Saturday, 22 January, 2022
HomeOpinionIndia turned a blind eye to Justice Karnan, an ‘outsider’. Prashant Bhushan...

India turned a blind eye to Justice Karnan, an ‘outsider’. Prashant Bhushan is different

Hailing the Supreme Court judgment against Justice Karnan in 2017, Bhushan had tweeted, ‘Glad SC finally jailed Karnan for gross contempt of court’.

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The Supreme Court’s contempt of court ruling against Prashant Bhushan has stirred India’s soul. Liberal anger has poured out. Several judges even spoke in his support. But not too long ago, many of them watched silently when Justice C.S. Karnan was sent to jail for six months for calling out corrupt judges. In fact, some, including Bhushan had welcomed the imprisonment of the outspoken Dalit judge, a first in India’s judicial history.

That the outrage is selective is obvious, and doesn’t need belabouring. I am not even saying the outrage is because of the caste difference, that would be simplistic and reductionist. But Prashant Bhushan is a product of Delhi’s power elite. Justice Karnan was an outsider to this cosy circle. And that says more about how Indians perceive the ‘rule of law and dissenters’ than last week’s Supreme Court verdict.

Also read: Karnataka woman seeks contempt action on Swara Bhasker for ‘turning masses to revolt’ against SC

Nobody knows Justice Karnan’s side of the story

Justice Karnan had to serve the entire sentence and his appeal for pardon and review at various fora, including Parliament and to then President of India Pranab Mukherjee, was ignored.

Both the cases are related to the violation of Contempt of Courts Act that has a maximum punishment of six months jail term and/or fine of Rs 2,000. In that sense, Justice Karnan was awarded the maximum punishment under the Act and sentenced without even initiating the proceeding for his impeachment.

In a brief summary of the case, BBC World wrote: “The stand-off dates from January (2017), when Justice Karnan wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagging up the names of 20 judges he alleged were corrupt.” The summary also stated that “The top court has barred the media from publishing and broadcasting Justice Karnan’s statements.” So, we don’t know his side of the story or the entire story.

Many journalists had opposed the Supreme Court’s gag order on the case reporting. Ashok Malik, presently Policy Advisor in the Ministry of External Affairs had tweeted saying, “So what if a newspaper reports Justice Karnan’s statements? Does the Supreme Court send the editor and reporter to prison? Under which law?”

Also read: Can corruption charges against judge be made public before probe? SC to decide in Bhushan case

India’s love for the contempt law

The Contempt of Courts Act is an archaic legislation, first enacted in 1926. It has its origins in the British law. The legislation was amended later on and the present law was enacted in 1971. While the UK did away with the offence in the contempt law long ago, India continues to hold on to this. The Law Commission in its report on the Contempt Act 1971, has argued that India has a large number of cases (almost one lakh at the time of submission of the report in 2018) whereas the UK had its last such case in 1931. Hence, the Commission observed that “the high number of cases (in India) justify the continuing relevance of the Act.”

Ironically, in 2017, Bhushan had hailed the Supreme Court judgment against Justice Karnan and tweeted how he was “Glad SC finally jailed Karnan for gross contempt of court.” One cannot fail to observe that in his tweet Bhushan did not address the sitting judge of the Kolkata High Court as ‘justice’.


Bhushan’s tweet also implies that he is not against the Contempt of Courts Act per se but rather supports the archaic legislation.

Also read: 280-character tweet is all it takes to destroy Indian democracy — if you believe Supreme Court

Media’s silence

If we glance through the editorials and op-eds written at that time, we will find that every editor or writer was united in supporting the judgment. Same was the case with the prime time debates.

Pained by the coverage of his case, Justice Karnan had written an open letter to the media: “I have often mentioned in my communications that I am a victim of caste discrimination…It is most unfortunate and perhaps a national disaster that such critical issues never figured in most of the national publications.” He wanted the media to act in a fair and unbiased manner.

