CJI and compassionate governance

When he salutes protesters, calls for mindset change, will politicians take note?

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Ashish Mehta | January 22, 2013



When people – students and housewives, slum-dwellers and the south Delhi set – came out in the streets demanding justice for the gangrape victim, only one factor was missing in the state’s response: empathy. The first response from those elected or appointed to oversee law and order was obviously to play the blame game. When the prime minister spoke up a week later, a couple of extra words after the formal end of the address revealed what was lacking in it: empathy. Against that backdrop, the chief justice of India (CJI), Altamas Kabir’s comments stand out in contrast for its compassion.

“Whatever happened that day (December 16) was not only a crime against an individual. It was a crime against women in general and society in general," CJI Kabir told the sixth national conference on implementation of protection of women from domestic violence in New Delhi on Monday. If that sounded like platitudes our politicians mouth, this is what came next: “What happened that day was not something new. But it caught the imagination of the people and led to a tremendous upsurge and this upsurge, as I have said earlier also, was fully justified. What started as a protest, as a mark of showing one's anger, it was all genuine, absolutely necessary.”

Later, talking to media persons on the sidelines of the conference, he added, “I salute everybody who took part in the protests. I wish I could have been there but I can’t.”

So, there is at least one person around the Raisina Hill, and no less than head of an organ of the state, who not only does not see protesters as enemies of the state but also identifies himself with them. He couldn’t be there among the protesters but his words have done the job.

Don't miss the cover story of the latest issue of Governance Now: ENEMIES OF THE STATE

Moreover, this empathy of the head of the judiciary is not limited to words alone. He along with the Delhi high court chief justice have been instrumental in ensuring speedy justice by establishing a fast-track court to hear cases of crimes against women.

Speaking from the same compassion for the victim that made him salute protesters, he also spoke of a need to change the mindset of the judicial officers who take up such cases."Many of us are quite insensitive. Many of us look to the strict letters of the law," he said. He had told judicial officers to be sensitive to problems related to women and children, he said.

Call it sympathy, compassion or sensitivity, isn’t that the only thing missing in governance, in what protesters call ‘system’? Imagine the heads of the other two organs of the state, the executive and the legislature, brining this element to their work, and there would not be any need to “change the system” which of course is not going to happen without ‘systematic’ procedures to go about it.

For that, just as with the judicial officers, the powers that be will have to change their mindset and look at people as people instead of taking them as mobs.

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