March 20, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Amubhai Rawani

'The communal virus has permeated society'
At a time when citizens trust the Supreme Court more than any other institution in India -- one particular event in Ahmedabad on February 27 came as a jolt. Justice M H Kadri, a serving judge of the Gujarat high court, was requested by D Dharmadhikari, chief justice of the court, to leave his official residence to avoid the fury of rioting mobs outside.

After much persuasion, Justice Kadri moved out of his residence with his wife, daughter and 85-year-old ailing mother. His friends in the judiciary offered sanctuary, but he preferred the safety of a relative's home -- his own kith and kin.

His long-time friend Amubhai Rawani -- a former judge of the Gujarat high court who also served as chief justice of the Rajasthan high court -- and lives 20 minutes away, narrated Kadri's agony to Sheela Bhatt. Excerpts:

Can you describe what the judges of the Gujarat high court went through when riots broke out in the city?

The days [of riots in Gujarat] were darker than the days of the Emergency. I have personal contacts with some of the judges. I came to know that in the vicinity of the Dhulia court, there were some incidents of looting and arson. Mostly garages owned by Muslims were burnt down. I was also informed that the house of Akbar Divecha, a retired justice of the Gujarat high court -- in Kazmi Apartments, Paldi -- was ransacked. His car with a red light was damaged.

At 11am, on February 28, I was told that a mob had forced his entire building to vacate. I called up Justice Divecha, he said: "Yes, I have been rescued by a friend just an hour earlier. Everything in my house has been destroyed and even the doors have been taken away and burnt." He and Justice M H Kadri were offered vacant bungalows by the chief justice (D Dharmadhikari).

On hearing about Justice Divecha, I called up Justice Kadri. I told him: "Brother, you should not vacate your home. For a sitting judge who has taken an oath to discharge his duty without fear or favour, it would not be a befitting conduct."

He expressed the same feeling but asked if I could come over. I called up Justice R A Mehta, who is director of the judicial academy, and requested him to join me. The distance from my home to Justice Kadri's hardly takes 20 minutes, but on that day due to roadblocks it took us an hour.

Justice Kadri doesn't have any other male member in the family. He lives with his wife, daughter and 85-year-old sick and immobile mother. Justice Mehta arrived too. At that time Justice Mehta received a call from the registrar of the high court. He was talking from the residence of the chief justice. Justice Kadri was asked to shift to another place. The previous night he was required to shift to another judge's home.

When I saw that the chief justice had offered his own home to Justice Kadri, I thought my request to him to not shift from his residence was not proper in the circumstances.

What were the feelings of the judges?

My feeling is that it was nothing but a constitutional breakdown. If a judge has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws established by a constitutionally formed government, he must be without fear. If he is not allowed to discharge his duties from his official residence then people will have no faith in the judiciary. An independent judiciary is the basic feature of the Constitution.

How will a Hindu, a member of the majority community, have faith in a judge who was forced to vacate his own place? And how will a judge belonging to the minority community decide cases of Hindus because he may be indicted of being partisan? It's not whether one does injustice or not, the question is -- what will be the perception of the common man now?

Don't you think Justice Kadri could have stayed [in his house] in these circumstances?

He has an 85-year-old ailing mother, suffering from cardiac disease. He had the option of shifting to the home of a relative; to my residence; to Justice Mehta's residence; to the residence of the chief justice or to any vacant bungalow. Somebody had told him that he could occupy a military guesthouse in the cantonment area. I suggested that he shift to the home of his relative.

At that moment I felt it was an insult to the secular philosophy of India.

How can a sitting judge be required to shift from his official residence?

He was shifted under police and military escort.

Was he afraid?

Not at all! He was not ready to move. On February 27 he didn't shift despite the persuasion of the chief justice and his friends. He was not ready to move on the second day either. He shifted with much reluctance. For two days he had not eaten. He ate only after we put pressure. He was tense. Even police officers felt insecure.

Sir, nobody would have dared to touch him. We respect our judges.

No, under the circumstances he had...

Which circumstances?

First, Justice Divecha's house was ransacked. The government car with a red light was damaged. It's not that one could not identify Justice Divecha, but his home was totally destroyed. Justice Kadri received so many requests from brother judges to shift to their residence. Thirdly, he received a request from the chief justice himself. When the request comes from the chief justice, then where is the question of being in a position to retain courage? And with his own eyes, in his own compound he saw the mob looting and destroying the property of a particular community. Fourth, the request was not made to two other sitting judges who reside in the same locality.

How could such terror spread?

We have not been able to promote 'fraternity' which is one of the main objectives of the Constitution. The Preamble of the Constitution says we should work for "Justice, liberty and equality and to promote fraternity amongst us all and to ensure the integrity and unity of India." This we have not been able to do. In the last two decades, the spirit of fraternity has been damaged to the maximum. The very soul of the Constitution is Article 14: "Equal protection of law and equality before law" is not there at all! A noted expert like Grenville Austin has said in his book Supreme but not infallible that the Supreme Court, the custodian of the Constitution, had failed in implementing Article 14.

How do you see the event as a long-time resident of Ahmedabad?

I have never heard or seen such carnage, not even in 1969 or 1985. I was a sitting judge of the Gujarat high court in 1985. Human beings being burnt alive in Godhra or elsewhere is not bearable. This is something a citizen of India is doing to another citizen. One thing is certain if I go by what the executive and the higher-ups (of government) are saying, that this is a reaction to an action and if it is so then taking that logic further it means the communal virus has permeated up to the bone marrow.

People who know the public mood and the pulse may be right when they say this is a reaction to something that has occurred somewhere else. If my brother is beaten up in New York and if I beat someone from the same community that attacked my brother then this natural reaction is communalism. This cannot be explained in any other way. Communalism can't be defined in any other way.

We have not been able to imbibe the spirit of the Constitution in society. The first victim is fraternity, the secular fabric of society. It has affected Gujarat more. Why is no respectable woman able to go to a police station to lodge a complaint, asks constitutional expert Austin in his book.

If that's the real position it means there is no rule of law in the country. If there is no rule of law, if people have no faith in the judiciary, they will turn to terrorism. If the rule of law is broken down, the only ventilation for the people will be to turn to terrorism. In Saurashtra, many decades ago there were outlaws. They didn't get justice from the rulers and took the law in their own hands.

But how can you call the mob 'terrorists?'

I was not present on the field. But the mob must have been led by some people. Some people must have been directing them.

Don't you think the Godhra incident is an act of terrorism?

Of course, no one can defend Godhra. But if we accept this theory of action and reaction, then the question is: why did Godhra happen? Is it not the reaction to Ayodhya? Was it not a reaction to the conduct of the Ram sevaks? Take this logic to those people who are quoting the law of physics -- of action and reaction. This happened because since the last two decades, and particularly since the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the communal virus has permeated in society.

Secular views are not heard in society. I am not accepted by Hindus as a Hindu, and Muslims as a Muslim. If this continues terrorism will be the order of the day and Gujarat's economy will be totally shattered.

Violence in Godhra
The Ayodhya Dispute: The complete coverage

The Rediff Interviews

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