Also read: Judge says corruption in Patna HC an ‘open secret’, full bench bars him from hearing cases

Outrage vs silence

There is a stark difference between the cases of Justice Karnan and Prashant Bhushan. Justice Karnan had not made any public allegation of corruption against any judge. Rather, he had sent his complaint to the Prime Minister’s Office in a sealed envelope. Bhushan made the allegations on social media and were thus in the public domain.

So, how does one understand the outrage in Prashant Bhushan’s case but silence when Justice Karnan was convicted?

One way to understand this is through the simplistic and reductionist reading: since Justice Karnan is a Dalit, the media acted with bias and failed to present his case in totality. Similarly, it can be said that since Prashant Bhushan belongs to the upper caste and the ruling elite, and his father Shanti Bhushan was the law minister in the Morarji Desai Cabinet (the father-son duo were the 75th Most Powerful Indians, according to a list published by The Indian Express in 2009), his case is generating so much heat.

I am not endorsing or ruling out any of these possibilities. At least not at this juncture. But the reason for the intelligentsia not supporting Justice Karnan has more to do with their association or disassociation with the ruling structure as well as with the nature of Karnan and Bhushan’s allegations.

Also read: ‘Not dealing with such attacks may affect India’s honour’ — why SC found Bhushan in contempt

‘Dalit gaze’ on the power elites

Justice Karnan was not just challenging the higher judiciary, but also putting the whole power structure under scrutiny. The gaze of a Dalit judge towards the upper caste-dominated judiciary, as stated by the Kariya Munda Committee of Parliament, was unnerving for the power elites. The panel, in its report, had said, “The Committee were surprised to note that out of 481 High Court judges only 15 were from Scheduled Castes and 5 from Scheduled Tribes in position as on 1-5-1998 and none was in the judgeship of the Supreme Court in spite of the fact that some suitable, eligible and well-qualified SC/ST candidates were available in the consideration zone.”

The situation in India’s judiciary hasn’t changed much. Justice Karnan was underlining the caste domination and hegemonic structure of the higher judiciary. This is almost blasphemy in the eyes of the power elites.

Justice Karnan’s allegations of corruption in the judiciary were also quite unsettling for the power elites. We do not know what would have happened had Prime Minister Modi decided to set up a commission of enquiry or a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the allegations of Justice Karnan.

Compared to Justice Karnan’s allegations, Prashant Bhushan was not raising any fundamental issue. His tweet was aimed at an individual: Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde sitting on a superbike. Bhushan was only raising a question related to the personal conduct of the CJI, which has more to do with individual morality.

Bhushan finds many friends among the ruling elites after the Supreme Court verdict. Not only because he is one of them, but also because he is a man of the system. Justice Karnan is an outsider and it’s natural that he found no friends among the elites and opinion makers.

The author is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi Magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.

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  1. American citizen are more intelligent and understanding to discriminational issues..their they sympathise with oppressed people and give affirmative action in private sectors, Hollywood etc as in India general classes are so stupid and backward thinking people that they cannot even tolerate to see backward people speak up..indian general caste people are amongst top worst category of human races as specially highlighted by late br.ambedkar..they won’t speak up on atrocities to fight shoulder to shoulder with dalit but wen reservation topic comes ,their heart suddenly starts burning…it shows they are not sensitive to backward people’s pain but very sensitive to any benefits given to them..that’s the double standard..atleast american white fights for blacks and speak up prominently against slavery in different media’s..

