An unassailable justice system is imperative for a truly democratic order. It forebodes ill for human life and liberty if judges tend to act under impulse, whim, prejudice or pressure. Such propensities and weaknesses either reduce a civilized society to the sultry world of barbaric lawlessness obtaining in the primitive ages or sound ominous signals of the fascist forces fast gaining momentum. It is a disturbing development for every lover of freedom and believer in a just society. It is a far cry from the ideal of tempering justice with mercy. The ends of Justice cannot be served by a mathematical approach which demands a rigid adherence to the letter of law. While delivering his judgment a judge needs to transcend over the written code and determine whether, on the plain of morality, his decision could be called right, whether he had taken all the extenuating circumstances into consideration. In short a judge should not only dispense justice but should appear to be doing so.

The handling of the extradition proceedings against Sukhminder Singh Sandhu and Ranjit Singh Gill by the U.S. Magistrate, Ronald Hedges must have been brazenly prejudiced that the Defense Counsel was provoked to comment that “you don’t have to go to India to experience Indian kind of justice, itis available here also”. The Defense Counsel seems to have learnt about the sordid state of the Indian judiciary during his recent visit to that country in connection with collecting evidence for the case. The draconian laws enacted during the last four years, specifically aimed at crushing Sikh aspirations, have made a mockery of a judicial system which was already plagued with such excessive control of the autocratic Executive as to make even the Supreme Court judges of India acting manner that is summed up in the observations made on the report of Thakkar Natarajan Commission by A.G. Noorani and published in the Illustrated Weekly of India. Noorani laments: “Bad law and bad logic are compounded with bad temper. The Commission’s harangue would be hilarious if it came from a Minister. It is tragic because it emanates from judges of a court one deeply respects”.

It is equally tragic that the U.S. Magistrate while ordering the extradition of Gill and Sandhu did not for a moment pause and reflect whether it would be right to pack off two brilliant students to a virtual slaughter house. He did not deem it necessary to go through the reports of the Amnesty International which make it abundantly clear that fake encounters, fake escapes and murders in police interrogation cells form an integral feature of the Indian police “discipline”. He did not consider it important that the boys would not get a fair trial in India. He did not care to consider the damage that his action would do to the U.S, image when he insisted that the boys must remain heavily chained simply because he had allegedly received threatening letters. Interestingly the threats started coming only after the arrival of the C.B.I team in the United States. The Magistrate looked more like a Gestapo Chief than a judicial authority, especially in the context of the unprecedented security arrangements made by the F.B.I. who treated American Sikhs present at the hearing as if they were all potential criminals. In their zeal to please the Indian officials, the F.B.I. agents allegedly ordered Sikhs even outside the court to either remove the small swords that Sikhs wear as a religious symbol or leave that place.

Such a suffocating climate is repugnant to the basic ethos of a country that prides itself as the land of liberty, and is sure to cause a serious setback to the aspirations of those teeming millions who are suffering under totalitarian regimes and are yearning for a just order. Disillusionment with judicial processes often drives people to recourses that are not very congenial to the full flowering of the free world. It is hoped that the U.S. Senators and Congressmen will not tolerate any foreign country trying to influence and subvert American judicial system through the State department by using its trade leverage.

Article extracted from this publication >> February 12, 1988