Starline Cricket Club – III: The Team

Finally, the Paper Team comes of age

Our desire to give our best stemmed from no grand sense of duty or purpose, but simply from there being no option. The truth was that we were bad players and while the good players could play for any team, we could play only for ‘our’ team. It was this shutting out that bound us together. All outcasts are similarly empowered because closing of options makes determination natural.

We lost to deserving opponents. They were good. To our credit, we came back to be defeated over and over again. They wanted to win, we wanted to play. And in the end the difference turned out to be decisive.

The Code was in place. All on-field decisions were to be Captain’s while the rest had to be taken by the team through a democratic process. The Captain strongly recommended daily practice in the evening hours, and the rule to that effect was made.

It might be noted that the rules under the Code could be passed by a simple majority just like the laws are enacted, but the Code could not itself be changed, particularly the democratic form of decision-making in off-field matters. Even the Captain was answerable to the team for his on-field decisions. So, the Code operated as the constitution under which other rules could be passed and decisions arrived at.

The Captain knew fully well that his team was not really a bunch of supremely talented cricketers. And if the ability is not gifted, it has to be inculcated. Practice, it had to be. Now, it might be a warped way of thinking, but the Captain was convinced that batting and bowling were both athletic abilities and could be automatically improved if one practiced fielding well enough. He did not share it with anyone, but in his mind he was working with the basics – the eye-limbs coordination, fundamentally. Also, he was aiming at the raising the field confidence. So, the entire team began practicing fielding two hours every day.

One of us would take the bat and hit the ball randomly around while the rest of the team fielded. The Captain himself never took the bat and always fielded with other players encouraging every attempt, failed or successful, and also admonished over lousy motions of attempting. The small collective gestures of encouragement improved performance a great deal. Soon enough, from three regular bowlers we went to six regular and occasional, which allowed enormous room to experiment with the ball.

Honesty was another strict rule the Captain made. We were to play with integrity and honour and accept defeat, if it comes our way. Conventionally, the umpires came from the batting team because only the batting team had players to spare for the purpose, and, generally, in close cases the umpires took the side of their own team. Not so with our team. The players sent to umpire the match had clear instructions to be impartial. A strict watch was kept by the Captain on his umpires, and erroneous umpiring decisions were promptly recalled on the instructions of the Captain. The Captain clearly meant business when it came to honesty and sportsmanship. The opposition reciprocated, and the matches turned into non-acrimonious sporting tussles instead of no-holds-barred approach to winning.

After each match the Captain had to write a report on the match detailing the particulars of the match together with his opinion on the performance. The Vice-Captain was also required pen his own viewpoint. The Report would be submitted to the team in the next meeting. The Report was read out to the players with each player signing the Report. Players were also free to their opinion on record in the same notebook, if they so desired. The Report Book was kept for future reference. It was all this paper work that made some of our conventional opponents to mockingly call us the ‘Paper Team’. But the Reports made every match significant because the praise and criticism, being in writing, was there to stay. We were writing our own history, concretizing every match in the frozen drops of time. So, we tried harder to perform better.

Soon enough we were winning. And then came a month in which we played some nine matches – five more than our monthly four – against all three of our conventional opponents and won all of them! Every single match was convincingly won. The Paper Team had grown decisively formidable. When we played the last of these nine matches, many players from the other two of our regular opponents came over to watch us play. That was indeed a significant compliment with all three of our opponent teams – including the one that lost – congratulating us on our transition from puny challengers to sizeable opponents.

We won consistently enough for our kitty to swell with win money. And we organized our annual party with the surplus funds, in which our star performers as per our statistics were honoured with certificates of appreciation signed by all team members.

I resigned from the Captaincy thrice to allow other players to take over, but was recalled as Captain every time within one month or so. My Captaincy finally ended when I left for Allahabad to pursue Graduation. For some reason Starline Cricket Club did not survive my departure and disintegrated soon after. I owe quite a lot to my experience as SCC Captain. Even after witnessing it at such close quarters, I still find it incredible that 12-year-olds could demonstrate such a degree of grit, determination and unrelenting perseverance.


Originally published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [July 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 7]


Starline Cricket Club – II: The Code

The new 12-year-old Captain was all set to lead a team that had neither been ‘led’ before, nor had the concept of being led. Every single player in the team knew what each one of them was supposed to do, and they did it automatically without even looking at the Captain. Who bowled the first five overs, who came in after that, who bowled the last few overs, who opened the innings and who fielded where was all preset. The team played by convention rather than by strategy, for there was no strategy worth the name. The little Captain had instinctively realized that he was fighting two formidable adversaries – the other team and the mindset of his own players.

