Now, along with Justice S J Mukhopadhaya, he is hearing appeals from groups seeking to overturn the Delhi High Court’s historic verdict of 2009 that read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, thereby decriminalised same sex relations between consenting adults, and from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) groups that are defending this verdict.
Such a leap, from spectrum to sexuality, is a reminder that in a world where people follow increasingly specialised careers, judges remain the great generalists. Their remit may be only the law, but in its application this can range from land tenure to death penalty cases, from the lives of bar girls to the intricacies of insurance claims to the alleged crimes of ministers of state.
There’s a reminder of this at the start of each day when lawyers for other cases before a particular bench line up for the ritual of ‘mentioning’ matters, asking for dates or rescheduling, all of which must be disposed of before the main hearing can begin.
COURT OF COURTS
The higher courts in all countries deal with a similar range of subjects, but the apex court usually limits itself to matters of constitutional importance. But in India, Supreme Court deals with everything, as final court of appeal and arbiter to the nation.
This gives it a curious status as both the most reclusive and yet accessible of all the great institutions of the state in New Delhi. Most people never interact with it, unlike with other courts, including the high courts, where the workings of our lives take us, for marriages and divorces, disputes over property and business, and finally the probating of wills.
But the Supreme Court remains beyond us, only visible from outside to journalists on their way to work at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, exhibitors off to the trade shows at Pragati Maidan or just the mass of working Delhi that surges into the ITO area.
From there it seems a curious combination of elements of Parliament, with its pillared walkways circling the building, and Rashtrapati Bhavan, with its dome. In this day of omnipresent TV, the only broadcast image ever seen of the court is a stock shot of the oddly slender dome that is aired every time an anchor reads out reports of the Supreme Court judgments. Inside, it is a world in itself.