The Judiciary’s inconsistency in matters of contentious issues has been an intensely debated topic in recent times. The Supreme Court’s judgments and comments in matters of free speech certainly highlight the urgent necessity for some major introspection.
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution declares that every citizen of the country shall be treated equally before the Law. However, often, the judgements of the courts in matters concerning Article 14 display glaring inconsistencies.
The latest instance which has sparked the debate is the case of Prashant Kanojia who was arrested for objectionable social media posts on Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath. In the case of Kanojia, whose release was ordered today, Justice Banerjee of the Supreme Court waxed eloquence on the virtues of personal liberty. She said, “Liberty is a guaranteed by the Constitution and the fundamental rights are sacrosanct and non-negotiable.”
Contrast this to the opinions of the same Justice in the matter of BJP Karyakarta Priyanka Sharma’s arrest by the West Bengal Police for sharing a meme that was a caricature of Mamata Banerjee. The esteemed Justice Banerjee had then opined that although Freedom of Expression was non-negotiable, it cannot infringe upon another person’s rights.
Moreover, the Supreme Court insisted that Sharma apologize to Mamata Banerjee for sharing the meme. Initially, it had even said that she could be granted bail only after she made an apology. The apology was later waived off as a necessary condition for bail. However, the point still stands, it appears Sharma and Kanojia have been treated quite differently.
It’s not the only instance where the Supreme Court’s inconsistent stand on Freedom of Expression was on display in all its glory. When defence analyst Abhijit Iyer was arrested for hurting religious sentiments of Hindus by the Odisha government, the Court had denied him bail and said that the safest place for him to be was in jail.
Such inconsistencies by the highest Court of the country reflect extremely poorly on the esteemed institutions of the country.
Justice Chandrachud had once famously said, “Dissent is the safety valve of democracy.” The remark was made in connection with the ‘Urban Naxals’ case, something which had absolutely nothing to do with freedom of expression at all.
The inconsistencies are not restricted to matters of Free Speech alone. In the Sabarimala Temple verdict, the popular opinion was that the Supreme Court seemed overeager to trample upon the traditions of the Hindu faith. However, when it comes to Islamic practices, the same Court’s commitment appears to quiver.
In the matter of Diwali as well, firecrackers were banned last year by the Supreme Court allegedly, without taking into consideration the cultural significance and the livelihood that could be affected by its verdict. In March this year, however, the same Court asked why were people seeking a ban on firecrackers when automobiles appeared to cause more pollution. Experts believe that the Court banned firecrackers without any comparative study on their effects on pollution.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of these seeming inconsistencies is that people are of the opinion that faith in our great Judiciary seems to be waning, and there can be no greater tragedy in a vibrant democracy like India.