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Justice Karnan: A man caught up in the whirlwind of ideals

Justice Karnan: A man caught up in the whirlwind of ideals

dharma raj kumar


Dharmaraj Kumar

dharma raj kumarI have been thinking of whether to write something to pursue the so-called ‘curious case of Justice Karnan’- the title that flooded the mainstream media and finally brought Justice Karnan behind bars.

So many articles, editorials, cover stories, social media reports etc., have been published in mainstream newspapers, magazines, research magazines and video channels on this matter. And unsurprisingly, all of them have categorically declared him a culprit on the charge of contempt of court. From where I see it, all of them started with the title ‘curious’ and ended in the brutal murder of all such ‘curiosity’, even compromising the legal acumen in the process.

Well, I fail to restrain myself from opening up as to how I think about the case of Justice Karnan.

The case was first brought to my attention through one of my colleagues, who is Tamil. It was being laughed off as some idiotic behavior and the discussions were mostly about blaming him for making a mockery of the justice system.

I have been pursuing the story of Justice Karnan from 2013 when Frontline published his interview on his verdict over ‘live-in relationships’. He became more vulnerable with each passing year, for being in the judiciary, as he had already filed a case of corruption against the judges of the Madras High Court in 2011.

Many things have been written about his case. But in very few of the articles, his history, social standing and moral strength have been mentioned or analysed. It must also be asked: how would this reference help us in the case of processing Karnan’s conundrum?

In my opinion, everyone carries the ideals that they were brought up with, and these are cherished to be of a certain value. Like the moral strength proposed by Gandhi, sharpened by Ambedkar and followed by the elites of this country in the name of following Gandhi’s way of righteousness. How did the same Gandhians fail to apply this pattern while evaluating the moral upbringing to refer to the case of Justice Karnan? It really agitates me. There is not even a longstanding morality which could be applied to everyone equally. Caste supersedes all methodologies of judging one’s moral stamina. The path of seeking truth is corrupted by caste. Caste comes to be the ideology that reigns supreme all around us.

Well, it is endless. What I intend to write in this article is the psychoanalysis of ‘the curious case of Justice Karnan’ as the great psychoanalyst of our country Ashis Nandy has skipped doing the psychoanalysis of Karnan’s case. It is not that Nandy has not done the psychoanalysis of the bahujans’ behaviours in the past. Just to remind lightly, Nandy is the same psychoanalyst who at the Jaipur LitFest had spoken that Bahujans are more corrupt when they are in the system. I should have really agreed with him because only that could make one a scholar to be reckoned with in the prevailing structure. Not surprisingly enough, Ashis Nandy, a psychoanalyst, has even spoken fiercely about Narendra Modi, saying that Modi wants to do something but he lacks political imagination. I just wonder if he would have said something similar about Hitler as well. In my opinion, there is no political figure who does not have any political imagination. Since scholars like Nandy defend Modi’s acts in the name of doing psychoanalysis and entering his thinking pattern, it becomes necessary to seek or have some expectations from him for Bahujans also. I cannot even criticize Ashis Nandy by calling him Brahmanical in his analysis otherwise even Gopal Guru, instead of engaging and criticizing such people, would declare me as “newcomer”, “inconsequential” or worst of all, “unreflective”. I am afraid to expect even an engagement of a psychoanalyst in such cases, however critical it might turn out to be.

Thus, I have, after waiting a lot, thought of doing the psychoanalysis of Karnan’s case.

constitution vs tirupati laddu

Constitution vs Tirupati Laddu  – Cartoon by Unnamati Syamasundar

Justice Karnan is caught up in the whirlwind of ideals. Ambedkar had always believed in having an ideal to follow in life. All of us have our ideals. Sometimes, we fail to identify consciously as to how we consider our ideals in person, but we have our own ideals stemming from the social background in which we are brought up. We live in a country where often the ideals are hardly explored or discovered. Well, not all of us do the same. We do have our ideals in the form of parents, teachers or family background, if not one person. For Gandhi, it was ‘Ram’, it happened to be ‘Buddha’ for Ambedkar. All great persons have unravelled their ideals of late. Karnan also did the same. He found his ideal in Ambedkar, the most disturbing person as even many Gandhians also believe. But the time of Karnan declaring Ambedkar as his ideal can be questioned. It can also be seen as a strategy to reap inappropriate benefits aligning himself with the identity of the large resisting force of Ambedkarites, at a time, where nobody can afford to be ignorant of Ambedkar, if not of Ambedkarites.

Anyway, the history of such an ideal for Karnan, in my opinion, is to be far more profoundly defined as of now. I think that since he belongs to a lower middle class family, from an educated Dalit family background, I do not find him any different from myself. I think that we share the history of the same ‘social ideals’. As my father or let us say, in any family belonging to the lower middle class or middle class or rising upper middle class but lagging behind the upper class, shares the same ideals. That is the reason I may call it ‘social ideal’. It is scattered all around us in our behaviour. It cannot always be discovered in one person. Or sometimes, it is found in a person just because of associative experiential identity due to belonging to a certain person, caste, region or religion. There can be many such reasons to idealise with somebody or something.

