Heroes of the Madras High Court: The Justice League We Need

Social Commentary

Heroes of the Madras High Court: The Justice League We Need

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

Madras High Court’s decision to quash 28 criminal defamation proceedings against a clutch of media houses, filed by the former government led by the late J Jayalalithaa, has attracted praise from the journalistic community and those who are against intimidation and harassment of scribes by the establishment.

The media houses who filed a petition to quash the proceedings included national newspapers as well as local Tamil ones. Justice Abdul Quddhose, who was hearing the petitions, said in his statement, “The state cannot use criminal defamation cases to throttle democracy.”

“The role of any newspaper is only to disseminate the news that is happening around. You cannot treat it as defamation even if there are some inaccuracies in the report,” the 152-page judgement adds.

The verdict comes at a time when attempts are made to stifle press freedom in the country.

But the actions of the Madras HC are only the latest step taken by state level High Courts that have attracted praise, especially during the lockdown. Even as the Supreme Court chose not to hear a petition asking it to intervene in the crisis of lakhs of migrant workers attempting to walk back to their home states and instead knocking the issue back to the state, it is the High Courts that have been pulling up governments, seeking to secure aid for the public.

In a rather blunt way, the Supreme Court said last week, “It was impossible for this court to monitor who is walking and not walking.” Incidentally on the same day, the Madras HC took an empathetic look at the migrant crisis. Hearing a plea seeking the return of 400 migrant workers being detained at the Maharashtra-Tamil Nadu border, it questioned the state and central government on what was being done to help the migrants during the lockdown. Justice N Kirubakaran and Justice R Hemalatha sat on a Division Bench observing, “One cannot control his/her tears after seeing the pathetic condition of migrant labourers shown in the media for the past one month. It is nothing but a human tragedy.”

Showing the way and asking the correct questions along with the Madras HC, is the Andhra HC. In AP, judges directed the government to locate the migrants and make food, shelter, and travel arrangements available to them, stating that “it would be failing in its role” if it did not react to the migrants’ plight. “Their pain has to be alleviated at this stage,” it said.

In adverse times, empathy and humanity from the institutions built to protect the public go a long way.