Protest petition

The previous story of a subordinate court judge’s experience at his first posting, viz. ‘What a relief!’ tickled the funny bones of many readers.

Here is one more story which was narrated by the same judge to us in our junior days. These events too transpired during the same first posting at a place where neither running water nor toilets were available. The story offers a glimpse into the rigours which judicial officers posted in mofussil areas in the sixties had to face to discharge the noble burden of doing justice without fear or favour.

Here is the story.

For his morning constitutional, the learned judge had to get up during the wee hours and land up on an elevated embankment bordering the sugarcane fields. He used to go to a fixed spot and everyone else congregating for the same essential purpose stayed away from the judge’s chosen spot out of respect for his position. He had to bathe with well water which was heated on firewood during winters by the attendant.

It so happened that one of the cases the judge was hearing involved two brothers who had a boundary dispute in respect of agricultural land inherited by them from their father. Both parties had engaged local lawyers but they made it a point to remain personally present on every date of hearing. The judge too had by now become familiar with the faces of these brothers turned adversaries.

After the proverbial lapse of time, the day of delivering judgment in the case dawned. The judge upheld the plaintiff brother’s contentions and decided against the defendant brother. On the very next day, as the judge perched himself at his fixed spot on the embankment of the sugarcane field, he felt a small stone hitting him on his backside.

After a while another stone hit him. It was not large. Just a pebble. But thrown with great velocity and accuracy.

He turned around but could see no one in the haze of the dawn. The pebble-thrower was hiding well.

The judge quickly finished his big job, washed himself with the water in his lotaa, pulled up his pyjamas and again pretended to squat. But this time he was ready to spring to his feet, run after the culprit pebble-pelter and catch him.

Sure enough, after a few minutes another pebble was hurled. The judge dodged the pebble, grabbed his lotaa and ran behind the attacker.

As the light was improving with the rising sun he saw the stone-thrower but could not catch up with him as he ran through the fields. However, the judge had positively identified him. It was the defendant brother in the case he had decided just the previous day.

The judge was wondering whether this act of throwing stones amounted to contempt of court or not? How could it be considered contempt in the face of the court when the pebble had in fact struck his backside? Or was it just a regular IPC offence?

The judge, however, was embarrassed to lodge an FIR as he did not like the prospect of a policeman recording details of his morning routine in the station diary. Some things are best kept off-the-record. Finally, he decided to narrate the facts to his enterprising court attendant and seek his advice.

Attendant: “Sir, I know those brothers well. Let me talk to this guy who was throwing stones at you. I will warn him of dire consequences so that he does not repeat such an act.” The judge too preferred this very practical course of action.

That evening, after court hours, the attendant met the defendant brother. After the meeting, he came over to the judge’s quarters and said sheepishly: “Sir, I spoke to the offender… but he gave a justification and claimed that he was not at fault. He said it was you who were adding insult to injury!”

Judge: “How on earth did I insult him?”

Attendant: “Sir, he says that after deciding that case in favour of the plaintiff brother, what right do you have to merrily defecate on the defendant’s embankment? He wants you to go to some other place from tomorrow. He even offered to show me his brother’s field and said, ‘Let judge saheb do his big job on the winner’s land!'”

In the interest of safety the learned judge had no option but to shift his constitutional spot from the next day.

Perhaps he realised that those pebbles that were hurled at his backside were not contempt of court but simply the losing party’s ‘protest petition’.