Justice Karnan a sitting judge of the Madras High Court was transferred from Madras to Kolkatta to resolve the administrative logjam between Justice Karnan and the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court. 21other judges of the High Court also complained that it was difficult to work with Justice Karnan. The soft solution did not yield the desired result as the transferred judge invoked his alleged judicial power and pronounced an interim stay of his own transfer order. The stay he ruled would hold until the Chief Justice of India filed a written statement explaining the transfer order, which he contended was in breach of a 1993 judgement of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court punctured this defiance by asking the Chief Justice of Madras High Court not to allocate any judicial work to the Judge. The judicial crisis has passed but the administrative and human challenge remains.
How should we as citizens view this exchange? How should this incident be understand by us? One way of looking at the episode is through the legal lens of constitutionality, due process and jurisdiction. The other is to perceive the lived reality of a Dalit judge when elevated to the higher judiciary. An analysis of the incident, only vis a vis the requirements of the law, would not provide even a working hypothesis on what caused Justice Karnan to adopt a course of action, which many would perceive as suicidal for his career. The eccentricity explanation, which is doing the rounds, conveniently escapes the matter of caste discrimination. Consequently, this piece firstly examines the manner in which existing law speaks to Justice Karnan’s decision; then dwells on the question of caste discrimination and lastly cogitates on possible ways of addressing this all pervasive discrimination.
Yesterday, in a corner of Delhi-NCR known as Keshopur, a 22-year old sewage worker breathed his last, a final tortured breath inhaled inside a part of the vast network of sewage pipelines that map the city in their own cartography of waste. The pipeline was owned by the Delhi Jal Board, so its function was not simply to transport sewage, but to transform it into potable water through a portion of the pipeline that resembles a septic tank – a portion known as the ‘digester’.
That Vinay Sirohi, 22-year old contract worker with the Delhi Jal Board, who got married last year and had taken up part-time employment to help him get through college, lost his life in a part of the sewage pipeline called the ‘digester’ imparts something so grotesquely apposite to this tragedy that one almost doesn’t want to think about it. One often doesn’t, of course. One has the option of of flipping the page of the newspaper, of resting one’s eyes on more life-affirming images – English Premier League, Bollywood, Modi-Cameron Cameron-araderie…even Kejriwal’s homely navy-blue sweater and baggy trousers are a pleasant distraction. Anything that tells us that life as it was meant to be – humans wearing a clean sweater and trousers with a sofa to sit on after their stomachs and minds are fed and sated – is better than the thought of a body inside a pipe under the city. When I tried to save the image that you see above, the caption read djb_body_759. I don’t want to think about what that caption means. Does it mean the 759th body found inside the DJB’s sewage network? Does it mean the 759th body to have been recovered by the police this year, 2015? Does it mean the 759th body to have died in sewage pipelines across the country, or ever?