Every year, the state of Kerala celebrates the festival of Onam, which marks the return of the king Mahabali, or Bali Raja, to his kingdom from the netherworld. The myth goes that the king ruled over an egalitarian land, and such was the joy and prosperity in his kingdom that it invited the envy of the gods. In order to overthrow Mahabali, the gods sought the help of the deity Vishnu. Vishnu appeared before Mahabali in his fifth avatar, a diminutive Brahmin named Vamana. He asked the king to grant him as much land as he could cover in three paces of land. After Mahabali agreed, Vamana assumed a gargantuan form—he covered the earth with one step and the skies in another. For his third step, Mahabali offered his own head. Vamana stepped on him and pushed him down to the netherworld, but granted Mahabali a yearly visit to his kingdom. This annual visit is celebrated in Kerala as Onam.
If languages were allotted characters as per their position in socio-political discourse, then Hindi has often assumed the role of a villain in south India. Ever since states were carved on linguistic lines, the southern states, especially Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, grew watchful of the linguistic pedestal that Hindi occupied in India and its potential danger to the regional languages and cultures of the south. The decades-old issue of the imposition of Hindi has assumed prominence lately due to a slew of recent developments—for instance, in June this year, the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions announced that the central government would promote the usage of Hindi
in government offices in southern India and the Northeast. This time, it is Karnataka, not Tamil Nadu
, which is leading the opposition to it.
On 8 August, Vantage, the web-exclusives section of The Caravan, carried an article titled
“Curating the Wound: The Public Memory of Partition Remains Woefully Caste-Blind,” by the scholar Ravinder Kaur. In it, Kaur noted that most records and retellings of Partition have remained oblivious to the disparity between the experiences of those belonging to oppressed-caste communities and those from upper-caste Hindu families. Kaur added that the many recent Partition archives are depoliticised, which may threaten an accurate representation of complex history.
On 12 August, the Jharkhand legislative assembly passed the Religious Freedom Bill, 2017
, amid demands from the opposition parties to send the bill to a select committee. The bill, which was brought by the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state, mandates that any person converting willingly to a religion must inform the deputy commissioner of the time and place of the conversion, and identify the person who will administer the proceedings. It imposes a punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs 50,000 for conversions due to “force, allurement, inducement, or fraud.” In cases of the conversion of a minor, woman, or person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the bill increases the imprisonment to four years and the fine to Rs 1 lakh.
On a frigid December evening in 2016, Virendra Kumar, a retired professor who served as the chairperson of the law department in Panjab University, went to Delhi to meet his former student, Jagdish Singh Khehar, who was about to be appointed the 44th chief justice of India. During the conversation, the professor later told me, Khehar said, “Doctor saab, aapne jo realist movement padhaya tha schools of jurisprudence mein, uska ab maine yahan Supreme Court mein istemal kiya hai”—the philosophy of legal realism, which you taught me about in the schools of jurisprudence course, I have used it here in the Supreme Court.
On 22 August, three judges of a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that the Islamic practice of instant triple talaq, or talaq-i-biddat, was legally invalid. The judgment comprised three opinions—two opinions that formed the majority, and the dissenting opinion, written by JS Khehar, the chief justice, on behalf of Justice Abdul Nazeer and himself. Justices Rohinton Nariman and UU Lalit’s opinion, authored by Nariman, held the practice to be unconstitutional. Justice Kurian Joseph’s opinion did not adjudicate on its constitutionality, but held the practice to be illegal in Islamic personal law.
On the night of 6 August, a fire broke out in the Viswanathan Chest Hospital—the hospital wing of Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute, a post-graduate medical institution maintained by Delhi University and funded entirely by the ministry of health and family welfare. The hospital caters to patients with chest diseases, and its facilities include an intensive care unit with eight beds, which is situated on the first floor of the hospital. The fire broke out in a server room that was located on the ground floor, directly beneath the intensive care unit. Members of the hospital’s medical staff told me that the smoke had spread to the first floor and into the ICU, in which there were six patients undergoing treatment. At least three of them died that night.
The issue of triple talaq has occupied the public consciousness for long—in the past three years, particularly, it has become entangled in the necessity and urgency of reform within the Muslim community. By most measures, the existence of this debate itself is saddening—we are trapped in resolving a medieval question in the twenty-first century, one that even the otherwise retrograde Islamic Republic of Pakistan has dispensed with it. While the judgment that was pronounced on 22 August is celebrated and debated in equal parts, it is important to remember the historical and political context of how triple talaq came to assume this relevance, and its relationship to Muslim appeasement by political parties over the years.
“For the last 70 years, somebody else has been deciding everything for us,” Naresh Chandra Debbarma, the 80-year-old president of Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), told me. I met at Debbarma at his modest house, tucked away in one of the alleys of Old Kalibari road in the Krishna Nagar locality of Agartala. His political party, the IPFT, represents several tribal communities in Tripura and has been leading a movement demanding separate statehood for the region’s tribal communities since 2009. On 10 July, the party launched a blockade in the state that continued for 11 days. “The constitutional rights of tribal communities are ignored. This cannot be allowed anymore,” Debbarma said. “The tribal regions are neglected, while other areas get more resources and better infrastructure facilities. There is no other way out except to provide total autonomy for tribal communities to decide their affairs.”
On 28 August, Jagdish Singh Khehar will turn 65, and, as required by the Constitution, retire from his post as the chief justice of India. Khehar was sworn in as chief justice on 4 January—giving him a less than eight months to serve as India’s premier judicial official. Justice Dipak Misra, currently 63 years of age, will succeed
Khehar. Misra too, will serve for a relatively short while—he turns 65 in October 2018. The terms of India’s chief justices have lasted from several years to mere days—in 2004, S Rajendra Babu held the post for 30 days; Kamal Narain Singh, who ascended to the post in late 1991, held it for 17 days.
Over the years, the retirement age and the length of the term for justices at the apex court, and the chief justice in particular, have been subjects of passionate discussion—while justices are forbidden from practicing law after retirement, they can accept government jobs, or head judicial commissions, among other roles. The lure of post-retirement appointments, some argue
, could influence a judge’s decisions during her tenure.