judicial system

Justice Chelameswar: The often dissenting judge highlights the judicial and democratic crisis today

His press conference with three other judges on Friday was not the first time he spoke out against the decisions of the Supreme Court.

Justice Jasti Chelameswar, the most senior judge in the Supreme Court after Chief Justice Dipak Misra, on Friday held a press conference with three other judges to highlight the crisis in the judiciary and the “many things that are less than desirable” that have happened in the past few months.

Chelameswar is known to be a dissenting voice, and this is not the first time he has spoken against the decisions of the Supreme Court. The press conference at his house on Friday is perhaps his most brazen expression of opinion so far.

“Our efforts have failed to convince the chief justice to take steps to protect the institution,” Chelameswar said. Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph were the other judges at the press conference.

Chelameswar’s recent dissent

National Judicial Appointments Commission: In 2015, a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court thwarted the attempt by the executive to wrest back power to appoint judges. Chelameswar’s lone dissenting view against the secretive manner in which judges selected judges discredited the 1993 collegium system.

It forced the bench to issue directions for reform. Chelameswar had also gone public with his decision to boycott meetings of the collegium, alleging lack of transparency and accountability. He also played a major role in getting the chief justice of India to disclose decisions the secretive collegium made on the Supreme Court’s website.

Medical Council bribery case: In November 2017, a bench headed by Justice Chelameswar heard advocate Kamini Jaiswal’s petition, which sought an independent Special Investigation Team monitored by the court to investigate the alleged bribery scam involving the Medical Council of India.

The petition said the chief justice should not be part of the bench hearing the case as he had handled cases related to the Medical Council of India earlier and there would be a conflict of interest.

Justice Chelameswar referred the case to a five-judge Constitution bench. But a new five-judge bench formed a day later by Chief Justice Misra nullified his order. Misra had said “the chief justice is the master of the roster and he alone has the prerogative to constitute the benches of the court and allocate cases to the benches so constituted”.

What Chelameswar said on Friday

The senior judge said the Supreme Court had a responsibility towards the institution and the nation. He and the three other judges said they had decided to speak out now to ensure that democracy survived in India. Chelameswar said they were not doing this with pleasure and were not “running politics”.

“The democracy cannot survive without an independent judiciary,” he emphasised.

Lost the chance to be India’s chief justice

Chelameswar was appointed additional judge in the Andhra Pradesh High Court in 1997.

While he was made Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court in May 2007, he was not elevated to the Supreme Court till until October 2011. The unexplained delay denied him the chance to be chief justice of India.

His landmark judgments include striking down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. He also headed the bench that referred the matter on Aadhaar’s privacy concerns to a larger Constitution bench.

Chelameswar will retire in June this year.

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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.