[Column] 'A Sabbatical Isolation': By Justice V. Parthiban, Judge-Madras High Court

Justice V. Parthiban

9 May 2020 11:19 AM GMT

  • [Column] A Sabbatical Isolation: By Justice V. Parthiban, Judge-Madras High Court

    "Writing is a defence against boredom, but it's also a cure for 'melancholy'." - Bohumil Hrabal -Czech Writer In these times of forced isolation sentenced albeit temporarily to suffer complete disconnection from the professional occupation, the best way to keep the mind in motion is to reduce your meandering thoughts into writing to ward off the fear of the tardy...

    "Writing is a defence against boredom, but it's also a cure for 'melancholy'."

    - Bohumil Hrabal -Czech Writer

    In these times of forced isolation sentenced albeit temporarily to suffer complete disconnection from the professional occupation, the best way to keep the mind in motion is to reduce your meandering thoughts into writing to ward off the fear of the tardy movement of time. Ostracized by necessity and choice from the society of others into the claustrophobic confines of your home, it is like borrowing the expression of American Writer/Poet, Edgar Allan Poe- "breathing the atmosphere of sorrow'. Confinement impelled the restive mind and the pensive heart to essay these reflections manifesting in thought sharing in the present times of social distancing.

    History is replete with grave tragedies having witnessed in the past, viz., Plagues. famine, floods, wars, inflicting catastrophic suffering on the human race at regular intervals. The resultant impact of those tragedies on the human race has been contained by and large due to great inventions and innovations made in the field of technology, science, medicine and engineering in the modern era, besides heralding a paradigm civilizational transformation in the patterns and life styles of humanity than what existed before this era. The modern civilization in the face of unprecedented inventions and innovations in all spheres has re-assured itself its invincibility against odds of nature. Attributes of nature like, evolution and extermination are the focus of challenge in the scientific laboratories by the scientific community, hoping to find an answer to "death". Death being a natural end of birth in the life-cycle process of every living being, yet the scientific research is oriented towards achieving the greatest of all inventions, namely arrest of ageing of man and defeating the death altogether and to take control of destiny of mankind. When such path breaking feat is achieved, we do not know when in future, people may be rid of morbidity, the fear of death. Whether re-engineering of human constitution assuring them of eternal existence against the planetary limitation is possible or not, ironically despite the scientific advancements, the present civilization can boast of, the world today is witnessing an unprecedented attack of apocalyptic proportion inflicting premature deaths on human beings in scores across all continents, by the spread of new Corona Virus. The giant killer sparing no race, colour, creed or nationality, as the entire world has been a helpless victim, hoping the virus may one day become frail on its own and withdraw its vicious attack on mankind.

    New corona virus is a macabre killer, devouring human beings mercilessly and unabatedly in tens and thousands, and it appears the virus is wickedly dancing in the form of deaths all over, driving the humanity as a whole to the precipice of despondency, with no hope of panacea for the virus as of now. The spirit of collective mankind thus being broken, reducing the human race to the subaltern state to nature, unable to come to terms with the sheer dominance of the virus reminding the mankind that howsoever man may become powerful, his destiny after all is defined by nature around him and not by himself. The days of reckoning have come to engage the global communities to shift their focus to prevent such possible virus attack in future. We have had recently infectious diseases like AIDS, SARS, EBOLA, etc., infecting virus, which had their lethal presence on a global scale but sooner or later the spread was largely contained and eradicated, with the remedy being found as a result of determined scientific research and investigation. But the deadly effect of those viruses pale into insignificance in the teeth of COVID-19. The magnitude of death and destructive manifestation of the present virus and the colossal effect of it crept into the psyche of the mankind across, is a dark revelation of the existential crisis of an unprecedented kind, which the human race has to cope with for its physical survival atleast with the predictable longevity standards of the present era, not to speak of the extended or eternal existence, mankind aiming to achieve..

    Coming to isolation, as a result of compulsive social distancing, an opportunity is thrown open to every mind to tackle the period of solitude and confinement. Isolation is only from a community or society and not from yourself. In these times of adversity and challenge, ever wandering mind of ours can watch and inspect itself closely and that can happen only in isolation without other occupation. Solitude is wisdom, as the adage goes. Solitude helps one from being distracted and helps to track the trajectory of his tranquil thought process. The isolation is an opportunity to redefine and to uncover oneself. As otherwise every individual is enmeshed in his or her own occupation most of the time and obsession with every day routine and chores stunts the fertile mind, converting the same into a fossilized and jaded organ.