  2. Ever since the apex court convicted Adv Prashant Bhushan in a contempt of court case, a section of the judiciary, including former judges and some lawyers, appears to be in turmoil. The most confounding thing is they are not for doing away with the Contempt of Court law but against it being used against one of their colleagues. The first argument is of course the much touted freedom of speech. But I never knew that it was applicable only for the lawyers. The other major argument is that being an insider he (of course representing ‘them’) was better placed to know the truth and critically bring it out for the health of the system. Again they forget that the citizens, in general, and litigating public, in particular, are the biggest stake holders in the system.
    With that prelude let me put forth the following comments:
    1. Contempt of court is anathema in a democracy. Democracy demands a Contempt of Citizen (Prevention of) Act.
    2. Disobedience of court orders, which is catered for as civil contempt, should be covered under existing provisions of law dealing with disobedience of orders of a lawful authority.
    3. As it stands, the court, having taken suo moto cognizance of the tweets to be prosecuted for contempt, is right in convicting Prashant Bhushan.
    4. As per reports, it wanted to give time to Prashant Bhushan to consider apologizing, before deciding on the punishment. This is unwarranted. Apology can only be for errors committed unknowingly or by mistake not for deliberate comments in public domain.
    5. We know that in all disputes before a judge there are two parties and each will have some facts, some laws and some precedence/ case laws to support their stands. Ultimately the judge can as well toss a coin and decide whom to favor. But even there there is an element of fairness. There are worse reasons where the judgments can be as whimsical and wayward as whimsical and wayward can be.
    6. A former CJI had himself commented that 20 percent judges are corrupt. But till date we have not heard of a single judge being punished for corruption.
    7. An apex court bench had observed that there is something rotten in the Allahabad High Court. Again we do not know what action has been taken to clean up.
    8. A high court judge, P D Dinakaran, resigned on the eve of being impeached. But is resignation a punishment for his crime(s)? Why hasn’t he been prosecuted for his crimes?
    9. Another high court judge, Karnan, had made many allegations against his colleagues. Were they investigated? By whom? What was the result? Don’t the citizen, tax payer have a right to know the facts/truth?
    10. We know that high court and supreme court judges can be removed only through impeachment. And there appears to be no laws for any other form of punishment. Even the National Commission to Review the working of the Constitution had only recommended empowering the Chief Justice to withhold work from judges against whom allegations have been made.
    11. But Karnan was sent to 6 months prison for contempt of court. Doesn’t it imply that contempt of court is the greatest crime of this land and that the other safeguards provided to judges wouldn’t save them from prosecution under this law?
    12. Suffice to say that there is a need for a National Judicial Commission for trying and punishing errant judges as per laws applicable to every citizen. And this body/institution should be free from judiciary, except, may be, for a law qualified person to guide the proceedings. The logic is simple. The credibility of the judiciary itself rests on the concept that it is an indifferent and objective third party in the dispute brought before it for adjudication.

  3. When someone abuses the PM or other officers, may be media, the SC judges sites the example of Right of Freedom of Speech. But if same person even disagrees and say or write his dissent, it is Contempt of Court. So there should be level playing field on this topic.

  4. Factually inaccurate. Justice Karnan did not deliver anything in a sealed envelope. He wrote an “open letter” to the PMO, details of which can still be read online. And he named individual judges (20 of them) and accused them of being corrupt. When offered multiple chances to substantiate these allegations (the very chance that Bhushan asked for and was denied), he could not do so.

  5. You are telling only half the truth. bhushan also added about justice bobde that part saying the rest of the supreme court was kept in lock down.
    this is absolutely biased journalism. shame on you.


  7. If you have a sword in your hand, you are going to wield it. Justice Karnan inspite of being dalit and from the so-called oppressed class used the sword of law as sitting judge to oppress his opponents. So someone with a bigger sword used it on Justice Karnan when they got the opportunity. This is what happens in democracies where institutions are dysfunctional. No point in the author shedding tears over Justice Karnan being dalit – PB case shows it can happen to anyone.

  8. The problem in Karnan’s case was not his highlighting corruption but his sending notices to Supreme Court judges and also lcancelling” his transfer orders.
    Had he limited his actions to corruption charhes against judges everybody wouldve supported him. But when he experienced the natural corrollary of protesting by getting transferred, he did not act wisely. When the supreme court transfers a high court judge and that high court judge cancels that order then its didficult to support it. When the supreme court then initiated contempt against him for cancelling its orders he isssued notices against the supreme court judges. This made it impossible to support him. He couldve done things differently, more effectively.

