New Delhi: L. Victoria Gowri was sworn in as additional judge of the Madras high court at Chennai on February 7, as the Supreme Court heard petitions challenging her appointment. At the end of the hearing, a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and B.R. Gavai said, “We are not entertaining the writ petitions. Reasons will follow.”
Gowri has drawn criticism for her controversial remarks against religious minorities and her alleged links with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
A bench led by Justice Sanjiv Khanna was originally reported to hear the pleas against her appointment at 9.15 am. There was even speculation that the Chief Justice of India will hear the petitions because lawyers had assembled at Court 1. However, a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and B.R. Gavai began hearing the matter at 10.30 am, at Court 7.
Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran argued on behalf of the petitioners that the materials available against Gowri “show a mindset, which is not in tune with the constitution, which is antithetical to Article 21 because equal justice is part of Article 21.”
Justice Gavai noted that he also had a political background. “I have been a judge for many years and my political background have not come in way,” he said.
Ramachandran agreed. He sought to impress that Gowri’s views were not political, but hate speech, “pure and simple.”
“And see the ugly haste in which it has been done. The fact that this Court was hearing was brought to the notice of the Acting Chief Justice of Madras HC. And the notification at 10.35? What is significance of 10.35? That this court would decide in 5 minutes,” Ramachandran said, according to LiveLaw.
The petitions were originally listed before a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and M.M. Sundresh. Originally from the Madras high court, Justice Sundresh was a consultee judge and was thus not part of the bench.
The petition challenging her appointment as a judge, as per Bar and Bench, is “uncharted territory”.
Gowri has been surrounded by a swirl of controversies after complaints regarding her statements about religious minorities, reported Live Law.
On Monday, senior advocate Raju Ramachandran sought the matter to be listed for urgent hearing. And Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said that the Supreme Court Collegium had taken cognisance of the complaints about Gowri, which came to its notice after the recommendation was made.
As per Bar and Bench, the Chief Justice said, “We have seen the plea and we have read it. There are certain developments which have taken place. Collegium has taken cognisance of what came to our notice and it was after our recommendation.”
Last month, The Wire reported on disquiet in many quarters over Advocate Gowri, as according to the social media account purportedly belonging to her and speeches available on YouTube, she is the general secretary of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Mahila Wing. It is not clear if Gowri continues to be associated with the political party, but many have questioned the Collegium’s decision to recommend her as a Madras high court judge.
Letters were written to the President of India and the Chief Justice of India. In their letter to the President, Droupadi Murmu, members of the Madras high court bar had said that Gowri’s elevation “dents the independence of the judiciary”, and they cited several remarks she has made in interviews to support this allegation.
Statements made by Gowri quoted in the letter include: “At the world level, they find the Islamic group as more dangerous than Christian groups. But as far as India is concerned, I would like to say that Christian groups are more dangerous than Islamic groups. Both are equally dangerous in the context of conversion, especially love jihad. I don’t mind a Hindu marrying a Muslim – a Hindu girl marrying a Muslim boy, unless and until they are in love with each other and they are living in understanding and love. But if I am not able to find my girl with him as his wife, instead, if I find my girl in Syrian terrorist camps, I have an objection, and that is what I define as love jihad (sic).”
The lawyers said that the elevation of “a person who harbours such strong antipathy towards minorities is disturbing”. A petitioner from the Muslim or Christian communities, they argue, may not get justice if they are to appear in her court.
This article, first published at 11.30 pm on February 6 has been republished at 9 am on February 7 with details on the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the petitions early.