Societies That Mistreat Minorities Are Uncivilised
A hallmark of a civilised society is that minorities therein can live with dignity and honour. From that standpoint, I regard neither India nor Pakistan as civilised societies, since minorities are oppressed in both countries.
In this connection I may narrate an incident.
I was a judge of the Allahabad High Court, which is the High Court for the Indian state of UP, from 1991-2004. In UP Muslims are a minority, being about 19% of the total population of the state. However, in a particular village in UP the people were almost all Muslims, except for a few Hindu dalit families.
An incident occurred in that village in which some Muslim youth gang raped a dalit girl. When the case came before me in the High Court I gave harsh punishment to the Muslim youths, saying in my judgment that since Muslims were the majority in the village it was their duty to have ensured that the Hindus there lived with dignity and honour, but instead some of them gang raped the Hindu girl. So they deserved no leniency.
In the same judgment I added that had the majority in that village been Hindu, and Hindu youth had gang raped a Muslim girl, those Hindus would have got harsh punishment from me. I concluded my judgment by saying what has been said in the beginning of this article : a hallmark of a civilised society is that minorities therein can live with dignity and honour.
When I was a judge of Allahabad High Court some petitions came before me of Muslims who complained that they are not being allowed by the authorities to build a mosque on their own land, and so they had to say their Friday prayers beside public roads. This was when both the Central Government and UP state government were BJP governments. I allowed the petitions, saying that Muslims had a right to build mosques on their land in view of Article 25 of the Constitution.
When I was the Chief Justice of Madras High Court (2004-2005) a petition came before me of some Muslims of a particular town in Tamilnadu (in which state only about 5% population is Muslim) who complained that they were not being allowed to take out funeral processions on a certain public street on the ground that there was a Hindu temple beside that street.
I ordered that since it was a public, not private, street, they had a right to do so in view of Article 25 of the Constitution, and the authorities must ensure that no one interferes with that right.
When I was a Judge of the Supreme Court a case came before a bench of which I was a member regarding attacks on Christians in Kandhamal district in the state of Odisha in 2008 by some extremist Hindu elements. As a result, 1400 homes of Christians were destroyed or damaged, and 80 churches, and over 18,000 Christians had to flee to a jungle. I told the lawyer appearing for the state of Odisha to tell the Chief Minister of the state that if his government cannot protect minorities he better quit office. We will not tolerate atrocities on minorities.
However, this was only my own approach, not always shared by my colleagues on the bench.
Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was also the Chairman of the Press Council of India.