The question is why couldn’t he be like all previous captains – indifferent and inert? Why did he choose to actually ‘lead’? He just couldn’t walk the same line as his predecessors for no reason nobler than existence and honour. He wanted to play, and the only way he could play any real cricket was to play for a team. One, after all, can’t play cricket alone. Existence meant coexistence.

As for honour, it was disgraceful that the opponent teams could simply defeat his team and walk away with the money at will. There were too many changes to be made, but the first one was to ensure that it looked and behaved like a team instead of an assortment of players. A sense of identity was to be necessarily cultivated.

Interestingly, the necessity of coexistence and sense of identity is also what makes nations come into existence and continue to exist. The moment this sense of identity is lost, the talk of division and partition invariably follows.

The first match saw no great results. We lost, again; not so badly though and we did manage to give a fight. But the opponents did spot a change that the team was no longer in auto-pilot mode. It was clearly following orders. There was someone who looked in control. The field setting was constantly changing and the bowl did not fly from one bowler to another, but went through a certain pair of hands before going to another bowler. The newfound discipline was rather unsettling and made the opponents a bit jittery. The team did not look as familiar before and by sheer dint of temperamental change, they looked less easy to defeat.

The new Captain was prepared to be held accountable, but he knew that the wisdom of a decision can always be challenged, and sooner or later the man in command was looked upon as a dictator, particularly when too many changes are made too soon. The only way to bring legitimacy to a radical leadership is to make it democratic. Rules of fairness tend to reduce the arbitrary-look of the commands. So, he decided to draft a Code.

In a couple of days, before the next match, there was a Code in place called ‘The Code of Conduct’ and its provisions were, surprisingly, not called ‘Sections’ or ‘Rules’ but ‘Articles’. To this day I can’t explain why I called the provisions ‘Articles’ despite having no knowledge of any constitution whatsoever. The very first provision provided for democratic strategic decisions-making. The decisions were to be made collectively by the team during any of the two meetings every week.

Captain was to be elected by simple majority and could also be similarly removed except during an on-going match. Captain was all-powerful on the field, and all his field decisions were binding on every player. His decisions might be a matter of debate during the meetings, but were not challengeable on the field, and any player who violated the command made himself liable for disciplinary action and also vitiated his right to any remedy against the Captain.

All players had to contribute Re 1/- every week, which was the membership fee. The match schedules and the opponents were to be decided by the team collectively.  The system of weekly matches could thus be dropped. Interestingly, certain rules could be altered including those pertaining to the powers of the Captain, but the Captain had the power to veto certain decisions of the team, and that was one power that could not be taken away or diluted. In case of a deadlock occasioned by Captain’s veto, the Captain could be removed but his veto could not be nullified.

Therefore, the veto was basically a counter measure against such a decision of the team that the Captain strongly disagreed with. So, the Doctrine of Checks and Balances was in full play, unknown to the team or the drafter of the Code, who went by his instincts based on the understanding of human behaviour. The veto, however, was never exercised.

The Code was drafted in English and each provision was read out, translated and explained to the team after which each member of the team signed each provision into effect. Every new member of team was also to be inducted similarly. Only the players so inducted could play for the team. There was a provision for guest players, but for each match the decision had to be taken by the team itself. The Captain could also take an instant decision in this regard, but for such decision he was accountable to the team.

Thus, the Code turned the team into a single, concrete unit and gave it an identity – Starline Cricket Club. But it was still a formal team, a team on paper – a Paper Team. The Paper Team was to prove its mettle yet.

Originally published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [June 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 6]

The Fine Art of Advocacy

Being a successful lawyer is primarily about being able to convincingly play different roles with equal ease and élan. But then, while trust plays a significant role in legal profession, mask wearers are looked upon with suspicion because it’s difficult to tell the face from the mask, and even when the mask occasionally slips off, one still doesn’t know if what appears from behind the mask is the real face or yet another mask. A common perception about lawyer is that their true selves remain wrapped around and tucked away somewhere beyond reach.

