Soli J Sorabjee Former Attorney-General of India
Dissent Under Threat: The premeditated murder of Gauri Lankesh, an activist, and the abject failure of the authorities to nab the assailants disclose a disturbing trend that dissent and dissenters are under mortal threat. Gauri Lankesh is not a solitary instance. The recent cases of murder of M M Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare coupled with the fact that we still do not know who killed them, is perturbing. The offer of `10 lakh by the Karnataka government for information about those who killed Gauri is a joke and magnifies the failure of the concerned authorities. It gives rise to suspicion that the authorities are not keen on protecting dissenting critics of the establishment. What is needed is a fundamental change in the mindset of the authorities and also that of society.
The notion that a dissenting critic is a mischievous lawbreaker or an anti-national or an unpatriotic person must be eradicated. Remember the memorable words of eminent American jurist Benjamin Cardozo: “The dissenter speaks to the future, and his voice is pitched to a key that will carry through the years and for the moment, he is the gladiator making a last stand against the lions.” Remember also that but for the bold dissenters the scourge of Sati and other social evils would be still haunting us. One need not accept the dissenter’s views. They can be rebutted in a dialogue.
It is alleged that Gauri was a vehement anti-Hindutva person. She was called a Naxal sympathiser, a Hind-hater. But however strong her views, they posed no threat to those she opposed. The crux of the matter is that dissenting views cannot be silenced by the bullet of a gun. We should respect dissenters for their courage because by doing so we shall in effect be preserving and strengthening our democracy whose salient feature is tolerance.According to Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, “It is our Constitutional duty to protect and strengthen the culture of tolerance.” Let there be no delay in performance of this duty.
Novel Judicial Notions of Cruelty: Cruelty has no definite connotation and signifies different situations to different people. Cruelty can be physical or mental or emotional. Physical cruelty in the shape of beatings and bodily assaults can be easily determined. Mental or emotional cruelty has a strong subjective element, but nonetheless can be determined on account of a combination of factors. For example, abusing or insulting or ridiculing your spouse.
A new twist has been given to the notion of cruelty by a family court in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district, which ruled that having no toilet at home is cruelty to women, and on that ground granted the wife a divorce. Sympathetic Justice Rajendra Sharma observed in the judgment: “It is an irony that people who spend a lot of money on alcohol, tobacco and mobile phones don’t have toilets at home.” The court also asked the petitioner’s in-laws to provide evidence of a toilet in their house, which they failed to furnish, and which constrained the wife to live at her parent’s house. It is hoped that the judgment leads to construction of toilets at homes, which would prevent the ignominy of women defecating in the open, and also protect her privacy while discharging a natural physical function.
Rodent Power in Bihar: The flood situation in Bihar is grim. It seems that the main culprits for this calamity are rats. Bihar Water Resources Department minister blamed the rodents for damaging embankments, which ultimately led to flooding in the nearby areas. According to the minister, rats create holes to reach the grains and that causes seepage in the embankments. The minister’s statement led Lalu Prasad Yadav on Twitter to take a dig at the government. “Incredible! Do you know Bihar floods have come due to rats? No? Then find out. Nitish will tell how rats have brought flood in Bihar.” Frankly, I for one did not know the power of the rats in the state of Bihar. But Bihar is sui generis. Nothing which happens in the state should be surprising. It is hoped that rodent power, or rather menace, is eliminated before the flood situation worsens.