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‘Hundreds killed each year for marrying against families’ wishes’: Chandrachud

‘Hundreds killed each year for marrying against families’ wishes’ said CJI Chandrachud while speaking on morality and its interplay with the law.

While delivering the Ashok Desai Memorial Lecture in Mumbai on the topic ‘Law and Morality: The Bounds and Reaches’, CJI Chandrachud reported that hundreds of people are killed every year for falling in love or marrying outside their castes or against the wishes of their families. He said this while addressing questions on the indissoluble link between law, morality, and group rights.

In the socio-economic-political context of society, dominant groups have an advantage over the weaker sections to reach “adequate morality”, noted Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud on Saturday while speaking on morality and its interplay with the law.

Defining “adequate morality” as the morality of men, the upper castes, and able-bodied persons, the CJI said that people’s confidence in the protection of liberties rests in the judiciary.

“Even after the framing of the Constitution, the law has been imposing ‘adequate morality’, that is, the morality of the dominant community. In our parliamentary system of democracy, laws are passed by the vote of the majority. Therefore, the discourse around public morality often finds its way into the law enacted by the majority,” he said.

The CJI Chandrachud’s statements come at a time when several states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka, are coming up with stringent laws against religious conversions.

The CJI noted that while the law regulates external relations, morality governs inner life and motivation. “Morality appeals to our conscience and often influences the way we behave…We can all agree that morality is a system of values that prescribes a code of conduct. But, do all of us principally agree on what constitutes morality? That is, is it necessary that what is moral for me ought to be moral to you as well?’ he asked.

He noted that weak groups often are placed at the bottom of the social structure and that their consent, even if attained, is a myth and further pointed out that the “dominant groups, by attacking the etiquette of the vulnerable groups, often prevent them from creating an identity that is unique to themselves”.

“To counter the social morality of dominant groups that are imposed under the garb of common morality, there is a need to shift the conversation towards the values enshrined in the Constitution,” he added

He further said that biases often creep into law, and said that such biases reflect a categorical preference for and against certain people within our community.

To support his statement, CJI cited examples of bans on books, plays and restrictions on dance bars in Maharashtra. “Under the garb of protecting morality, the state tried to use the repressive power of law to restrain freedom of expression which is a constitutionally guaranteed right. Thus, even in societies governed by rule of law, we find that morality has always influenced how the law is interpreted and enforced,” he said.

‘Trust Us to Be Guardians of Liberties of Our Citizens’
The CJI also addressed the role of the judiciary in protecting the rights of the citizens against all violations. He said the confidence of citizens in the due process of law and the protection of liberty rests in the judiciary which is “guardians of liberties”.

The CJI emphasized through the lives of the members of the bar, who fearlessly espouse those causes, “the flame of liberty burns bright even today”.

He further referred to a theft case where a man would have spent 18 years in jail had the SC not intervened to say “trust us to be guardians of the liberties of our citizens”.

“Yesterday in a seemingly innocuous case, where an accused was sentenced to two years of imprisonment in sessions trial for theft of electricity, the trial judge forgot to say that the sentences will run concurrently.

“So then the consequence was that this person who had stolen electricity equipment like poles would have to suffer 18 years of imprisonment, only because the trial court didn’t direct that the sentences would run concurrently,” CJI Chandrachud said.

A bench led by CJI Chandrachud on Friday dealt with a plea of a man from Uttar Pradesh called Iqram who was to suffer a jail term of 18 years in nine minor cases of theft of electrical equipment of the state electricity department.

The top court set aside an Allahabad High Court order and directed that Iqram’s jail term of two years each in nine cases would run concurrently instead of successively. It was irked that neither the trial court nor the high court took note of the “miscarriage of justice” and set things right.

Referring to the case, the CJI on Saturday said the high court said, “sorry we can’t do anything at all, because the trial judge hasn’t, in terms of section 427 of the CrPc directive, said that the sentences would run concurrently”.

“We had to intervene yesterday, in a seemingly innocuous case of a simple citizen of the nation. The point which we make is sermonising apart, trust us to be guardians of the liberties of our citizens,” he added.

The CJI further said there is no case which is “small enough, or big enough” for every court in the nation, be it the district judiciary, the High Court, or the Supreme Court, “because it is in us that the confidence of the citizens, in the due process of law and the protection of liberty, rests”.

Talking about the subject of the lecture, the chief justice said it is true that both law and morality play a vital role in channeling our behaviour.

“As all of you might well be aware, the law is a definite body of rules enacted and enforced by the state. The legal rules regulate human conduct by written rules, penalties, and officials to interpret the laws,” he said.

The CJI added that while law regulates external relations, morality governs our inner lives and motivations, and “morality, in that sense, appeals to our conscience and influences the way we behave”

Who is Dhananjaya Yashwant Chandrachud?

Dhananjaya Yashwant Chandrachud (born 11 November 1959) is an Indian judge who is serving as the 50th and current Chief Justice of India. He is a former ex-officio executive chairman of the National Legal Services Authority whilst being J1 (or the senior-most judge after the chief justice) of the Supreme Court of India. He is also a former chief justice of the Allahabad High Court and a former judge of the Bombay High Court.

Born to Y. V. Chandrachud, he was educated at Delhi University and Harvard University before practicing for Sullivan & Cromwell and in the Bombay High Court. He became a judge at the Bombay High Court and then the chief justice of Allahabad High Court.

Known as a liberal judge, he has been part of benches that delivered landmark judgments such as the Privacy verdict and the Sabarimala case. He has visited the universities of Mumbai, Oklahoma, Harvard, Yale, and others as a professor.

He succeeded Justice Uday Umesh Lalit on November 9, 2022, as the chief justice of India (at the age of 62 years, 11 months, and 29 days) before which his nomination was challenged on the grounds of conflict of interest. A bench headed by Justice Uday Umesh Lalit had dismissed the plea a week before Chandrachud’s oath-taking ceremony.

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