But then, we all are different with different people, which makes others wonder as to when it is the face and when the mask. With lawyers it gets trickier because a lawyer is so many things to so many people and on account of the enormous influence that his profession brings in, every role that he plays is significant in the larger scheme of things. He is not just an individual among individuals, but the representative of the spirit and mechanism that makes order and justice possible. A lawyer must be graceful and effective in all that he or she does in course of being a lawyer and a responsible member of the society.

Advocacy is a fine art, and advocates are artists in their own right. But like all performing arts, before you add your personal touch to your performance, you need to know the craft and technique of the game itself. If falter on that front, you end up being a little too different and radical for comfort, which makes you less effective right from the start.

The Client

First and the foremost: Let the client speak. He or she is someone who looks upon you as the solver of problems and giver of relief. Clients, like any other category of human beings, are of several kind. But most of them wish to put across their problem in full without bothering to filter out the legally irrelevant, which is also because they have no idea as to what is relevant in the first place.

Give them a kind ear not only to keep them comfortable but also to find all about the issue that you are dealing with. Sometimes it might seem to be a waste of time, and in some cases it indeed might be. But patience is part of advocacy skill set that you must have in order to be a good lawyer and an effective advocate.

Also, sometimes clients make their own judgment and cut out the relevant considering it of no consequence while discussing their case. Allowing them some latitude to speak their mind out freely might give you a better perspective of their case. This is particularly useful for the new entrants to the legal profession, as experience with people gives one the eye to make quick judgments about what is relevant in a court of law and what is best left out.

As for the attire, if it is not the court where your client arrives to meet you, avoid being in the ‘lawyerly’ dress. No band, please. Do not look as though you are too smug about being a lawyer. An average client might find it a little too imposing and consequently find it too difficult to connect and communicate, which might be detrimental to the case and also to your long-term professional relationship with the client. Whether you win the day for the client is not completely in your hands because there are loads of other factors involved, but to inspire confidence in him that his case is in considerate hands is well within your reach.

Let your client know what you think about his case, including your doubts. Do not keep him in dark about anything. What are the chances of relief in his case must also be clearly communicated so as to forestall future grievances on part of the client. A client would eventually get over the loss that he might incur on account of losing the case, but he would still remember you as a lawyer who made and honest effort without pretending to be a super-lawyer. You would be lawyer he would trust for an honest opinion about all issues. It is this rapport with the clients that adds to the reputation of a lawyer, which is by far the most effective vehicle of success in this profession.

The Court

Solemn place that a courtroom is, demands that one accords due respect to the hallowed seat of justice. It is not a ‘workplace’ at Google where you could turn up dressed as you desire so long as you are comfortable and productive. Here, in the courtroom, the ‘presentation’ matters in all senses. This is not a profession where informality is prized a great deal. So, first off, dress conventionally and neatly because one’s first impression is created by how one looks. The courts and the judges are not really dismissive of personal styles. So, if you have a ponytail, and if it is very dear to you, well, you might keep it so long as it is neatly turned out and is not an eyesore of sorts. In short, present yourself in clean and proper lawyers’ attire without attempting stylistic changes.

Give a brief moment to the court to adjust to your presence. Let the court be over with the last case completely. Do not hasten to speak before the judge or judges are hearing you. Also, begin easy and do not try to jump to your central point too soon because that prevent the thrust of your argument from sinking in fully. This is a subtle art and takes considerable experience for one to get a hang of it. Majority of lawyers spend their whole careers without ever getting anywhere close to even marginally understanding the impact of ‘timing’. The argument needs to sink in, and the more complex the argument, the more diligent and deft delivery it requires. But there is no way to tell as to when it is time to cut to the heart of the matter. However, start with a very brief overview of the matter without straying too far away from your central arguments. This exercise is to ensure that the court is sufficiently warmed up to the issue and is receptive to the structure of your argument. The court may not agree with you, but your fundamental job is to make your point effectively enough. It is your duty towards your client and also to the court that you communicate your argument as effectively as possible so that the issue could be settled justly.

The reigning deity of a court is the presiding judge or judges, and a lawyer must be very mindful of that together with the fact that the judge might not find your argument convincing despite your best efforts and despite your personal conviction about the validity of your client’s claim. So, when your carefully constructed case falls apart and you stand face to face with an adverse judicial finding, take it with grace without looking upset. Having presented your case to the best of your ability, you have already done your part of the work. Even slightest display of displeasure is inappropriate. The Bench must be treated with the highest regard at all times, both inside and outside the court. Therefore, when you talk about the courts, judges and Benches, the reference must be respectful because this not only ensures that the judicial system is looked upon with regard that it deserves, but it also enhances your own esteem in the eyes of the client because we, the common people, subconsciously believe that those who are respectful deserve respect.

