'Totalitarian Govts Rely on Falsehoods to Establish Dominance': Justice D.Y. Chandrachud

"Democracy and truth go hand in hand. Democracy needs truth to survive," the Supreme Court judge said at a lecture.

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New Delhi: Totalitarian governments constantly rely on falsehoods in order to establish dominance and the citizen’s right to speak truth to power is integral to the functioning of a democracy, Supreme Court judge Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said on Saturday, August 28.

LiveLaw, which covered the online lecture, reported on it with excerpts from the judge’s speech, which appeared to be critical of the current dispensation and the need for freedom of speech.

The lecture at which Justice Chandrachud spoke was titled ‘Speaking Truth to Power : Citizens and the Law’ and was part of the Sixth M.C. Chagla Memorial Lecture.

The judge elaborated on the necessity of speaking truth to power, to “obviate a predisposition to tyranny.”

“One can consider speaking truth to power as a right of every citizen which they must have in a democracy but [speaking truth to power is] equally a duty of every citizen,” Justice Chandrachud said.

He also quoted the philosopher Hannah Arendt, in highlighting the importance of the truth, nothing that totalitarian governments are associated with a “constant reliance on falsehoods in order to establish dominance.”

“Democracy and truth go hand in hand. Democracy needs truth to survive,” he said.

Also read: After Pulwama, the Totalitarian Project Is No Longer Under Wraps

Later in the same speech, the judge said that sensational news, which are often based on falsehoods, have the capacity to attract humans and cited that studies had shown that people were susceptible to lies on Twitter.

Chandrachud said the courts can also play a role of documenting truth and that the state alone cannot be relied upon.

“It can’t be said that state will not indulge in falsehood for political reasons even in democracies. The role of US in Vietnam war did not see the daylight until the Pentagon papers were published. In context of COVID, we see that there is an increasing trend of countries across the world trying to manipulate data. Hence, one cannot only rely on the state to determine the truth,” Justice Chandrachud said.

The judge asked citizens to put ‘truth providers’ to intense scrutiny, public intellectuals to take up the duty of exposing the state’s lies, and the general public to strengthen the free press and public institutions.

“It is equally important for those making truth claims to be transparent,” he said.

He also called for schools and universities to be supported to ensure that students learn and develop the temper to question power.

“…We must not only acknowledge the plurality of opinions in a country as diverse as India but celebrate this plurality. This allows open space for more opinions. We also need to protect the integrity of our elections seeing elections not only as a right but also as a duty. To do this, we need to ensure all citizens are given basic education to realize the value of their vote,” he said.

The judge stressed that citizens do not mean the elite alone, but women, Dalits and others belonging to marginalised communities who did not traditionally enjoy power, and whose opinions were thus not conferred the status of truth.

“Since they did not enjoy the freedom to express their opinion, their thoughts were confined, crippled and caged. After abolition of the British Raj, the truth became the belief and opinion of upper caste men,” he said.