers and the independence of the judiciary," he said.

Gurinder Azad, a Dalit researcher, said the actions against Karnan had revived the issue of the low representation of Dalit judges in the high courts and the apex court. None of the apex court's 31 judges is a Dalit, while the 19 high courts and their 10 benches have around 20 Dalit judges.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently told Parliament that the government had written to the Chief Justice of India to take voluntary measures to increase the representation of judges from all sections. There are now no caste reservations in higher judicial appointments.

Keshav Kumar, a philosophy professor at Delhi University, said delayed judgments were lowering the public's respect for the judiciary.

"Whether it is the Khairlanji (Maharashtra) massacre of Dalits in 2006 or the Tsundur (Andhra Pradesh) massacre of Dalits in 1991, justice is still awaited," Kumar said.

The Birsa Phule Ambedkar Students Association at JNU held a public meeting in "solidarity" with Justice Karnan yesterday. Veli Veda, an online platform run by Dalit scholars in Britain, published an article backing the judge.

Meshram cited how Britain had appointed more African-origin judges after a prod from a parliamentary committee in 2012.