In view of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic outbreak this year, the Indian judiciary had to undergo a radical overhaul in how access to justice, a key pillar in all democracies, can be ensured in the backdrop of an unprecedented health crisis.
The virus pushed the courts across the country into making revolutionary changes to meet the persistent demands of justice. The Supreme Court departed from its history and attempted to mainstream technology, since March 23 the court hearings moved online.
Justices began hearing arguments by video conferencing, a momentous step for an institution, which has always been cautious and guarded its secrets. Technology began to serve as a platform for fiery arguments and courtroom's give-and-take by lawyers and paved the way for a renewed justice delivery system.
In this year, largely impacted by the pandemic, the courts delivered some crucial judgments, which may play a significant role in the judicial history.
However, there were some markedly bizarre ones which left citizens stupified as they tried to comprehend the utter practical implications of it all.
These are few of the 'bizarre' judgements, delivered by courts in India, in 2020:
1. 'Tie a rakhi'
The apparent sanity of our courtrooms came under radical doubt back in August, when the Madhya Pradesh High Court's Indore Bench directed a victim of sexual harassment to "tie a rakhi" on the wrist of her alleged perpetrator. The accused was directed to resolve the conflict by visiting the residence of the complainant with a "box of sweets" and a "promise to protect her to the best of his ability for all times to come."
The accused was also asked to pay an amount of Rs 11,000 to the complainant "as a customary ritual, usually offered by the brothers to sisters on such an occasion and shall also seek her blessings".
The court order drew strict censure from all liberal quarters, especially since it implied a skewed sense of justice, where a serious crime like sexual harassment, which violates the bodily autonomy of an individual, can just be resolved in exchange of a box of sweets and a customary 'Rakhi'.
2. Article 32 petitions
The right to liberty forms an integral part of the Constitution’s basic structure, which is why our democracy is resilient enough for braving through incessant judgments that don't make sense.
Back in November, the Supreme Court, while seeking a response from the Uttar Pradesh government on a plea challenging the arrest of Kerala-based journalist Siddique Kappan, said that the top court is trying to "discourage" filing Article 32 petitions.
Article 32 grants the right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed. The right guaranteed by this article shall not be suspended except as otherwise provided for by the Constitution.
In other words (that is, for the layman not well-versed in legal jargon), Article 32 basically allows a citizen to file writ petitions directly before the Supreme Court, bypassing lower courts in the process.
During the hearing, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for a journalists' body, sought bail for the scribe saying that there was nothing against Kappan in the FIR lodged at Mathura by Uttar Pradesh police.
It was then that the Bench wanted to know from Sibal why he had come to the apex court directly, instead of approaching the Allahabad High Court.
However, what strikes as bizarre in this act by the Supreme Court is that Republic TV head Arnab Goswami had recently gotten his bail plea under a similar situation as per Article 32. However, it was only when journalist Siddique Kappan's case arrived that the top court said it was trying to discourage petitions under the aforementioned article. When asked about this, the Supreme Court simply said, "Every case is different."
3. Prashant Bhushan fined Re. 1
The Supreme Court of India fined veteran advocate Prashant Bhushan, who was held guilty of contempt of court for two of his tweets, an amount of one rupee.
The first tweet, posted on June 29, related to Bhushan's comment/post on a picture of CJI Bobde on a high-end bike.
In his second tweet, Bhushan expressed his opinion on the role of the last four CJIs amid the state of affairs in the country.
Bhushan in his statement had refused to offer an apology to the Supreme Court for the tweets, saying what he had expressed represented his bona fide belief which he continued to hold.
Following this, the Supreme Court of India fined Prashant Bhushan Re 1 and said that failure to pay this fine would result in him being sentenced to jail for three months and suspension from practising law for three years!
While pronouncing the judgment on behalf of the Bench on Monday, presiding judge Justice Mishra said multiple opportunities were given to Bhushan "to express regret".
The Bench added that if it does not take cognizance of such conduct it will send a wrong message to the lawyers and litigants throughout the country. So, by showing magnanimity, instead of imposing any severe punishment, they were sentencing the contemnor with a nominal fine of Rupee one, to be deposited with the registry of the court by September 15.’’
The advocate and activist was later let off with the token fine.
4. Divorce granted over woman's refusal to wear 'sakha' and 'sindoor'
In an apparently bizarre judgment, the Gauhati High Court in June granted divorce to a man for his wife's "refusal" to wear 'sakha' and 'sindoor', as per Hindu customs of the land.
The High Court set aside a lower family court's order, which had earlier rejected the man's plea for divorce, and instead highlighted the "act of cruelty" on part of the woman.
The Bench, comprising Chief Justice Ajai Lamba and Justice Soumitra Saikia, observed that the woman's refusal to wear traditional Hindu markers of marriage equated to "her refusal to accept the marriage". This is, to say the least, a bizarre equation.
“Her refusal to wear ‘sakha and sindoor‘ will project her to be unmarried and/or signify her refusal to accept the marriage with the appellant (husband). Such categorical stand of the respondent (wife) points to the clear intention of the respondent that she is unwilling to continue her conjugal life with the appellant,” the high court said in the judgment passed on June 19.
5. 'Not all insulting remarks to SC/ST persons are offences'
Insulting remarks made to a person belonging to Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes within four walls of the house with no witnesses does not amount to offence, the Supreme Court said last month as it quashed the charges under the SC/ST Act against a man who had allegedly abused a woman within her building.
The top court said that "all insults or intimidations to a person will not be an offence under the SC/ST Act unless such insult or intimidation is on account of victim belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe".
It added that an offence under the SC/ST Act would be made out when a member of the vulnerable section of the Society is subjected to "indignities, humiliations and harassment" in any place within public view.
This order by the Supreme Court, too, drew strict censure from caste activists who pointed out that not all insults are made public for the precise reason that it'd attract attention when the complainant is of a lower-caste than the perpetrator.
However, in the absence of full public view, the severity of the insults do not magically disappear or somehow affect the dignity of an SC/ST individual, activists have pointed out.
On a related note, also check out our list of Top 5 progressive judgments by Indian courts this year:
(All photos via agencies)