The Society 

Lawyers are not ordinary members of the society for the way they look at the society and the way they are looked upon by other members of the society. Lawyers are feared, respected and considered influential. This casts a duty upon the lawyers to behave like gentlemen and be model citizens so as to serve as moral exemplars.

The law must be visibly respected, and since lawyers are men of law, they must be found obeying the law at all times. And if that entails inconvenience or some kind of monetary disadvantage, so be it.

And others’ perception of you plays a crucial role in making you a successful lawyer because people generally trust law-abiding, morally upright individual, and trust is one of the most significant criteria when it comes to appointing a legal representative. A lawyer, like a doctor, is privy to some of one’s most intimate details, which is why one would not want to give such sensitive information in the hands of someone that they cannot trust from day one.

Influence when used to further noble ends builds reputation in no time. So, try fighting social and political ills whenever time permits. This not only provides moral satisfaction but also makes you more visible and approachable thereby increasing the likelihood of people approaching you for legal advice. However, don’t involve yourself with such causes for the sole purpose of professional gains, for, sooner or later, the insincerity would show, and that would do more harm than good to your professional standing.

Try standing for the law, abide by the rules, ask people to stick to the rules whenever you can, and wherever the authorities seem to be in violation of the spirit of the law, do register a peaceful protest. Most of the people do not speak up because they are often not very sure if what is being done is not in line with the law. Being a lawyer you know the extent of legal permissibility in most of the cases. Also, your understanding of the law cannot be lightly challenged, which makes you the fittest to point out an illegitimate exercise of authority. To do so is also your social duty, being a legal professional. In the long run this is no favour because unpunished disregard of law dilutes the authority of the law and also weakens the legal system. And it is this legal system the preservation of which is at the very heart of advocacy.   Therefore, fighting for the law is in a way also an exercise in professional self-preservation.

Nearly all experienced lawyers instinctively understand all that has been mentioned above. Some would lay greater emphasis on certain aspects while some would consider a few other aspects more important than the rest. In this sense every advocate discovers himself or herself and his or her own kind of advocacy. But the most effective advocates would strike a suitable balance among all aspects, and the art of advocacy is all about deftly engineering this delicate balance.

Originally written for and published in LAWYERS UPDATE as Cover Story [July 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 7]

Starline Cricket Club – I: The First Law

We were an odd bunch of children in seventh or eighth standard playing cricket in a small, triangular park with no walls amidst small houses in a government colony. What the people living in those small houses did not know was that these children had a written Code of Conduct drafted by one of them – a 13-year-old kid. And that they followed the Code to the last detail.

The elders of the colony possibly did not have an idea of the kind of internal struggle that went into the making of the Code, neither were they aware that the Code used such sophisticated concepts as Democratic Decision-Making, Separation of Powers, Decentralization of Authority  and accountability through referendum to the general body. What’s even more surprising is that even the kid who drafted the Code was not aware of the existence of these concepts. He was simply observing human behaviour, coming up with imaginative solutions and responding to the immediate needs. He was not a genius. He was just a sincere problem-solver.

This is an otherwise insignificant story about a small cricket team of young children that had its own, little battles to fight, but what’s striking is the way it took up the challenges and responded with a rusted, long-discarded, old-fashioned weapon – Integrity. Interestingly, these kids of 12 or 13 made their own laws founded upon honesty and self-belief, and followed them unwaveringly.

To begin with, playing together was not a choice we made. We played together simply because we played in the same park and played too amateurishly to play with older kids who played far better and would not let us spoil their game. We would get a chance to play with them only when they were short of fielders. The good thing was that they did not play for too long any day. They would play for an hour or so and then leave the park to us.

I had two hours to play everyday. Not a minute more. My mother was always quite strict about it, which I resented everyday to no avail. So, I had to make the most of my two hours. On Sundays I had four hours to play our weekend match with teams from other parks of the same locality.

Each player of both the teams contributed a certain amount towards the prize money, and the winning team took the entire prize money and redistributed the double of the contributed amount to each player. This provided the additional motivation to the players to give their best to the game.

But that did no good to us, for we lost all the time unless our opposition made a determined effort to make a gift of the game. We were actually a team of the leftovers – the team of those who would not be allowed to play for any other team. Perhaps, that was also the greatest binding force – the oneness of the discarded auto-engineered by the cohesive force of utter uselessness.