  9. Honorable Nathuram Godse’s reasons for killing MK Gandhi were also not released.
    We must have the right to access & understand his reasons.
    What happened with Justice Karnan was maybe not right, but him bringing his caste card out as soon as he was held guilty raises questions on his judgements and partiality.
    This once again exposes the caste issue in Lutyens circle. All big guys in Lutyens are from upper caste and well to do families and they are standing up for Prashant Bhushan, but they couldn’t for Justice Karnan.

    • Why are you disturbing the soul of “honourable Nathuram Godse” who might be busy in the hell with the soul of “honourale Azmal Kasab, “honourable Savarkar “, “honourable Mahisasur” etc?

    • You need to be in that position where you can feel the victimhood. Without going through the caste discrimination you can not understand the dynamics of caste system. It is better to think and write after going through such circumstances.

  10. Where are the people who protested against Nepotisim in Bollywood?? Just like SSR, many dalits have died protesting for their Rights in all fields on life

  11. Indian judiciary is officially and judicially protected ,inordintely procrastinating , quasi-corrupt,incorrigible,self-serving,semi-fiefdom!
    Karnan was also same category but told truth to hide/escape his faults !
    Non-accountability/non-correction of f faults in banking,service or manufacturing etc domains cannot be imagined, but in judiciary, it is unofficial norm!
    So none is saint or discriminated , in our lords/judiciary !
    i partially sympathesise with both karnan and bhushan, but who will bell the cat or elephant in the room, the “not so efficient or accountable” judiciary?

  12. The author , being an old media bandicoot understands memory retention levels of readers . And thus egregiously uses short recall of readership, to twist facts in the name of ‘dalit’ which is the core of his unhappy write up. This lazy author did not bother to even go through the last two or three of Karnan’s judgement to know how dangerously close he was to be medically certified as a lunatic. Dalits are still treated badly , but for the author, who claims to be a former editor of India Today to link it with Karnan is audacious. Improbable , but not impossible, for such opportunists to link the next story on the basis of Karnan’s skin color. Karnan was no ‘Karnan of the epic’ . He was an unsound mind. Karnan himself , closer to his incarceration agreed to medical treatment and claimed he was of unsound mind.

    By all accounts of people who saw Karnan in Madras HC , knew, Karnan had become mentally unstable and incapable to sit on justice. The very respected Justice S K Kaul , CJ of Madras HC , then, had withdrawn work from Karnan because of Karnan’s erratic behaviour in court and with brother judges , some of who were Dalits . The author avoids getting into details of Karnan’s work behaviour and his habit of using filthiest abuses in open court room against Constitutionally appointed fellow judges as well as others . Any sensible person at the receiving end of such filth would be forgiven , if seeks the path of violence to silence Karnan.

    That brings us to another fiery topic . Did the promoters of India Today, deliberately hire poor quality journalists like Mandal to maintain low standards in Hindi journalism, even within the IT group.

    • So, why do not you name those three cases on basis you termed Justice Karnan lunatic? Did it have any similarity to the case in which Justice Gogoi presided he was accused in? Or the case in which Justice Mishra had conflict of interest and, therefore, was supposed to be recused of?

    • It is known fact that MHC is controlled by Mayalapore Brahmin lawyers mafia ever since 1930. They are wise like this guy to insult others. I am not in the legal profession and not dalit to support Justice karnan or to undermine others. MHC have been doing much damages to state politics and destroying democracy for protecting Brahmanism. MHC promoted tyranny rule of Jaya during her rule. Read SK Kaul’s verdict as CJ in MHC,. All are corrupt, abuse of power, promoting police atrocities. Karnan may be lunatic, but CJs are criminals , corrupt. As a insider, Karnan had been whistle blower against judicial corruption., abuse of power as he was targeted by Brahmin judges and lawyers. BJP functionaries insulted high court as he would not care high court as his public hair . MHC don’t have courage to order to arrest or to initiate action. Even court ordered to test his mental conditions as he behaved like lunatic. Nothing is done. Even today, that guy H.Raja tweeted against MHC’s verdict. MHC handles brahmins with soft gloves in many cases. Why? Professional discrimination exists at MHC.. It was pointed by a dalit judge by pointing out , how brahmin judges boycotted his retirement farewell event. Judiciary became Brahmins’ den of casino. If Karnan was lunatic, then Arun Mishra also fit to the list.

