In court

After high drama, Supreme Court agrees to hear pleas for enquiry into judge Loya’s death

Opposing lawyers trade barbs and accusations of trying to censor the media while the Chief Justice seeks an apology.

Senior lawyers trading barbs, accusations flying of the media being gagged, an irked Chief Justice of India demanding an apology from a lawyer – the hearing on the two petitions seeking an independent investigation into the death of Maharashtra judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya witnessed high drama in the Supreme Court on Monday.

In the end, the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud adjourned the matter till February 2, asking the litigants to submit, in sealed covers, all documents related to the case by then. The bench also decided to transfer before itself two other petitions filed in the Bombay High Court, also seeking an independent enquiry into the judge’s death. It further directed that no High Court shall entertain pleas regarding this matter any more.

Loya died in December 2014. At the time, he was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, in which Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah was among the accused. Shah was acquitted just a few weeks later by the judge who succeeded Loya.

As the arguments began on Monday afternoon, the lawyers for the petitioners said the records provided by the Maharashtra government were not complete, particularly those about the treatment given to Loya after he was hospitalised, supposedly for heart attack, and the post-mortem.

This was countered by the Maharashtra government’s counsel Harish Salve. “The judicial officers who accompanied the judge to the hospital have narrated the entire sequence of events that led to his death,” he said, adding that the officers’ statements were among the records given to the petitioners. “What more is required as proof?”

At this point, senior advocate Dushyant Dave objected to Salve taking the Maharashtra government’s brief. “He had earlier appeared for Amit Shah,” Dave said, adding that the court should not allow such blatant conflict of interest.

Dave was appearing for the Bombay Lawyers’ Association, which has petitioned the Bombay High Court for a commission of enquiry headed by a retired Supreme Court judge to look into Loya’s death. This petition is one of the two – the other was filed by an activist, Suraj Lolage – that the Supreme Court has decided to transfer before itself.

Salve objected to Shah’s name being taken, arguing that implying guilt when the court had not decided on the need for an investigation was unacceptable.

As the two lawyers exchanged barbs, Chandrachud intervened, saying one should not cast aspersions on the other. “We all are holders of our own conscience,” he said. “It is for the advocates to decide whether or not they should appear in any matter.”

Dave also argued that since petitions for an investigation into Loya’s death were already pending before the Bombay High Court, the purpose of filing identical pleas in the Supreme Court was to stop the High Court from hearing the matter. “We should now allow anyone say that this institution [Supreme Court] is being used to protect an individual [Amit Shah],” he added.

The petitions in the Supreme Court were filed by Tehseen Poonawalah, a member of the Congress party, and Banduraj Sambhaji Lone, a journalist.

Meanwhile, Indira Jaising, appearing for a group of civil servants wanting to implead in the matter, said since records about Loya’s death provided by the state were not complete, the petitioners should be given a chance to place before the court any additional documents they might have.

Dave intervened: “The father and sister of Loya have sought an enquiry into his death. His son had requested for a probe. But the then chief justice of the High Court met the son in his chambers and thereafter stated that the son does not want investigation.”

He also cited media reports about the judge’s death, suggesting that enough material was available to warrant an investigation.

To this, Chandrachud said the bench had carefully read reports published by the Caravan, Scroll.in and The Wire. “We do realise this is a serious matter,” he said. “But we cannot rely on news articles alone. We need a list of documents.”

All the lawyers then agreed to submit to the court in sealed covers all the documents they have related to the case.

Misra seeks apology

As this was decided, Salve requested the bench to ensure the documents are shared only between the lawyers representing the various parties to the case. Something this sensitive should not be paraded, he said.

Jaising objected, saying Salve was virtually asking for gagging the media. Dave asked why discussions about this case alone should be restricted when matters involving other politicians are being freely talked about. He disagreed with the court’s observation that this case was different as it involved a judicial officer.

When Jaising repeated that the court was essentially passing a gag order and pointed out that the same bench had batted for freedom of speech in the case involving the film Padmavat, an irked Misra reacted strongly. “I have not uttered a word,” he said. “A suggestion was made and we are discussing it.”

Insisting that the court was not trying to curtail the freedom of the press, he asked Jaising to withdraw her comments. “You please say you are sorry,” he said. Jaising withdrew her comments and apologised.

Chandrachud said the court wants to analyse all records and handle the case in the spirit of objectivity.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.