We would lose, but would keep playing weekend after weekend. Victory or loss did not matter to me, for I played to play alone and tried squeezing in as much play as possible into my precious playing hours that were subject to tyrannical parental determination. But I was not particularly great at the game. I batted with one-point objective – to be off strike at the earliest without getting out and without wasting any deliveries. So, I was the calm, easygoing batsman who never seemed troublesome, but ended up doing a good deal of harm.

When I was promoted up the batting lineup, we kept losing, but the margin started declining progressively. In other words, we were not really winning, but were resisting defeat better.

Captaincy or the Captain was not significant in our team, for it was understood that good bowlers would bowl the critical overs, best batsmen would open, and hitters would follow down the batting order. So, it was about following a settled strategy rather than making on-field decisions. Therefore, our Captains were, in effect, Captains for the purpose of the toss. I was asked to captain the team. I refused and continued playing my usual game of trying my best to not get out. A couple of weeks later, the question of captaining the team came up again. And I politely turned the offer down, again.

When I was asked the third time to shoulder the responsibility, and I refused yet again, the team wanted to know the reason behind my persistent refusal. I responded by saying that I abhorred the idea of ‘toss captain’. I could captain the team, but I had a condition – on the field, my command was to be the last word; no questions, no discussions. Contrary to my expectations, the team agreed forthwith.

It was the end of ‘toss captains’. The team had their first Captain and also their first and foremost law: The Captain was the unquestionable sovereign on the field, and his command was the law. And we were still a team of 12-year-olds, who didn’t play very well. We were soon to be dubbed ‘The Paper Team’. The fight had just begun.

Originally published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [May 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 5]

Freedom to Express includes Freedom to Offend

There is a bad book around. And the state, in order to keep our pristine minds unsullied, has decided to slap a parental ban on the book. We, the impressionable toddlers subsisting under the prudent watch of the state, must look up at the state and lisp a gurgling ‘thank you’ beaming our toothless grins of innocent gratitude.

The ‘unholy’ book is about the very same Father-of-the-Nation Mahatma Gandhi who had unwavering belief in the power of truth and non-violence and also penned a surprisingly candid autobiography called The Story of my Experiments with Truth, which might be a little too truthful for many of the prudish, puritan Gandhians to stomach. The old man was equally welcoming of all versions of truth, and was averse to using any kind of force, let alone the uncouth tool of state-imposed bans, to muffle dissent or to cast away an uncomfortable or unpleasant disclosure of or take on the truth.

Quite obviously, the central question here is whether the extreme step of banning the book in this case justifiable. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of this particular silencing of authorial voice, let’s consider the gravity of bans on creative freedom in general so that we know what is at stake and how severe could be the consequences of ignoring the issue or settling it unwisely, narrowly or by misapplying the otherwise admirable virtue of ‘tolerance’ to bans. It is the scathing creative works that must be tolerated, if the need be, and not their banning.

All state actions that tend to restrict freedom of speech and expression must be backed by unimpeachable justification because encroaching upon the right to express is stepping upon the throat of democracy itself. And if the state, under a democratically elected government, seeks to trample upon one of the founding pillars of democracy itself, it must be considered guilty of resorting to dictatorial means for evil ends until proven otherwise.

As for the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Joseph Lelyveld on the Mahatma, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India, it found itself at the receiving end simply because it retold what was already well-documented and one of the reviewers in the far-off foreign land read it through his sexually coloured, microscopic glasses and found fine gay specks nestled within the nuclear structure of the book’s narrative.

And two of the states – Maharashtra andGujarat– moved promptly and slapped a ban on the book even before it entered Indian markets. The alacrity of the preemptive strike was reminiscent of the American ‘anti-terror’ onslaught undertaken in retaliation to the WTC attack.

So, how did the government conclude that the book was offensive enough to deserve a ban without a first-hand analysis of the material said to be ‘offensive’? Could the review, being a personal take of a foreigner on the book, serve as the sole basis for the government make an ‘opinion’? Isn’t review much the same in status as hearsay? Could ‘hearsay’ be the basis for the restriction of a freedom as precious as that of ‘speech and expression’? A review is nothing but an opinion; and it is plainly disastrous to base one’s opinion solely on an opinion because it amounts to an ‘agreement’ without a first-hand analysis of the subject matter of agreement itself. Therefore, an opinion based on another opinion is not an ‘opinion’ at all. It is just a credulous – and often foolish – belief in the judgment of someone else. Quite obviously the government did not ‘form’ an opinion before banning the book, which implies that the ban was an arbitrary exercise of power with no application of mind.