    • well said!!! This is a judge who stormed into the middle of a court hearing in judicial appointments and demanded the case be handed to him.

      In a controversial judgment, Justice Karnan ruled that if a man deserts a woman after pre-marital sex with a promise to marry her, the woman could claim the social status of that man’s wife provided the man is single and above 21 years of age and the woman is an adult and not married. Justice Karnan ruled that the promise of marriage for pre-marital sex would be considered as marriage.

      In 2015, Justice Karnan accused another judge of sexually harassing an intern in his chamber. Justice Karnan never provided any material to substantiate his allegation.

      This how the media and specifically this author has chosen to twist the narrative to suit his objective. Shameful. But then today nothing more can be expected from the media.

  13. The time puts a break for these overboard foul mouth guys, including so-called civil libertarians has to show their place. The SC already had enough of it. So the present CJI is taking to the conclusion to stop the Bull By its Horn. Let them face it & mend themselves. Tx.

  14. “Respect for the judiciary” is a myth, as is “justice”. There is “fear of the courts” and intent to “dispose pending cases” for fear of red in their ACRs by the district level judges and for elevations by those in the higher courts. I am not saying this, the judges/justices do. Anyone who knows some can vouch for this. For all those who smirk at the criticism of the rule of law in China, it would be a bitter pill to swallow but, we are no better. We do not have rule of law, we have rulers’ law. Why else would dissidence would be sought to be quahed by not just the government but also the so called protectors of rights i.e. the judiciary. Which self-respecting rule of law democracy can boast of a Chief Justice that verbal mocked and berated the complainant for making charges of sexual harassment against him, who himself mowed down every rule of propriety in sweeping the allegations under a rug? Right or wrong, the history today shows that when moment arrived our Supreme Court itself deviated from rule of law when it’s Chief Justice was targeted. What moral authority can such an institution bring to bear against others? The collegium system hides the ugliness in our judiciary. The day it is dismantled the worms in the large can that is our judicial will literally and figuratively spill out. No wonder the Supreme Court does not want it done away with. So why would they want an open and fair system to address complaints of corruption against judges. The same judges that take up cudgels against anyone who dare suggest that family or relative of justice ought not to practise in the same court. The joke is on anyone who thinks it possible. This is India, the land of gatekeepers and rent-seekers. Good luck!

  15. Dalip Mandal, for once you have written something sensible. Justice Karnan did not matter because he was was not part of the upper caste coterie which controls the courts.

    By the way, keep writing. We like your viewpoint even when we disagree with you strongly.

  16. Our liberates, have on set of rules for others and one set of rules for themselves….They consider themselves more equal than others…. no wonder they are a discredited lot, all across our country and even the world…. Thanx to the writer here, else we would never have come across, one more instance of their duplicity….

  17. Need of the hour is to maintain a public registry where all the cases before the court is listed.

    In addition what the case is about who are the plaintiffs who the defendants what is the judgement , how long the case is pending and a summary of judgement.

    This will induce transparency and put a public check on the free will of judicial activism and judiciary running amok.

    Secondly this list will enable corruption free judiciary, too many pils being filed, which case is getting easy notice of judiciary , is there a vested party or how sooner the judgement is delivered.

    Thirdly Public Institutions including courts should be under rti or some mechanism on appointment and qualification of judges. The argument that it will compromise independence just doesn’t fly.

    Finally in case of justice Karnan message did not got delivered as messenger was shot.

