Judge Loya case

Even without an investigation, Supreme Court concludes that Judge Loya’s death was natural

The court based its judgement on statements of four judges who were with Brijgopal Loya the day he died, saying they can’t be doubted.

The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to order an independent investigation into the death of Maharashtra judge Brijgopal Harkishan Loya, concluding that he had died of a heart attack. A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra reposed absolute faith in the statements of four judges who apparently took Loya to hospital after he complained of chest pain in the early morning of December 1, 2014. Loya was declared dead a few hours later.

At the time, Loya was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case in which Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah was an accused. Shah was acquitted a few weeks later by the judge who took over from Loya.

In a 114-page judgement authored by Justice DY Chandrachud, the bench, which also included Justice AM Khanwilkar, slammed the petitioners for coming to the court with ulterior motives, which amounted to tarnishing the image of the judiciary. Political and business rivalries, the court said, should be settled in markets and the electoral field. The petitions were a case of the misuse of public interest litigation, which undermines the judicial process by wasting the time of the court, the judgement said.

The court maintained that in the absence of substantial contradictory evidence, the statements of the four judges cannot be questioned.

Many questions remain unanswered, however, not least because the court failed to address some specific allegations raised by the petitioners on the basis material evidence.

Judges’ statements

The strongest thread running through the judgement is the faith reposed in the statements of the four judges – SM Modak, VC Barde, Shrikant Kulkarni and Roopesh Rathi. The court said contemporaneous material evidence backs the judges’ statements. Although there are minor contradictions, they by and large agree about the sequence of events that took place after Loya complained of chest pain. Loya was first taken to Dande hospital and then to Meditrina, where he was declared brought dead.

The judges’ statements, Chandrachud wrote, “have a ring of truth” to them. “The statements contain matters of detail which would be known to those who were present with Judge Loya,” the judgement noted.

One of the key questions raised by the petitioners was how the four judges had provided their statements so swiftly during a discreet investigation launched by the Maharashtra government after Caravan magazine published two articles raising doubts about the circumstances of Loya’s death on November 20 and 21. The entire investigation was completed in five days. This included seeking permission from the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court to record the statements of the judges, taking the statements and collating them in the form of a report.

To this, the Supreme Court said the alacrity reflected the sense of duty of the four judges.

“The four judicial officers acted responsibly. There was no reason for them either to hasten or to cause a delay in submitting their versions of what they knew. Each of the four judges has acted with a sense of duty. This is how they would be expected to conduct themselves, in answering to a call of duty.”

Another key contention of the petitioners was that two judges of the Bombay High Court – Justices Gavai and Shukre – spoke about the circumstances of Loya’s death to The Indian Express on November 27. Their version matched that of the four judicial officers, raising suspicion of the entire exercise being staged. The petitioners even sought disciplinary action against the two High Court judges.

The Supreme Court dismissed the submission as “preposterous”. The interviews of the High Court judges were published by The Indian Express on November 27, the court said, whereas the statements of the four judges had been taken on November 23 and 24. “We are mentioning this aspect because the line of submissions in this case indicates an unfortunate attempt to use every possible ploy to cast aspersions on members of the district and higher judiciary,” it said.

It is not clear, though, whether the court considered the possibility that the High Court judges and the judicial officers may have spoken between November 20 and November 23, the period between Caravan publishing the first of its two reports and the judicial officers providing their statements.

Hospital visits

The petitioners, including Congress member Tehseen Poonawallah, had questioned why Loya was first taken to the smaller Dande hospital when better facilities were available within five kilometers of Ravi Bhavan, the guest house where Loya was staying in Nagpur.

To this, the apex court said it was easy for an observer sitting in an armchair at a distant point in time to assert that wisdom lay in an alternative course of action. “They did their best under the circumstances, acting entirely in good faith,” it said, referring to the judges who took Loya to the hospital.

Saying the four judicial officers were sought to be painted as co-conspirators, the court stated, “We must emphatically reject such attempts on the part of the petitioners and the intervenors to malign judicial officers of the district judiciary.”

Question of ECG

One of the main points of contention was whether an ECG was done on Loya at Dande hospital. Of the four judicial officers who were with Loya at the hospital, Rathi had said the ECG machine was broken while Barde had said an ECG was indeed done. As part of its November 27 report, The Indian Express had published a copy of the ECG, but it carried the date as November 30 and not December 1, which is when Loya was taken to the hospital.

The judgement acknowledged the contradiction in the statements of the judges but reasoned that Rathi’s claim should be weighed with the doctor’s notes at Meditrina. It stated:

“The death summary specifically adverts to the fact that the patient was taken to Dande hospital earlier where an ECG was done. Dr Dande has made the same statement. The progress notes also note a ‘tall T’ in the anterior lead which indicates that the ECG was seen by the doctors attending to Judge Loya at Meditrina hospital. These progress notes are contemporaneous, since they also form part of the communication addressed by Dr NB Gawande at Meditrina to the PSI at Sitabardi on the same day after the judge had been brought dead to the hospital.”

