Ishwar Bhat paused for a second, his hands poised midway. He always halted for a second before he smeared the three sacred lines on his forehead, so that it streaked across his forehead just right – neither too casual nor to perfect, his ode to his existential value and purpose. As he placed the bright vermilion consort of the vibhuti at the centre of his forehead, his agya chakra , he felt a renewed sense of inner purpose. Today was a particularly tiresome day and he needed to draw from the energy of these purifying and empowering rituals to make sure that his counsel was wise.
In court, Ishwar Bhat was an imposing personality. Lawyers, peons, clerks ran helter skelter when he was approaching – some to carry his bag and tiffin box, some to move some lurid piece of furniture out of his way, some bowing, some standing, some rearranging their lawyer’s coats and pulling off imaginary pieces of lint out of them. He reeked of authority. He never acknowledged these people but just barked out an occasional order or asked a random question to a hapless lawyer who invariably fumbled and mumbled and failed to provide a quick response. This heightened everyone’s sense of awe. As was his routine, he stepped out of his chappals before he entered the courts sanctuary – the puja room. The incense calmed him and the pujari offered him the prasad.
Ishwar Bhat, the High Court judge was ready for another day…….
The accused stood before the Honorable High court. He wore a taqiyah – a skull cap and looked straight ahead. Ishwar Bhat had submitted a petition three months ago about not allowing these religious symbols to be allowed inside the court. He made a mental note to follow up on it. The prosecution counsel came forward. His humble submission was that the accused, Ibrahmin Alamgir was guilty as charged of disrupting communal harmony and depriving religious rights of the Hindu community.
The defence counsel appointed by the State came forward. The bench clerk’s notes read as follows
Defence: What are the charges against my client?
Prosecution: The accused, Ibrahim Alamgir is guilty of disrupting communal harmony and depriving religious rights
Defence: What is the evidence of the same?
Prosecution: The accused was found in possession of material with intent to disrupt communal harmony. If it pleases the Honorable High court, photographic evidence of this material is presented as Evidence 1.
Defence: I request the prosecution to clarify details of the material.
Prosecution: The accused has been found guilty of unlawful possession of beef
Defence: No more questions, your Honour.
Ishwar Bhat felt his blood pressure rising uncontrollably. His gut wrenched and his inner voice cried in agony “No, no, no no. Not another innocent victim. Not another cow.” Seeing the accused at this point in time, Ishwar Bhat knew without a doubt, after years of experience, that this was a guilty man. Usually he needed to intervene to direct the court proceedings, but in this case, both the defence and prosecution were learned men, with commendable years of experience, and with similar cases. It was a clear cut case and easy to pronounce judgement which was obviously enough, the death sentence.
Two months later, Ishwar Bhat was again in the same court for a related case. This time, a young man stood at the dock. On the day of execution of Ibrahim Alamgir, this man had organised a beef festival. He had also distributed pamphlets opposing the execution of Ibrahim Alamgir. The city police had acted quickly and arrested the young man.
Ishwar Bhat sighed under his breath. Just this morning he had been speaking to a friend of his, another High court judge. People who had been clerks and ayahs for years in the court were now beginning to have aspirations. The two men had agreed that this was a disturbing trend and leading to unrest in the society. His friend had summed it up nicely. “People like us have generations of experience in these field. We have carefully preserved our knowledge and passed it on to our progeny. Can these upstarts have the wisdom that we possess? Their jobs are to clean and they should stick to that. They should do what they do best and discipline their children to do the same.”
Ishwar Bhat pronounced the judgement quickly. “The accused has deliberately and wilfully displayed a contempt of court. I issue him a death sentence, but not a physical one. He has to undergo a slow and painful psychological and mental death.”
The newspapers were agog with the twin executions. Ishwar’s son called him that evening from Boston. “Dad’ he said ‘We were happy to read about this case here. Our small community of Indian lawyers will have a small celebration today. We are meeting anyways to register our case against the discrimination we face at workplace for the fact that we are Indian. We are being denied equal work opportunities. Thanks dad. You have energised us.”
That evening Ishwar Bhat settled down with a nice cup of filter coffee that his wife had made. She was proud of him, he knew. The coffee always tasted nicer those days. The couple exchanged a smile. There was no need for words. Happiness enfolded the family of the noble High court judge.