The advocates have flagged hate speeches made by Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri, a BJP member, against Muslims and Christians.
THE controversy over the Supreme Court Collegium’s decision to recommend the appointment of advocate and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) member Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri as judge of the Madras High Court refuses to die down.
A group of advocates belonging to the Madras High Court Bar has made representations to President Draupadi Murmu and the Supreme Court Collegium expressing dismay at the Collegium’s recommendation to elevate Gowri, who describes herself in her Twitter bio as “National General Secretary of BJP Mahila Morcha”, to the Madras High Court Bench.
The advocates, 22 in number, have flagged the ‘hate speeches’ made by Gowri against the religious minorities, namely Muslims and Christians. They have demanded that the Collegium withdraw its recommendation, and that the President return the file recommending Gowri’s appointment and seek clarification as to how a person spreading hate speech against Indian minorities had been recommended to the high constitutional post of a high court judge.
The Collegium, comprising Chief Justice of India Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and K.M. Joseph, on January 17 recommended the name of Gowri for judgeship, along with the names of four other advocates. It gave no reasons for its recommendations, unlike its resolutions reiterating the names of advocates Saurabh Kirpal, Somasekhar Sundaresan and R. John Sathyan for appointment as judges to the Delhi, Bombay and Madras high courts, respectively.
The Collegium’s recommendation to appoint Gowri as a judge came at a time when the Supreme Court, on the judicial side, has been expressing concerns at the growing incidence of hate speeches in the country. One of the judges raising the concerns is Justice Joseph, who is incidentally also a Collegium member.
It is not immediately clear whether the ‘hate speeches’ made by Gowri were in the knowledge of the Collegium while making recommendations. The appointment process goes like this: the high court Collegium recommends a name; the Intelligence Bureau (IB) submits its report/inputs on the name to the Union Government; thereafter, the Union Government sends its views to the Supreme Court Collegium. The Supreme Court Collegium then decides on the proposal sent by the high court Collegium after taking into consideration the reports received by it from the state government, the IB and the Union Government.
In their letters, Madras High Court Bar members, advocates N.G.R. Prasad, R. Vaigai, S.S. Vasudevan and Anna Mathew, among others, have asserted that Gowri’s regressive views are completely antithetical to foundational Constitutional values and reflect her deep-rooted religious bigotry, making her unfit to be appointed as a high court judge.
To buttress their argument, the advocates have referred to two interviews given by her on a YouTube channel titled ‘Bharat marg’.
In one of the interviews, captioned ‘More Threat to National Security & Peace? Jihad or Christian Missionary? -Answers Victoria Gowri’ uploaded on February 27, 2018, Gowri allegedly said, “Like Islam is green terror, Christianity is white terror”. She went on to state, “Christian groups are more dangerous than Islam groups. Both are equally dangerous in the context of love jihad.”
“If I find my girl in Syrian terrorist camps, I have an objection and that is what I define as love jihad,” Gowri asserts. adding, “Bombing is less dangerous than the kind of conversions being adopted by the aggressive Christian theologist groups.” She makes the shocking claim that the problems in the Northeast of India are actually “Christian”.
In another interview, captioned ‘Cultural genocide by Christian Missionaries in Bharat – Victoria Gowri’ uploaded on June 5, 2018, Gowri referred to the “nefarious activity of the Roman Catholics” and proclaimed that “Bharatanatyam should not be danced for Christian songs.”
“Can any litigant belonging to the Muslim or Christian community ever hope to get justice in her court, if she becomes a judge?”, the signatories to the letters to the President and the SC Collegium ask.
The letters state that her statements in these interviews amount to hate speech, likely to spread and incite communal discord and violence. They also refer to an article titled ‘Aggressive baptising destroying social harmony’ dated October 1, 2012 in the Organiser, a publication of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in which Gowri wrote, “But not a finger is lifted to stop allured and forcible conversions and to prevent Christians from conceiving communal conflicts“, and “for fifty years, the marginalised Hindus have been fighting the mighty Christian diocese. But now the situation is out of control.”
Questioning the Collegium’s decision, the letters state that the Collegium’s recommendation of a person who harbours such strong antipathy towards the minority community is disturbing, to say the least.
“Any person spewing vitriolic comments of this nature ought to be prosecuted under Sections 153A, 153B, 295A and 505 of [the Indian Penal Code] as observed by the Supreme Court in its recent Order dated 21.10.2022 in W.P. (Civil) No. 940 of 2022 (Shaheen Abdulla vs Union of India)“, the letters state.
The letters draw the attention of the Collegium to the fact that the United Nations has recognised that over the past 75 years, hate speech has been a precursor to atrocity crimes, including genocide.
“The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres has noted that, ‘[H]ate speech is in itself an attack on tolerance, inclusion, diversity and the very essence of our human rights norms and principles. More broadly, it undermines social cohesion, erodes shared values and can lay the foundation for violence, setting back the cause of peace, stability, sustainable development and the fulfillment of human rights for all’”, the letters states.
The letters also assert that the Collegium’s recommendation to appoint Gowri, “a person who makes no bones about her hatred towards the minority communities”, as judge dents the public perception about the impartiality of the judiciary.
They caution that at a time when the judiciary is facing unprecedented and unwarranted criticism from the executive, appointments such as these may pave the way for undermining the independence of the judiciary.
“It is extremely critical, at this juncture, to safeguard the institution from being weakened by its own administrative action”, the letters urge.
Earlier this week, research and reportage website Article 14 documented some of the public statements made by Gowri against Muslims and Christians.
Click here to view the Madras High Court Bar members’ letter to the Supreme Court Collegium, and here to view their letter to the President.