The Ideal Judge: Qazi Sirajuddin
In this day and age when the faith of Indian people in our judiciary has been massively shook due to certain events, I would reminisce upon judge Qazi Sirajuddin, the Qazi-e-Subah of Bengal, who was an inspiration and a beacon of hope for many upright judges who are now practising law in the Indian judiciary.
Having been a Judge myself for 20 years (from 1991 to 2011), I have studied the lives and works of numerous judges in the world, many of whom are my heroes for their uprightness, refusal to succumb to pressure or temptation, and learning. For example, Lord Coke, Chief Justice of England, who refused to surrender his independence before King James I, Lord Atkin, who in his famous dissent in Liversidge vs Anderson (1941) criticised the majority judges for being ‘more executive minded than the executive’; Justices Holmes, Brandeis and Cardozo, Judges of the US Supreme Court, who advocated judicial restraint instead of adventurism, and nearer home, Justice HR Khanna, who willingly lost his chance of becoming Chief Justice of India but refused to join the majority in the shameful Additional District Magistrate Jabalpur verdict.
However, in my opinion, Qazi Sirajuddin, the Qazi-e-Subah of Bengal, stands a shade above all other Judges in the world. In his ‘History of Bengal’ Prof. Charles Stewart mentions an interesting case of 1490 which came before Qazi Sirajuddin.
Once upon a time, while the Sultan of Bengal was practising archery, one of his arrows accidentally wounded a boy, the son of a widow. The widow immediately came before the Qazi and demanded justice.
The Qazi was in a dilemma. He said to himself ‘If I summon the Sultan to my court, I may be punished by the Sultan for impertinence, but if I overlook the Sultan’s act, I shall one day certainly be summoned before the Court of God to answer for my neglect of duty.’
After much reflection, fear of God prevailed over fear of the Sultan, and the Qazi ordered one of his officers to go and summon the Sultan to his court.
On receiving the summons, the Sultan instantly rose, and concealing a dagger under his clothing, went before the Qazi, who far from rising from his seat or showing the Sultan any mark of respect said to him ‘You have wounded the son of this poor widow. You must therefore immediately pay her adequate compensation, or suffer the sentence of the law’.
The Sultan made a bow, and turning to the widow gave her a sum of money which satisfied her. After doing so, he said to the Qazi, ‘Worthy Judge, the complainant has forgiven me’. The Qazi then asked the woman if she was satisfied, to which she assented, and the case was then dismissed.
The Qazi then came down from his seat and made obeisance before the King, who, drawing the sword from under his clothes said, ‘O Qazi, in obedience to your command I came instantly to your Court, but if you had not done your duty, I swear that with this sword I would have taken off your head. Thanks to God, I have in my dominion a Judge who acknowledges no authority superior to the law’.
The Qazi then took out a whip which he had concealed under his robes, and said to the King, ‘I also swear by Almighty God that if you had not complied with the injunction of the law this whip would have made your back black and blue. It has been a trial for both of us’.
Thus, fear of God prevailed over fear of the Sultan in the mind of the Qazi.
In today’s context, God should be understood by judges to be able to uphold their loyalty to their oath and respect the Constitution and ensure the protection of the rights of people. The Sultan should be understood as the political and executive authorities, before whom judges must never surrender.
Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was also the Chairman of the Press Council of India.