One of the most interesting features of India’s legal system is the right of every Indian to appeal directly to the Supreme Court on any issue they feel threatens them or goes against the constitution. It’s part of a set-up designed to give even the poorest, and in one judge’s words, the most “bewildered” citizens the opportunity to challenge injustice.
Sadly, as a report in Frontline makes clear, this system has become gradually dominated by people who can afford to make multiple trips to Delhi to make their case and, if they really want to win, can afford the hyper-expensive lawyers who know what they’re doing. Only about 2% of cases are now direct petitions, and almost none are heard, compared with about 10% of cases in the 1970s, of which over half were heard.
On a more amusing note, these mechanisms can result in some pretty crazy petitions being put forward to the court. Take the petitions against last year’s decision to decriminalise homosexuality, which I recently took a look through at a Delhi lawyer’s office.
Among the 14 petitioners is Yoga Guru Swami Baba Ramdev, who is estimated to have 80 million followers around the world (one of whom gifted him an island off the west coast of Scotland last year which he renamed Peace Island). The guru believes that homosexuality is an unnatural vice that can be cured. Part of his petition reads: “Since, in the case of anal sex, artificial lubrication is required, therefore this by any stretch of the imagination could not be termed natural.” Solid reasoning there.
Another comes from the Inter-Faith Group of Indian Citizens, based in New Delhi, who fear that liberalised sexuality will lead youths to “become the target of the mafia”, increasing the risk of “anarchy, drug culture [and] terrorism.”
My favourite is Suresh Kumar Kaushal, a newspaper astrologer, whose petition argues that the new-found freedom to engage in homosexuality will be dangerously misused within the armed forces “by superior officers against their subordinates … [and] if this be the conditions, the whole defense system of the nation will collapse.”
A good excuse, I think, to relive the Brass Eye expose on gays in the navy:
The Supreme Court is set to decide on these arguments in March (the petitions, not whether gays attract sharks), although it is expected to follow the government’s tacit acceptance of gay rights by simply delaying any decision and avoiding the uproar that would result from making a clear decision one way or the other.
Watch this space to see if that results in an apocalyptic explosion of mafia/anarchist/terrorist hell being unleashed…