    As a Judge, locked down in isolation forced within the confines of his home, an opportunity is given to unwind from the day to day professional commitment and function. The professionally active mind being detached into an almost reclusive state started mulling over the justice management system, dispensation of justice and the ephemeral state of one's transient existence. Justice based on a set of regulations and codified laws is only a Justice in its letter and may not be in spirit always. The spirit of Justice on many a time, demand the justice delivery system to embark upon the path of equity which is the mother of all enacted laws of the world. The principle of equity defies any exhaustive definition, as any definition of equity would be antithesis to its very nature of being fluid in tune with the times. The principle of equity is not frozen in time, it evolves along with the changing times of history and applied by the justice delivery system on the sublime consideration of justice based on good conscience. Sometimes the system faces challenges where law and justice do not come to terms and in such situation, equitable justice should prevail and preferred notwithstanding any impediments arising out of a letter of Law. In fact, most of the disputes pending adjudication or resolution before Courts are brought to an end more by pragmatism practiced by Judges than by the application of the rigours of law. Common sense approach is the hallmark of dispensation of justice in providing equitable relief to the parties to the lis. In fact, the great and famous English Judge Lord Denning was known for rendering justice based on deep common sense. On his retirement on 28th July 1982, former Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Mr.Harold Macmillan wrote a letter of appreciation addressing to Lord Denning, which makes an interesting reading:

    Dear Lord Denning ,

    I feel Impelled to write to you that your long and distinguished career as a Judge is coming to an end.

    Firstly . . . . .

    Secondly, I have always been interested in the Law and made some attempts to study it at one time. It seems to me that there were two different streams in English Law which sometimes meant that on the whole, their waters did not mix. The first has become much more prevalent since the vast mass of legislation which has been passed in the last one hundred and fifty years tends to base itself on a somewhat pedantic or at any rate a very close interpretation of the words of an act of parliament. The second which goes back to the great periods of 17th and 18th century tends to base itself more upon commonsense, equity (in the non-technical sense), fairplay and justice. Of these the greatest proponents were perhaps Lord Mansfield and lord Camden. To them, will be added the name of Lord Denning'.

    Yours sincerely, Harold Macmillan

    The law, thus, is not concerned with the trifles, as the saying goes. It is concerned with the justice based on good conscience. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a great Russian Philosopher/Writer and nobel laureate quoted "Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity". Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually also recognize the voice of justice". Therefore fair play and good conscience are the foundational principles on which justice is to be primarily based.

    Turning to the present crisis, the monstrous pandemic sweeping across the world has crippled every conceivable activity relating to economy, patient care, surgeries, travel, religion, employment, sports etc. besides affecting the day-to-day physical social contacts, which are integral and essential part of societal living. The most ominous impact of the virus is the shutdown of almost all economic activities, as an inevitable consequence of the lockdown. Unemployment and the resultant poverty is looming exponentially, threatening the very survival of the multitude of people living on the margins and periphery. The situation now and in the near future appears to be uncertain and the rehabilitation exercise after the return of normalcy is going to be a herculean task before the Governments. Scores of people across the country have already been subjected to privation and their cries for succour are the most disturbing events in the collective conscience of the country.

    We are going through the testing period of mass awakening in the epoch of modern era. Nature has given the Corona virus, the survival tricks through mutation process in the human body. Hope the same nature may grant immunity to man from succumbing to the motiveless killer. Ultimately, man may succeed in subduing and defeating the virus through resilience and steadfastness, as mankind survived in the past millennia. However, in the fight there is a silver lining that great experience is learnt, in the words of American Author and Photographic Artist, Jaeda DeWalt, "When we learn how to become resilient, we learn how to embrace the beautifully the broad spectrum of human experience".

    In the backdrop of these melancholic times, whether a Judge who is an agile witness to the pandemic mayhem engulfing the society at large, can be expected to have the same judicial temperament and outlook and whether the perception of justice will remain the same or will he re-discover himself post Covid-19 is a point to ponder. In any crisis or disaster, it is always the poor people who become readily vulnerable to take the maximum hit and beating. In India substantial section of people are caught miserably between Corona virus attack on one side and affliction of poverty on the other. In a poverty stricken land, mass suffering of the poor is the chilling experience one goes through being a witness to the most unfortunate development. The vicarious experience is bound to bring a change of perception in every individual in the society of this generation. The phyche of every individual is likely to transform into a different plane of understanding, the value of existence. Till today we have taken our existence for granted. After Covid-19, we are forced to come to terms with our existence, as all the scientific advancements mankind smugly claimed is rendered ineffectual against the omnipotent dominance of the virus.

