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India: Judiciary makes history with three vital verdicts

India: Judiciary makes history with three vital verdicts

Triple Talaq being abolished and the Right to Privacy being established as fundamental right and the sentencing of a well-connected godman in a rape case Three back-to-back verdicts  in a week add new feathers to the Indian judiciary’s cap
It isn’t a cricket match or a major election or a mysterious
braid-chopping force that has caught the country’s attention this time. In fact it is a hat-rick by the Indian judiciary — three substantive judgements delivered in a single week last month, two
of them by the apex court — that made headlines one after the other and stirred public debate.
The three verdicts — triple talaq being abolished and the Right to Privacy being established as a fundamental right by two separate Constitution benches of the Supreme Court and the conviction and sentencing of notorious godman Gurpreet Ram Rahim Singh in a rape case by a Special CBI court — hold enormous significance as they give out strong messages and have far-reaching consequences.
The Special CBI court in Rohtak that held Gurmeet Singh, head of the Sirsa-headquartered Dera Sacha Sauda sect, guilty of raping two young women who were his ardent worshipers fifteen years after the complaint was filed has set a much-needed precedent for self-styled godmen who are often corrupted by power and wealth and end up exploiting their blind followers. The case is reminiscent of that of Asaram who was once highly revered as a ‘saint’ and is now languishing in jail for sexually assaulting a minor girl.

The convictions of both these so-called gurus should serve as an eye-opener for millions of people in our country, both the rich and the poor, the educated as well as the barely literate, who follow one spiritual leader or another in the name of religious tradition and end up losing their rationality and common sense to blind faith. It need not be true that there are no real gurus or saints in our country; the fact is that religion is considered a lucrative industry. Those with good PR skills can set themselves up as businessmen and carry out the trade of religion and spirituality by cashing in on people’s hopes, aspirations, insecurities and emotions and eventually duping them.

The violence and hooliganism in Punjab, Haryana and parts of the adjoining states soon after Singh’s conviction was pronounced point to the lack of regard for the rule of law by his naive followers and to how easy it is to brainwash the masses in the name of God. This wasn’t very surprising in a country where riots often break out on the pretext of saving one’s religion and the sanctity of a temple or a mosque and the life of a cow are considered more precious than human lives. What was appalling here was the state’s deliberate inaction in controlling the arson.

As rightly pointed out by the Punjab and Haryana high court, weapons and ammunition were being stored at Dera premises for a week before the judgement was scheduled to be pronounced. Despite being aware of the mass mobilisation of people with the intent of generating trouble in the event of an unfavourable verdict, the Haryana government took no preventive action. Blame for abdication of responsibility falls directly on Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar who is also the state’s Home Minister. However, he has been protected because he is a mere puppet in the hands of the Central government that itself is run by merely two persons, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his protege Amit Shah, who have consolidated all power in their own hands by showing blatant disregard for the hierarchical order of functioning of a democratically elected government. It was only after the Central and Haryana governments were strongly rebuked by a three-judge bench of the high court that had to remind our PM and state chief minister of their duties towards the nation that coercive action was taken against the trouble-makers and violence was finally controlled.
Ironically, the Dera sect had empowered the lower castes among Sikhs and Hindus which became the reason behind its rise to such an enormous stature. The Dera’s exploits were facilitated by caste politics, an unfortunate reality in our country, that has been feeding off a vicious cycle of using the backward castes for political gains by showing them the bait of progress and then leaving them in the lurch.

Another very significant aspect of this verdict is that it has vindicated the lone warrior in our judicial system who stands against all odds and fights for justice for several years, just like they show in the movies. In this case, a wronged sadhvi wrote a letter to then Prime Minister Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other authorities in 2002 narrating how she was raped by the Dera leader and how several other women followers were sexually exploited by him. This woman and another sadhvi were the only two women who gathered the strength to come forward and help the investigation. Their courage and resilience is no mean feat. What these two women have achieved despite tremendous political and societal pressure not only provides solace to every other female who has been abused by Singh but is also an example for the many other women and men who have been wronged by powerful persons and are too afraid to speak up. The two women along with the investigators and the Special CBI court have reinstalled the faith of the common man in the criminal justice system.

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