Monday, April 20, 2009

Declaration of assets by judges

Pompeia was perhaps a terribly wronged woman. In 62 BC she hosted the festival of the Bona Dea ("good goddess"), to which no man was permitted to attend. However a young patrician named Publius Clodius Pulcher managed to gain admittance disguised as a woman, apparently for the purpose of seducing Pompeia. He was caught and prosecuted for sacrilege. Caesar gave no evidence against Clodius at his trial, and he was acquitted. Nevertheless, Caesar divorced Pompeia, saying that "my wife ought not to be even under suspicion." It almost seems judges’ turn now. Judges are under increasing pressure to declare their assets publicly on a lofty allusion to Caesar’s wife having to be beyond suspicion. The CIC verdict directing the Supreme Court judges to declare their assets has found widespread approbation and the attempt of the Supreme Court to reverse the verdict by filing a writ petition before the Delhi High Court has drawn flak from many a quarter.

Former Supreme Court judges, two of them who were themselves previously Chief Justices of India (CJIs) joined issues and said that transparency and probity dictated that the assets be declared voluntarily by judges. The present CJI said that there was no law requiring judges to make a declaration of assets to the public. To this was the response by some jurists: of what use is Right to Information Act, if we must keep adding several subjects which could not be accessed by public? According to them, the already excepted areas in RTI Act under section 8, such as matters involving national sovereignty, parliamentary privileges, etc., ought not to be enlarged.

Nearer home Sri Lanka passed Declaration of Assets and Liability Law (Act 1 of 1975) requiring judges, among others to declare their assets at the time of their appointments. Many of the African countries have passed such legislation in the recent years to quell widespread allegations of corruption in high constitutional offices. In India, although there is no such law, Supreme Court judges have been declaring their assets since 1997 to the CJI at the time of their appointment as an apex court judge and thereafter every year as per a resolution passed by the apex court on May 7, 1997. "The High Court judges may consider adopting a similar resolution in case it does not have a system of judges declaring their assets soon after the assumption of office and regularly updating the declaration made by them," said the CJI in his letter to High Court Chief Justices. The CJI wrote, "It is essential for an independent, strong and respected judiciary and indispensable for impartial administration of justice." He also called upon the High Court judges to adopt what is known as "restatement of values of judicial life" adopted by the apex court in another resolution earlier.

So what is the objection, if the statements made by judges to their respective Chief Justices are made public? Normally, it may not even sound civil to ask your own brother, sister or even a close friend about his or her financial details without offending his or her sensibilities and evoking a sense of embarrassment. Let us assume that that the attitude is never like a peeping Tom’s voyeuristic proclivities- in this case, however, not in a prurient form, to purvey what is in a judge’s wallet but rationalize it on the ground that the person who is entrusted with the task of judging other’s conduct is beyond reproach. Ask this question, what do you do after getting the details? Should a judge be answering everyone how he has got the wealth that he has declared? Imagine a judge enquiring into allegations of disproportionate wealth case of a bureaucrat. In the course of the proceedings, what if the litigant asks the judge, ‘how did you obtain your wealth, before asking me to explain my riches?’ It may not be a daily occurrence, but consider the mischief that the right to demand the assets statement of a judge could entail. Again, judges are not in the same league as politicians. It is precisely for this reason that the judge, who granted an order of stay of the CIC order, said that judges could not be treated like politicians and ordinary government servants. Politicians are elected by people; they have a right to know the financial antecedents. A corrupt politician may not be re-elected again, if the voter believes that the politician has been corrupt. Can anyone doubt the wisdom of the judgments of the Supreme Court in Union v Association for Democratic Reforms (2002) and PUCL v Union of India (2003), when they said that declaration of assets at the time of standing for election has become the necessity of the day because of statutory provisions of controlling widespread corrupt practices have become insufficient? Judges are not elected as are done in U.S.A. They cannot be removed by people.

