Joseph said that currently the judiciary was divided along political and communal lines in an unprecedented manner. “I have never seen the Supreme Court of India’s Bar so politically and communally divided,” he added. “And that is the situation in several High Courts across the country also.”
The former judge said the developments have resulted in the judiciary losing its moral power and its role of a watchdog. “When things go constitutionally wrong, it has always been the advocates who have been raising their voice,” Joseph said. “Where are they now? They are also divided politically and communally, in protecting their own self-interest.”
On being asked about the recent laws aimed at preventing religious conversions, Joseph said that religion was a matter of faith and conscience, and that conversion “by force, duress or by allurement” was wrong. He, however, noted that the fear of being stigmatised prevailed if a person decides to change his religion.
“A fear psychosis as such is introduced in this country that if you change your religion, you would be either finished or cease to be having a position in society,” he said. “That is certainly wrong, undemocratic, unconstitutional. You have the right to choose any religion of your choice.”
Last week, another retired Supreme Court Justice Madan Lokur had criticised Uttar Pradesh’s new anti-conversion law, suggesting that it had many defects. Meanwhile on Saturday, the Madhya Pradesh Cabinet also approved a similar law aimed at tackling “love jihad” – a conspiracy theory espoused by right-wing Hindutva activists, alleging that Hindu women are forcibly converted by Muslims through marriage.
Bharatiya Janata Party governments in Haryana, Karnataka and Assam have also made similar announcements. These actions are despite the fact that in February, the Centre told the Lok Sabha that no “case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies”.
Besides flagging the threat to independence of judiciary, Joseph said that other constitutional bodies were under attack too.
“Election Commission, CAG [Comptroller and Auditor General of India], UPSC [Union Public Service Commission], all regulators – MCI [Medical Council of India], BCI [Bar Council of India], UGC [University Grants Commission], [National] Statistical Commission, RBI [Reserve Bank of India] – take any sector, I am asking you to make an introspection,” the retired judge said. “Has its credibility not been shaken? Is there any investigating agency which has not been attacked on its independence?”
Joseph said that the confidence of all these bodies had been shaken and termed it as a “dangerous trend”, suggesting that they should only depend on constitutional integrity.