In fact, the court pointed out, Prashant Bhushan, one of the intervenors, has relied on this ECG for his submissions.

But it should be noted, as reported before, Dr NB Gawande of Meditrina, who signed the medico-legal report, had told Caravan that he did not see the report of the ECG done at Dande till it was brought over the next day. However, the doctor’s progress notes, also prepared on December 1, clearly mentions the Dande hospital’s ECG. Did Gawande sign the medico-legal report without going through the doctor’s progress report?

Though the court dismissed the doubts about the ECG by pointing to its mention in the doctor’s notes at Meditrina, this does not nullify the petitioners’ suspicion about the very authenticity of the ECG report, which is what an independent investigation would have looked into.

In effect, the court overlooked the statement of one judge but relied on the statement of another as well as other documentary evidence that too was disputed by the petitioners. For example, the bill for Loya’s treatment at Meditrina listed charges for dietary consultation and neurosurgery. The court dealt with this aspect in passing, although it was a substantial question.

“The charge for dietary consultation is erroneous,” the judgement said. “But that cannot be a ground to discredit the fact that Judge Loya was taken to Meditrina. That he was taken to Meditrina is clear from the documentary material on the record and the consistent statements of all the four judicial officers.”

The contention about neurosurgery charges was not answered in detail. This is significant because Loya’s family members told Caravan there were bloodstains on his shirt, which the petitioners later argued could be the result of an injury to the head.

Family’s statements

The apex court observed that Loya’s family had disassociated from their interviews to Caravan, alleging attempts by Mohit Shah, then Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, to bribe Loya for a favourable verdict in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case. The court said:

“The video recording of an interview given to Caravan by the father and sister of Judge Loya was also handed over to the court on a pen drive. The members of the family of Judge Loya have disassociated themselves from the statements attributed to them in the Caravan publication. The video recording, which we have seen, contains snippets of an interview. Evidently, only a part of the interview has been produced. The allegations against the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court are hearsay.”

If the court thought the video was edited, why did it not seek the unedited version from Caravan?

Moreover, that petitioners’ had argued that Loya’s family could have retracted their statements under duress. The court also did not deal in detail with the letter written to Mohit Shah by Anuj Loya, seeking an investigation into his father’s death.

Stay in Ravi Bhawan

On the question of whether Loya actually stayed in the government guest house in Nagpur, the court pointed to the visitors registry to conclude a suite had been booked in the name of one of the judges accompanying him. The court accepted the statements of two of the judicial officers that they stayed in the same room with Loya at Ravi Bhawan. It also pointed out that Loya called his wife on the night of November 30 and told her he was staying at the guest house. The court said:

“The occupancy register does show that the room was in the name of Judge Kulkarni. His account is that his two friends and colleagues (Judge Loya and Judge Modak) shared the accommodation with him. It is unfair to disbelieve this account of colleagues in the district judiciary. They were friends, known to each other and had stayed together at Ravi Bhavan during the short trip to Nagpur. No counsel has suggested that they were not closely acquainted to each other.”

The court seems to have not taken into account media reports that were published after the judgement was reserved on March 16. In particular, an investigation in Caravan published on March 29 about how staff at Ravi Bhawan had no clue about the happenings of December 1, 2014.

‘Scurrilous allegations’

The Supreme Court slammed the petitioners for levelling for what it described as “scurrilous allegations”. It especially took to task lawyers Dushyant Dave and Prashant Bhushan for some of the arguments they had made. About Dave’s plea for cross-examining the four judges, the court said:

“By casting unfounded aspersions on the judicial officers who had accompanied Judge Loya, the petitioners have revealed the real motive of these proceedings which is to bring the judiciary into disrepute on the basis of scurrilous allegations. We find no basis or justification to allow the request for cross-examination. The application shall accordingly stand rejected.” 

Bhushan had sent the ECG and other medical records to Dr Upendra Kaul, former head of forensics at the All India Institute of Medical Science in Delhi, and obtained his opinion. The doctor suggested reasons other than heart attack for Loya’s death. The court objected to the manner in which this was done, saying:

“Facts have emerged from the record which indicate that a carefully orchestrated attempt has been made during the course of these hearings on behalf of the Centre for Public Interest Litigation to create evidence to cast a doubt on the circumstances leading to the death of Judge Loya. In their practice before this court, Counsel are expected to assist the court with a sense of objectivity in aid of justice. What has happened here is that Mr Prashant Bhushan has adopted a dual mantle, assuming the character of a counsel for the intervenor as well as an individual personally interested on behalf of the intervening organisation of which he is a member. He has gone to the length of personally collecting evidence to somehow bolster the case. This has bordered on an attempt to misrepresent the facts and mislead the court.”

The court reproduced the expert medical opinion obtained by the Maharashtra government that the conclusions in the postmortem report were correct.

The court also spoke about the misuse of public interest litigation, saying the true face behind the litigants is seldom revealed.

“At the other end of the spectrum are petitions which have been instituted at the behest of business or political rivals to settle scores behind the facade of a public interest litigation. The true face of the litigant behind the façade is seldom unravelled.”

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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.