With a month remaining in the tenure of the current Chief Justice (CJI) of India Uday Urmesh Lalit due to retire on November 8 after a brief tenure of 74 days, the Centre has asked him to begin the process of appointing the next CJI.
Justice DY Chandrachud is the senior-most judge after the CJI. As per the established procedure, the law minister writes to the CJI to name his or her successor. The CJI names the senior-most judge as his or her successor.
Thus, it is all but certain that Justice Chandrachud will become India's next CJI. And as is also the unfortunate albeit established practice in the country, Justice Chandrachud has found himself on the receiving end of a barrage of conspiracy theories and smears designed to cast doubt on his character -- most of them by social media trolls alleging that he is 'pro-adultery' and that he 'holds a green card'.
What is this all about, and is there any truth to it?
A story published by The Hindu in September 2018, quoted Justice Chandrachud observing that "a married woman can make her own sexual choices. By marrying, she has not consented to refrain from sexual relations outside marriage without the permission of her husband. A husband is not the owner of his wife’s sexuality."
This was in connection with the Joseph Shine v. Union of India case, which led to Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a British Raj-era law which criminalised adultery.
Justice Chandrachud at the time had authored a concurring judgment declaring the provision of the Indian Penal Code which concerned the adultery law in India unconstitutional. Emphasising the constitutional commitment to equality and dignity, he held that:
"Implicit in seeking to privilege the fidelity of women in a marriage is the assumption that a woman contracts away her sexual agency when entering a marriage. That a woman, by marriage, consents in advance to sexual relations with her husband or to refrain from sexual relations outside marriage without the permission of her husband is offensive to liberty and dignity. Such a notion has no place in the constitutional order. Sexual autonomy constitutes an inviolable core of the dignity of every individual."
His concurring opinion was noticed for its emphasis on the sexual autonomy of women even within the bounds of a marital relationship, seeing as it was a remarkably progressive stand to take in the Indian context.
It should be noted that the judgment was about decriminalising adultery, as Section 497 was an utterly outdated law derived from Victorian-era morality, wherein a wife was the property of her husband, and where women, in general, were chattel.
The judgment had nothing to do with denying that adultery was grounds for divorce - in fact, that was not even under consideration before the apex court.
Naturally, many people were upset by his commitment to gender equality.
Here come the trolls
Once news broke out on Friday that Justice Chandrachud was most likely to succeed Justice Lalit as CJI, it didn't take very long for a bunch of trolls to emerge from the woods.
The vitriol against Justice Chandrachud came mainly from so-called 'men's rights groups' and other assorted misogynists.
Author Rajiv Malhotra, an Indian-born American Hindutva activist, tweeted, "Harvard Liberal Arts Infiltrates Supreme Court of India!" apparently referencing a book authored by himself called Snakes in the Ganga, in which he alleges 'American liberal arts' has been imported into India and "this importing has taken over even the Supreme Court of India."
Other supporters of his were quick to chime in. One user claimed that Justice Chandrachud is a holder of a Green Card, and this would present a "clear conflict of interest" if he were to be appointed the next CJI. Having a Green Card allows you to permanently live and work in the US.
Let's put aside the fact that holding a Green Card would not, in any way, shape, or form bar someone from holding a seat in the Supreme Court of India, seeing that a Green Card is merely a document that guarantees the right to live and work in the US, and is not the same thing as getting US citizenship (which would automatically bar a person from holding Indian citizenship).
The real kicker? Justice Chandrachud does not hold a Green Card!
In summary, this entire Twitter storm is much like any other Twitter storm: A completely baseless smear campaign.
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