What do you do with corrupt judges, do you ask? Without addressing the issues of the appointment and the removal procedures as they exist now, you cannot do anything. Shall we put the nominations for appointments of Supreme Court judges and of the High Court through discussions in the parliamentary select committees and of the respective State assemblies before they are taken on board, so that a full- fledged roving enquiry is made about the antecedents of a judge before he is appointed? A judge that is corrupt cannot be tried by his own brother judge or an ordinary magistrate, as any other public servant is tried, can he be? Judiciary ought to be institutions where normal litigations are fought, where a judge plays the role of an impartial arbiter. Can you parade a judge for dismissal from service before another judge? Let us evolve mechanisms within the judiciary itself to regulate its conduct. If the existing mechanism is perceived as not being successful in preventing corruption in the judiciary, let us evolve better procedures for their recruitment and removal. That will give us answer to who shall access the records of assets of judges.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The venerable footwear

On 14th December 2008, an Iraqi TV journalist, Muntadhar al-Zeidi hurled his shoe at President George Bush at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, saying that “this is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq. A few months later on March 12, 2009, he was awarded with a sentence of 3 years imprisonment. On March 20, 2009 a music teacher of Mumbai’s Boss School of Music at Vasai a northern suburb of Mumbai, facing an action for contempt for libelous publication against the judges of Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court further aggravated the contempt by hurling slipper against a judge hearing the case in the Supreme Court. The contempt case which was being heard was immediately disposed with punishment of 3 months’ jail term but the slipper throwing act has become now a fresh subject of contempt and the case is still pending. On 7th April 2009, Jarnail Singh, a Sikh journalist working for Dainik Jagran hurled his shoe at the Home Minister at a press conference, in expression of anger against CBI giving a clean chit to Jagdish Tytler for his suspected role of genocidal mayhem against Sikhs following Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

It was stated that in Iraqi culture, throwing shoes was a sign of contempt. Before the Supreme Court, the chappal throwing was itself done during the conduct of contempt proceedings. Is there again a doubt that the Sikh journalist had nothing except contempt when he found that CBI’s exoneration of the former minister for the unjustified violence against his community betrayed the untenability of its claim as a premier investigating agency?

Curiously, India, since the time of old, had different conception of foot, dust smeared on foot, footwear and touching the feet. Padma Padam, that is, Lotus feet, they were, when the allusion was to gods and saints. Padukas that they wore were themselves objects of worship. Falling at one’s foot or sitting by one’s foot or touching the feet of elders were respectful acts and occasions to receiving blessings from the persons whose feet were touched. V.Krishnamurthi has vividly brought out this theme in his extensively researched article on Gems from the Ocean of Hindu Thought

According to him, the Vasishnav tradition had a special significance in divine feet and sandals. Nammalvar, who glorified the Divine Feet of Narayana by the words, turarvaru chuddar adi (the flowing feet of the Lord which blast off all gloom and grief), was himself perceived as incarnated as Lord’s feet. The vertical line or lines worn by the orthodox devotees of Vishnu on their forehead was the symbol of Divine Foot. The Vishnu-Sahasranama has eka-pAd as one of His names and this glorifies the divine feet even more, for it means that the entire universe is part of his one foot. This resonates again with the statement in the Purushha-sUkta (which occurs both in the Rig Veda and the Yajur Veda): pado’sya vishvA bhUtAni, meaning, ‘All these beings emanated from His divine foot’. Vedanta Desika’s Paduka Sahasram was an inspired torrent of poetry in 1000 verses believed to have been composed on one night in praise of the sacred sandals on which the Lord’s lotus feet rest. He says in verse no. 108, ‘ Oh sandals, You are even more glorious than Rama whose glory pervades all the three worlds. For, if not, how did Bharata, who wanted only Rama, accept you as security for Rama’s return? He asks, ‘Is it not common knowledge that a thing accepted as security for money promised to be returned, must have a value greater than the money lent?’ In the Shri Vaishnava tradition, to purify oneself with the dust of the feet of the devotees by washing their feet with water and sprinkling that holy water on one’s head is considered such a sacred act that one of the 12 Alwars got his name toNDar-aDip-poDi-Alwar from the act of his which became a habit and routine with him once he changed his earlier sinning life to one of supreme devotion to the Lord and His devotees.

The Saivaites and Advaitins held similar notions on feet and sandals of holy persons. Divine Mother’s feet are glorified in the Lalita Sahasranama, nakha-dIdhiti-samchinna-namaj-jana-tamo-guNA -- ‘the bright rays emanating from Her toe nails dispel the darkness of Her worshippers’. In other words meditation on Her feet dispels ignorance – the ignorance that causes our bondage to the transmigratory cycle of births and deaths. Again, in a similar vein, Adi Sankara in verse no.4 of his Soundarya Lahari , praises the Divine Feet in superlative terms: ‘Oh Mother of the Universe. Deities other than You reveal their divine form by showing the abhaya-mudrA (Sign proclaiming ‘Have no Fear’) by their right hand and the vara-mudrA (Sign granting the desired boons) by their left hand. But You are holding four different objects in your hands and thus the hands do not show the mudras. Does it not mean that not only these but more will all be granted by your divine feet themselves? Earlier in second verse, Sankara glorifies the dust of the Mother’s Divine Feet. ‘Oh Mother of the Cosmos! I don’t need even Your Feet. Just a speck of dust from Your divine Feet is enough. Even the Creator BrahmA creates the fourteen worlds only with the strength of the divine dust collected by Him from under your feet. Mahavishnu sustains the whole world only because of the strength of the Dust of your divine feet. Lord Shiva wears it on His forehead as sacred vibhUti.’

