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HomeNews A Book a Week-5 

 A Book a Week-5 

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write thoughts

            Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan

 I Must Write this. 

Transcript of a telephone call:

Caller: Hullo, Mridula Tai. Kashe  Aahat ( How are you?).

Me:  ( I just said Hullo and murmured something)

Caller: Just now, I finished reading your judgments and I found them very good. Justice Radhakridhnan and I are on the Committee and I rated your judgments very high. So don’t worry. I know it is all bogus. Wish you all the best and give regards to Ramesh.

He then disconnected.

The writer is Justice Mridula Bhatkar, retired judge of the Bombay High Court. And she says that this one phone call pivoted the decision made by Mridula and her husband Ramesh. “ Suddenly at 3 PM Ramesh came to me and held my hands and told me – “ Mridula, I want to end my life”. I looked at him and said, I too did not want to live. He said, he wanted to commit suicide. I agreed and said I would join him”.

It was at this terrible hour and minute that the alluded to call came. Mridula Bhatkar went on to become a Judge of the Bombay High Court in May 2009. And retired in May,2019, after a distinguished  decade in service.

It is a shocker. A stunner. And they are muted allusions,  by a huge degree. The reference to the landline call is made from an unputdownable ( this expression is too easily bandied about, but this one deserves it by a mile and more) book  penned with blood,sweat and tears by retired Mrs. Justice Mridula Bhatkar, aptly named ‘ I Must Say This”.

“I am not a professional writer but the facts are absolutely correct. There was a need to place them on record; and therefore, I must say this”.

It is very rare for retired justices to write a memoir or on their experiences. One of them  told me, “You see, we may have a lot of interesting things to say. But we cannot say them without getting on the wrong side of many. And what we may choose to say selectively, may be pedestrian and self-indulgent”.

Mridula’s is  singularly different. It is in simple, yet in brilliant and evocative language. She has poured her heart out. It is moving, tragic and revealing of the muck in our midst.

If someone, daughter of Judge Pratap Narayan Behere and niece of Justice V D Tulzapurkar, had to face such ignominy as judge wife of an alleged rapist Ramesh Bhatkar, a famous theatre personality in Maharashtra, for her honesty, integrity and  uprightness in sticking to the rule of law as Judge in District Judiciary, one dreads to imagine the plight of the commoner judge with no such pedigree or reputation of the proverbial common man in R K Laxman’s cartoons, who never spoke.

A reading of the book left me not in tears (yes, it is a tear-jerker, if you are truthful) but in tatters, about the health of our so called independent judiciary. The book, for those unaware of the facts, would be a suspense thriller of the seamy kind  that good people  may need to face as the colluders,conspirators as marauders with no morals have a  lot of clout.

So, I refrain from revealing the entire story. Read it. First hand it would sound the shocker it is meant to be.

Mridula was anguished by the false, fabricated and downright defamatory stories, the print and electronic media ran away with as  unfair and unjust Trial by Media. There were ‘eyewitness’ accounts with sleazy details, manufactured to sizzle. But the damage was done even before prosecution, charges and trial.

And ultimate discharge of her husband meant little or meaningless except vindication of their own consciences.

Mridula is candid about the way she was ‘treated’ by her peers and colleagues. How she was shunned despite the conviction that Mridula was spotless. Even among family and friends except the immediacy there were not many willing to be even  seen in her company.

And as a judge fighting a legal battle with her innocent husband, a popular actor, in a field rampant with ‘casting couch’ phenomenon, it was not easy to get over perception with truth. Media trial had pronounced her husband guilty and she as supportive wife of a rapist.

Mridula did fight  back with tenacity. Including, getting the publisher and editor of Lok Satta from the Indian Express Empire, punished for suo motu contempt initiated by Bombay High  Court.

But, what of the unseemly slur and unbearable trauma,the family underwent, including for their son Harshavardhan, who was doing MS in USA. Would there be any compensation at all? What of the pressures and influences the ordinary judges face while dealing with terrorism linked high profile cases or sex scandals involving politicos? Is Judiciary immune?

All questions,  Mridula’s heroic fight raises,  but can’t answer.

A must read this. By anyone and everyone who may care and be concerned with the health and independence of our judiciary. Hard lessons to be learnt from the hard knocks in the life of Mridula as woman and judge. It does not seem anecdotal for the knowing. Mridula has daringly gone public. For she had nothing to lose.

“ My dear husband, died twice in his lifetime! First, on the 25th of December 2007 when he was charged with the offense of rape , and second, on the 4th of February, 2019 when he succumbed to cancer”.

Back to the opening lines.

I bow my head, shoulders and all to the Caller.

He was none other than Justice D Y Chandrachud, presently Chief Justice of India. Hats off to him, not just for saving a couple of  worthy lives. But far more, it turns out.

That must lend us all more than a sliver of hope!

(Writer of multiple books –  is a practicing advocate in the Madras High Court)



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