    Judiciary is not incorruptible as courts would have us believed. It was a valid point regarding sons and daughters of judges get appointed, preferential treatment on cases, undue accumulation of property and things like that. That was unfortunate.

  18. Every judgement is bound to go against one of the parties to the dispute. Who makes the judgement is well settled in the constitution, so how can the constitution come under threat the moment the judgement goes against someone. The 70 years of appeasement policies in governance have given some sections a sense of entitlement which is shaken today. Until this generation remains active no decision will be considered as closer.

    • Why make difference between justice Karnan and Prashantji ?? Both the cases are of same nature…that is “CONTEMPT” !! What is CONTEMPT about???.To express one’s views freely and unbiased is a “CONTEMPT” ?? Prashant Bhushan and justice Karnan both raised some basic point and boldly expressed their views, what’s the wrong in it ?? One thing is common …the DADAGIRI” of some judges at the top and sponsoring by the ruling party to harass the person who ever is open in his views against the system !! A fascist system reigning in !! That’s the point. Each and every day the ruling cliques in our country doing “CONTEMPT” in every aspects of our life.When a Prime Minister says”GHAR MEIN GHUS GHUS KAR MARENGE”…does it not amounts to a grave “CONTEMPT” ???Hillarious !!!

      • That ghar mein ghus ke marenge comment was not against the SC or fellow citizens.
        It was for our stubborn and foolish neighbour.

      • Ghus ghus ke marenge comment by Mr. Modi was not against the SC or fellow citizens.
        But against porkistan.

      • YES, you are right,Bhusan should be thrown into jail for a period of no less then 6 months.He was slapped once in his office which did not teach him anything.

  19. By criticising and passing a contempt order against Prashant Bhushan for his tweets, The Supreme Court endorsed and repeated the exact behaviour and partiality which Prashant Bhushan tweeted against. What an irony. Case closed.

    But the travesty of justice will not be dismissed.

  20. After the English Era in India, Caste and Casteism has become more important for Indian ELite Group. This group can’t protect it’s legacy going to downtrodden without Bias & Prejudice.

    The Elite i.e. so called savarna has become afraid of Bahujan Renaissance. They want to abrogate this Renaissance. But they can’t do this through a proper channel. Hence atrocities in Every field including Government instituitions has been started. And RSS / BJP are great supporters of these atrocities.

  21. What outrage? Except for some loud mouths with soap boxes, who cares? Infact ,take a vote , most Indians will happily send these people to jail as they are nuisance and distraction

  22. We have known casteist politics and academia. Now, we are seeing casteist journalism. Oh! stop wallowing in self-pity.It is height of perversity to lionise Justice Karnan who granted stay order in his own favour, forgetting the maxim that none can be a judge in his own case. Like Prashant Bhushan, he also made wild allegations against the supreme court and the judges. Don’t expect Prashant Bhushan to get away just because he is upper caste.

  23. In India no law is explained in proper perspective by judges.The fraternity bond among judges is so strong that they never want to loose power of misinterpretation.
    Karnan was dalit and Tamil ,so not fit for Delhi Gujrat fraternity.He wrote letter to PM Modi thinking that he will help to end corrupt practices but he was prosecuted.
    He threw hand and foot to parliament and president but all thought him useless.He forgot Gujrat and Delhi culture of India.In Gujrat what happened to Mr Bhatt,Banzara and Hardik Patel by court.So Court knew all tactics and want aristocracy.Judges can go to
    PM,parliament or president to favour but never allow a person to speak or write against them..People think SC a hope and non fraternity judge may think them corrupt but no lawyer and public will come.Prashant Bhushan is a good lawyer but he is of big family and caste.So he has social base and he will get support.Karnan was promoted by a dalit chief justice it was unprecedented.He thought modi a good person.But Modi had aisen by big rich and BJP which is symbol of upper layer.Ambedkar Gandhi differed on it and Ambedkar met British to say that if Gandhi got absolute power his men never give his men equal right.

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