For Karnan, as I think, his first ideal may not necessarily be Ambedkar or let us assume any political firebrand leader of immense calibre. It can be internalized through his father. It is important to inform here that Justice Karnan’s father was a reputed school teacher and Headmaster as he was conferred with the President Award many years ago. We can, thus, imagine that his first ideal would have been the narrative repeatedly bestowed upon him by his father: of good deeds and of the spirit of struggle against any wrongdoing if it happens in your knowledge. His father would have surely become his first ideal of doing the commendable job and earning his own reputation in a caste-ridden society through his performance. ‘Memory’ creates a whole new world, which happens to be true in Karnan’s case as well. The ‘memory’ of his father led him into the quagmire of the corrupt and failed judicial system of India as he forgot that earning the real title of the Honourship may prove more risky taking him to jail after becoming a Judge, instead of a teacher. He would have certainly realized this, though quite late.

My parents, teachers, and surroundings have also offered me the same symbol of idealism inherent in our attitude which Ashis Nandy failed miserably to go through. We were also taught to remain honest, display sheer courage against any corrupt social, political or moral encounters. It is not so that it is applicable only in the case of Bahujans rather it is true in the case of upper caste teachers as well. I have not read any piece of Dalit literature in which the due share of credit is not given to upper caste teachers. Almost all Dalit writers have showered praise upon some upper caste teachers who helped them and inspired them at an individual level to progress and to achieve various heights of success going against their own cultural practices. It is true that such upper caste teachers may not have injected or displayed the strength to completely reject the social discrimination meted out to Dalits or Bahujans only on the basis of caste. But they have, at least, struggled and succeeded to break up the customary practices inherent in society and rebuilt the emancipatory ideals. I also remember such upper caste teachers of my past education, for in the education system it was difficult or almost impossible to find teachers who were not ‘upper caste’ till one and a half decade ago. This ‘absence’ has created suspicion and disbelief against a certain community, which is mostly the case even today. All of us know that this generalization is wrong and it would not only take us to the wrong conclusion but would also surpass the ideals and goals envisaged and envisioned in ‘Annihilation of Caste’.

I am strongly of the opinion that Justice Karnan took to these ideals as inculcated in him from his childhood and from his parental household experience of getting recognition for doing a commendable job like his father. He would not have, even for a second, thought that he will be made to repay with his own earned dignity and reputation that he built throughout his life. He perhaps could not believe that a bearer of Justice could be denied due Justice in the Brahmanical judicial structure, where in reality there is no idea of prevailing justice in a caste society as Ambedkar writes in ‘Annihilation of Caste’.

It was bound to happen with him. What has happened to him is utterly predictable at least to those who have been subjected to such structural injustice genealogically. He took time to realize the potential of Brahmanical injustice inflicted upon him because he was in the system. He could have failed to imagine also because none of the Judges had ever thrown even tiny pebbles in the dirt of the judicial corruption rampant in the Judiciary. However loud he will cry, he will not get justice. India is a country where ‘A Justice cannot get the justice’.

Let us refer to some similar instances to create a convincing analogy, if not in the case of Justice Karnan only. Before recent developments in his case, there have been many such cases in judiciary where the upper castes also have been denied due recognition and respect, rather they have been punished in bureaucracy. The reputed officials like Ashok Khemka, Sanjeev Chaturvedi and Sanjeev Bhatt and many more have been punished in myriad ways despite coming from the high echelons of the society, lest this only be about Dalit officials. Marxists foreground the theory of ‘class’ ideology on the basis of such instances. But they forget as it happens to be the case of attrition of power within the Brahmanical system. But for Dalits or Bahujans, Brahminism begins a cleansing drive from the system. It is the power of resistance that Dalits or Bahujans have somehow managed to be fighting head on against Brahmanical structure being in the system itself.

In India, this is a rare moment when the Brahmanical structure has been challenged. In my opinion, it has fallen in confrontation with the individual’s idealism. For example, those who claim to stand overtly against Brahmanical ideology of injustice and oppression have clearly announced their ideals of justice and written or disseminated extensively. But mostly people have realized the deep-rooted conscience of Brahminism in the structure only when their ideals of equality and justice have been dragged into warlike situations at the personal level.

In both of the above circumstances, Brahminism is opposed to the emancipatory ideals, and someone who sticks to such ideals, is for sure to collide with the Brahmanical structure and brutally smashed by this oppressive system.

Therefore, I believe that Justice Karnan is caught up in the whirlwind of ideals, even if his Ambedkarite credentials are to be overlooked.

Thus, I plead for Justice Karnan’s conviction and want him to be awarded the most rigorous imprisonment so that this case should repress the ethos of the sense of justice and set an example to all those who may be planning to stand or raise their voices against the ‘innate’ culture of oppression and injustice within the Brahmanical structure!



Dharmaraj Kumar is pursuing Ph.D at Centre of the Indian Languages, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He may be contacted at: email:-, or Mobile :- 9013696373.