Top Global Scholars Urge SC to Review Recent Orders Harming 'Human Rights in India'

Among scholars of note who have written to the apex court in the light of the Zakia Jafri judgment are Noam Chomsky, Martha Nussbaum, Wendy Brown and Sheldon Pollock.

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New Delhi: Top international scholars have written a statement expressing that they are deeply disturbed by some recent judgments of the Supreme Court which they believe have had a “direct bearing on the future of civil liberties and human rights in India.”

The signatories draw attention to the apex court’s judgment in a plea by Zakia Jafri, the wife of slain MP Ehsan Jafri, challenging a Special Investigation Team’s clean chit to 64 people, including then chief minister Narendra Modi, in the 2002 Gujarat riots case.

The statement is signed by:

  • Bhiku Parekh, House of Lords, London, UK.
  • Noam Chomsky, Professor emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Professor, University of Arizona, USA.
  • Arjun Appadurai, Professor, Max Planck Institute, Germany.
  • Wendy Brown, Professor, Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton, USA.
  • Sheldon Pollock, Professor Emeritus, Columbia University, USA.
  • Carol Rovane, Professor, Columbia University, USA.
  • Charles Taylor, Professor Emeritus, McGill University, Canada.
  • Martha Nussbaum, Professor, University of Chicago, USA.
  • Robert Pollin, Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA.
  • Akeel Bilgrami, Professor, Columbia University, USA.
  • Gerald Epstein, Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA.

The judgment raises three important questions:

“First, since the petitioners had challenged the findings of the SIT report that gave a clean chit to the Gujarat government for the riots following the Godhra incident, and asked the Supreme Court to order an independent investigation, for the Court to dismiss their appeal on the basis of the very same impugned SIT report seems to us to be unjust,” the statement reads.

The statement also goes into aspects of the judgment that have been highlighted by other experts, including former Supreme Court judge, Justice Madan B. Lokur.

“Second, while dismissing their appeal, the Court has quite gratuitously and wholly unfairly attributed ulterior motives to the petitioners. This has even emboldened the executive to arrest co-petitioner Teesta Setalvad, along with witness R.B. Sreekumar, both of whom have also been denied bail. If any patient, prolonged, peaceful, and entirely legitimate pursuit of justice through the due process, is called “keeping the pot boiling”, then this remark, quite apart from being offensive, discourages people from approaching the Court on any matter relating to excesses or dereliction on the part of the executive,” the statement says.

Also read | ‘SC Has Made It Difficult for Teesta Setalvad to Get Bail’: Justice Madan Lokur

Third, the statement says, the court has passed “uncalled-for obiter dicta” without even giving a chance to those against whom these remarks were directed to be heard. “This sets an unfortunate precedent in jurisprudence,” it says.

The statement also notes that such behaviour by the Supreme Court is rare.

“Apart from the brief period of the Emergency, the Indian Supreme Court has generally played an honourable role in defending the democratic commitments of the country, which is why we are dismayed by the recent tendency discernible in the Zakia Jafri judgement,” the scholars say.

The authors have also urged the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance of the fall-out of the judgement in this case – Setalvad and Sreekumar’s immediate arrest.

They have also urged the apex court “to expunge the derogatory remarks contained in it, and to dismiss the cases against those who have been arrested on the strength of these remarks.”