Sankara himself is only a manifestation of Lord Shiva. The great cosmic dance of Shiva in the holy place of Chidambaram, includes in its esoteric interpretations, distinct meanings for the ‘raised foot of the divine’ --tUkkiya tiruvaDi, in Tamil – and ‘held foot of the divine’ --UnRiya tiruvaDi . The former grants the ultimate boon, namely, Mokshha and the latter performs what is called obliteration (tirodhAna -- disappearance, vanishing.), one of the five divine functions – creation, sustenance, dissolution, grace, and obliteration. Without this fifth function, obliteration, our sins can never be exhausted.

The Vedas themselves prostrate at the feet of the Divine Mother of the Universe. Lallitha Saasranama has a name which describes this in a poetically enjoyable way. The word ‘Shruti’ which stands for the Vedas, is feminine. When Shruti falls at the feet of the Mother, her head touches the divine feet. The dust of the divine feet is crimson in colour since the feet of the Mother is always painted that way – also to remind us of the fact millions of devotees have all the time been doing archanA to Her feet with Kunkum. The crimson dust sticks to the head of Lady Shruti exactly at the parting of the hair. Thus arises the name: Shruti-sImanta-sindhUrI-kRta-pAdAbja-dhUlikA meaning, the dust of whose lotus feet has crimson-coloured the parting of the hair on the head of Shruti. The dust of the divine feet on the head of Shruti is also an indication that even though Shruti may be of vast content and knowledge, Her knowledge of the Divine Mother is only a speck! The great work DurgA-sapta-shati eulogises the worshipping of young girls as manifestations of the Divine Mother and the wearing of the dust under their feet after the worship.

Great are the Divine Feet, greater is the dust under the Divine Feet but greatest is the pair of sandals of the divine feet – known as PAdukA. That is why in the Ramayana Bharata asks for the divine sandals from Rama after he fails to convince him to return to Ayodhya and resume his kingship. The sandals take the place of the Lord for fourteen years as the symbolic King under whose banner Bharata serves and discharges the kingly duties. While he reluctantly takes leave of Rama in the forest where he has gone to plead for his return, and finally gets only the sandals of the Divine instead of the Divine Himself, he puts them on his head and carries them back to the capital with all reverence. The joining together of the two extremities – the Feet of the Divine with the head of the devotee – is what is symbolised in the joining of the palms when one worships or bows in reverence. The right palm denotes the feet of the Divine and the left palm denotes the head of the devotee. This is the esoteric principle behind the joining of the palms.

Touching the feet of Elders or Saints is a unification of point of shraddha and karuna. Hear the Holiness of Kanchi Mutt, Sri Chandrasekara Saraswati speak: Will economic wealth give fullness to life? Certainly not. We have to seek spiritual wealth and with the help of that, regulate the pursuit for economic wealth. Vinaya is the only route to spiritual wealth. How do you get vinaya? Impelled with the basic desire to seek vinaya, seeking the saints and doing namaskara to them is the only way. This kriya will help rise, from what is already "basic"(latent, dormant, underlying) in us, a visible edifice. The timeless and enduring living tradition of this country has the power to convert and soften the most stubborn conceit and self-arrogation. If a little effort is forthcoming, in course of time, desirable changes in mentality will be felt.

Maybe, in all meetings where dignitaries attend and give speeches, there will be a rule to remove the footwear and enter inside. There is no guarantee still that the celebrity will be spared. Next, it could be a pen; a pencil, a sock or paper rolled as ball and if you can proscribe every object that could be used as an object to hurl, what will you do if someone spits? If dissent is the hallmark of democracy, how will visible expressions of anger that are uncivil wane? Banish all modern day weaponry; still wars would be fought with primitive weapons, with stones and sticks. Objects do not cause hostilities. It is all in the mind! Get back the mindset of our earlier times. Venerate the footwear!