Furthermore, the tone of the review by Andrew Roberts in the Wall Street Journal that formed the basis for the ban is sharp and overly critical of Gandhi, which is clearly suggestive of the reviewer’s intense dislike for the Mahatma. Thus, the impartiality and fairness of the review is very much doubtful. Could such a review be justifiably relied upon for the purpose of a ban?

In this context, it is noteworthy that the author categorically rejected the interpretation of the reviewer. The author said, “It [the book] does not say Gandhi was bisexual. It does not say that he was homosexual. It does not say that he was a racist. The word bisexual never appears in the book and the word racist only appears once in a very limited context; relating to a single phrase and not to Gandhi’s attitude or history inSouth Africa. I didn’t say these things, So I can hardly defend them. It is a responsible book, it is a sensitive book, it is a book that is admiring of Gandhi and his struggle for social justice inIndiaand it’s been turned into some kind of a sensationalist pot boiler. It is not. They should at least make an effort to see the pages that they think offend them before they take such an extreme step.”

Has the state improperly and without due justification overstepped the boundary laid down by Article 19 (1) (a) with respect to the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression in clamping the ban?

The state would, in all likelihood, defend itself by arguing that the freedoms under Article 19 are available to the citizens ofIndiaonly, and the author of the work in question, being a foreigner, cannot claim any right under Article 19. Even if it is conceded that the author does not have a right under Article 19, we, as the citizens of the country, certainly have the right to know the author’s opinion about the Father of the Nation even if the remarks are uncharitable, especially when the work is based on actual documents.

Furthermore, since the exercise of authority is without application of mind and without proper scrutiny of the offensiveness of the impugned material, nothing saves it from being ‘unreasonable and arbitrary’, which means it stands in clear violation of Article 14. And the protection of Article 14 extends to the citizens and the non-citizens alike.

Not that there was some ambiguity about the law pertaining to bans on books. There have been considerable number of occasions on which the higher court including the Supreme Court have made it amply clear that the freedom of speech and expression cannot be lightly interfered with, it being the lifeblood of democracy, which, in turn, is part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution, the government doesn’t seem to be listening, or is, perhaps, trying to play ignorant so as to score the brownies with the gullible electorate before the position is reiterated and the ban judicially trashed.

The State of Maharashtrabanned Shivaji ­ Hindu King in Islamic India by Prof. James W. Laine in 2006 after a few violent incidences were reported, which were largely carried out by the ‘Sambhaji Brigade’. The government proceeded against the author and the publishers under Sections 153, 153A read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, and ordered forfeiture of the copies of the book under Section 95(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The Supreme Court found no merit in the ban and set it aside on the grounds that the government notification failed to show which of the two communities identifiable on the basis of language, caste, race or religion were likely to experience mutual antagonism on account of the book because the government failed to show which community did not revere Shivaji. Those who revere Shivaji and those who don’t could not be treated as two communities for the purpose of the provisions invoked. Furthermore, the intention to cause animosity (mens rea) between two groups could also not be established. The Supreme Court said:

…there is nothing on record on the basis whereof the Government could   form   the    opinion     that       the    book    was       likely    to  promote disharmony or feeling of enmity between various groups or likely to cause disturbance to public tranquility and maintenance of harmony between various groups.

The ruling quite clearly demands of the government to make a reasoned decision with due application of mind considering all facts and circumstances. Only such written content is capable of being banned that is either born out of vicious intent to cause disturbance in general or cause animosity between the two identifiable groups, or is a reckless and irresponsible exercise of the freedom of speech in complete disregard of all propriety. Anything short of it simply does not call for silencing by state fiat.

The Mahatma himself never made a secret of his life. It would, therefore, be against the central philosophy the great man lived by to muffle even those voices that speak of him in irreverent tone. If freedom to express does not include freedom to offend, it’s form without content.

Mahatma would continue to be what he is and has been for us, but we cannot demand that he must be held in the same high regard by all. To be intolerant of the uncomfortable truth is nothing but self-deception – a patent moral defect that the Mahatma would very certainly abhor.

Originally written for and published in LAWYERS UPDATE as Cover Story [May 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 5]