    As a Judge, howsoever, a strong willed person one may claim, yet he cannot insulate his mind from the impact of the terrible state of destruction and devastation all around him. The enormous suffering of the affected families and the poor people have opened a new visas to his conscience. As a consequential impact, there will be a greater display of empathy and understanding in his judicial conduct and behaviour. Poverty Jurisprudence may probably become a dominant theme in his judicial scheme and judicial conception in the years to come would transform into providing heightened judicial protection to the weaker section of the society. Likewise, many such changes may re-shape the judicial mind of a Judge, who by and large hitherto enjoyed a cloistered existence, insulated and perched on the higher pedestal of the social ladder. But today within the four corners of the house, a Judge though in isolation, as a part of social distancing directive, yet he is forced to be part of every member of the society, of the nation, of the world sharing the same fear, anxiety, sorrow and hope as well. In a way, the isolation has been a true eye opener to a Judge for to have a greater understanding of the travails and tribulations of the society and which understanding gained may fruitfully help him in his endeavours towards social context judging, in the years to come. The impact of the virus is so deep and soul stirring and the collective suffering of humanity will be etched in the mind of a Judge and the impact will be lingering behind the judicial mind in his disposition henceforth.

    Coming back to the encounter with the virus, the literary world has recognized, among others, three types of primary conflicts, one - man and nature, second - man and man, and third - man and himself. Mankind has witnessed two world wars in the past, conflict between man and man. But the present conflict is a war between man and nature'. In the conflict man may sooner or later survive the fiendish onslaught of the virus, yet the survival and freedom from morbid driven fear and the miasma of sorrow and despair is not going to return without a lesson of a life time. The lesson that existential guarantee in the face of myriad scientific achievements stood exposed to nature'stake on humanity. A rude game changing experience for mankind and the present conflict has brought in focus on the third conflict, man and himself. "Man is God in technology but ape in social life" said Arnold Joseph Toynbee, a great British Historian. But today, God of technology, helplessly enfeebled and tamed. As a part of technological revolution, man may invent thinking machines, create robots and achieve artificial intelligence and allow himself to be aided, guided and also controlled by the machines paving way for the forth conflict between 'man and machine' in the future. But man, as defined by nature of the planet, has to necessarily live and exist by the vagaries of the laws of nature around him, until, if only possible, he achieves scientific breakthrough and take control of his own destiny.

    Eventually, the war against the virus is a great leveller. The God of technology is woefully reduced to a simple creature called 'man' and the creature is an integral part of nature, as in the case of present virus. Mankind survived in the past millennia surmounting plethora of challenges to its existence and so will this time. The warriors of the present war, are not the armed combatants, but are the trained professionals like doctors, nurses, field workers, administrators and people themselves. The world at large is forever deeply indebted to the selfless dedicated people engaged on the field to fight the invisible enemy lurking all over in the unknown and these people in the most trying times stand by the expression of Dana Hewitt, American Scholar, "responsibilities do not yield to melancholy". In the face of imminent risks to their lives their dauntless bravery and feisty commitment to their work is unparalleled in the modern history. Today they are the protectors of the man kind and no amount of words would suffice to laud their noble services.

    At the end of the day, hope is the only antidote to fear and resignation. Hope as described by Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, is a "waking dream". Hope keeps people optimistic for return of the normal days bereft of fear. The waking dream would become real sooner or later in the days, weeks or months to come. In the bargain, man become stronger and stronger and may reorient his energy on the basis of hard lessons learnt during the seminal conflict. Hermann Hesse, a German born- Swiss Poet and Novelist, quotes- "I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but to mature and transfigure us".

    Having essayed as above, one cannot but erase from the mind the most distressing spectacle of ubiquitous death happening all over in the fight against the virus. The excruciating experience was when emotive reaction and consoling response of the members of the affected families to the sufferings of the victim could not be conveyed due to quarantined separation. That apart the most poignant and sepulchral moments were when the unsuspecting souls, victims of the virus attack disappeared into oblivion without any trace in a vacuum, leaving no room for their kith and kin, near and dear caring for the departed on their last horrific days. No mourning, no obsequies, no last rites for them, the darkest and the saddest obituaries written on the pages of history. Sombre as it may seem in these disturbing times, one cannot but escape from philosophising the meaning of our existence in the words of Albert Camus, a great French Writer, "This world has no importance, once man realizes that he achieves his freedom".

    Let us all hope that we collectively take on the virus by its curve and flatten or decimate it sooner.

    Views Are Personal Only

    (Author is Judge of Madras High Court)

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