Katju, thonkte raho

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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By Markandey Justice Katju

Today morning I saw this message sent by someone on my fb messenger :

”Hello sir, I am a lawyer practising in Allahabad High Court.

Today an elderly advocate reminded me about your past time when you were a sitting judge of Allahabad High Court.

I was waiting to argue a matter of demolition when a very old advocate sitting beside me said, “Ye aaj ke judges kya demolition rokenge? Woh Justice Katju tha jo aise officers ki hekdi nikaal deta tha. Mai usi waqt ka waqeel hun jab Katju jaise judge ek bhi dukaan ya makaan nahi girne dete the..

You are still the gem in many hearts.’ 

This message reminded me of what happened about 25 years ago, and perhaps what that elderly lawyer was referring to.

I was then a junior judge of the Allahabad High Court, having been appointed in 1991.

In UP, state assembly elections were held in 1993 and a coalition SP-BSP govt came into power, under the Chief Ministership of Ms Mayawati. The SP and BSP claim to represent the lower castes, and hence to achieve their goal of ‘social justice’ for the lower castes, the ruling politicians in the state devised a unique modus operandi for grabbing the houses of the upper castes.

This modus operandi was to get a surreptitious allotment order passed by the Rent Control and Eviction Officer (who, being a govt officer, would willingly comply with orders of the ruling politicians), behind the back of the owner/ tenant/ occupant ( i.e. without serving any notice on him ) and thereafter quickly grabbing the house along with a mob of hooligans and anti-social elements ( which every political party has ).

I was then sitting in the jurisdiction where dozens of writ petitions were filed challenging such illegal house grabbings. I quickly realised that if this was permitted to continue there would be complete collapse of law and order in the state and jungle raj.

I summoned the Home Secretary and the Director General of Police of UP, ordering them to personally appear in my Court. When they appeared in the jam-packed court, I told them it was the duty of the bureaucrats and police officers to maintain law and order, but it was regrettable that they were not justifying their salt by behaving in a cowardly manner before the politicians.

I told them that our ancient thinkers were of the view that the worst state of affairs possible in society is a state of lawlessness. When the rule of law collapses it is replaced by matsya nyaya, which means the law of the jungle.

In Sanskrit the word ‘matsya’ means fish, and matsya nyaya means the state of affairs when the big fish devours the smaller one. All our ancient thinkers have condemned matsya nyaya ( see ‘History of the Dharmashastras’ by P.V. Kane, Volume 3 page 21).

This idea of matsyanyaya ( the maxim of the larger fish devouring the smaller ones or the strong despoiling the weak) was frequently dwelt upon by Kautilya, the Mahabharata, and other works. It can be traced back to the Shatapath Brahman (Chapter 11,1.6.24) where it is said “Whenever there is drought then the stronger seizes upon the weaker, for the waters are the law”, which probably means that when there is no rain, the reign of law comes to an end, and matsyanyaya begins to operate.

Kautilya says “If danda be not employed, it gives rise to the condition of matsyanyaya, for in the absence of a chastiser the strong devour the weak”. That in the absence of a king (arajaka) or when there is no fear of punishment the condition of matsyanyaya follows has been declared by several works e.g. Ramayana,( Chapter 67), Shantiparva of Mahabharata, (15.30 and 67.16), Kamandaka (@.40), Matsyapurana (225.9), Manasollasa ( 2.20.1295), etc.

Thus in the Shantiparva of Mahabharata it is stated:

“Raja chenna bhavelloke prithivyaam dandadharaka

Shule Matsyanivapakshyun durbalaat balvattarah”

which means : “When the king carrying the rod of punishment does not protect the earth, then the strong persons destroy the weaker ones, just like in water the big fish eat the smaller ones”.

In the Shantiparva of Mahabharata Bheeshma Pitamah tells Yudhishthir that there is nothing worse in the world than lawlessness, for in a state of matsyanyaya nobody, not even the evil doers, are safe, for even the evil doers will sooner or later be swallowed up by bigger evil doers.

I then pronounced judgment in all these house grabbing cases ( there were dozens of them ) restoring possession to the valid occupant, and ordering the police to throw out the illegal house grabbers within 24 hours. I did this because behind the sinister phenomenon of house grabbing in the state I could see the looming danger of matsya nyaya ( see my judgment in Smt Chetan Atma Govil vs Rent Control & Eviction Officer, Saharanpur Writ Petition 9973 of 1995 decided on 9.5.1995 ).

Thus, in Ram Kumar Agarwal vs Rent Control & Eviction Officer, Bareilly, Writ Petition 41457 of 1994 decided on 28.4.19945 I said, ”This Court cannot tolerate this state of affairs, otherwise no decent and law abiding citizen will be safe in his house. A mob of hooligans may storm into the house with a surreptitious allotment order, beat up the occupants, throw them out along with their belongings, and hoist a flag of the party there, as is being done these days”.

Appeals were filed before the Supreme Court against my judgments in these house grabbing cases, and they were all dismissed by a bench presided over by Justice Kuldip Singh.

Some time after I had delivered these judgments I met Justice Kuldip Singh in a function in Delhi which we were both attending. He said to me, ”Katju, thonkte raho, thonkte raho.”


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