Qazi Sirajuddin, my ideal judge: Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

In today’s situation in India when the faith of the Indian people in our judiciary has been rudely shaken due to certain events, I would like to mention about a judge, Qazi Sirajuddin, the Qazi-e-Subah of Bengal, as an inspiration and beacon of hope for many upright judges who still exist in the Indian judiciary.

Having been a Judge myself for 20 years ( from 1991 to 2011 ) I have studied the lives and works of numerous judges in the world, many of whom are my heroes for their uprightness, refusal to succumb to pressure or temptation, and learning, e.g. Lord Coke, Chief Justice of England, who refused to surrender his independence before King James 1, Lord Atkin, who in his famous dissent in Liversidge vs Anderson ( 1941 ) criticised the majority judges for being ‘more executive minded than the executive’, Justices Holmes, Brandeis and Cardozo, Judges of the US Supreme Court, who advocated judicial restraint instead of adventurism, and nearer home, Justice HR Khanna, who willingly lost his chance of becoming Chief Justice of India but refused to join the majority in the shameful ADM Jabalpur verdict.

Qazi Sirajuddin, the Qazi-e-Subah of Bengal, is an inspiration and beacon of hope for many upright judges who still exist in the Indian judiciary

However, in my opinion, Qazi Sirajuddin, the Qazi-e-Subah of Bengal, stands a shade above all other Judges in the world.

In his ‘History of Bengal,’ Prof. Charles Stewart mentions an interesting case of 1490 which came before Qazi Sirajuddin.

One day while the Sultan of Bengal was practising archery, one of his arrows accidentally wounded a boy, the son of a widow. The widow immediately came before the Qazi and demanded justice.

The Judge (the Qazi ) was in a dilemma. He said to himself ” If I summon the Sultan to my court, I may be punished by the Sultan for impertinence, but if I overlook the Sultan’s act, I shall one day certainly be summoned before the Court of God to answer for my neglect of duty. ”

After much reflection, fear of God prevailed over the fear of the Sultan, and the Qazi ordered one of his officers to go and summon the Sultan to his Court.

On receiving the summons, the Sultan instantly rose, and concealing a short sword under his garments, went before the Qazi, who far from rising from his seat or showing the Sultan any mark of respect said to him ” You have wounded the son of this poor widow. You must therefore immediately pay her adequate compensation, or suffer the sentence of the law. ”

The Sultan made a bow, and turning to the widow gave her a sum of money that satisfied her. After doing so he said to the Qazi ” Worthy Judge, the complainant has forgiven me. ” The Qazi then asked the woman if she was satisfied, to which she assented, and the case was then dismissed. The Qazi then came down from his seat and made obeisance before the King, who, drawing the sword from beneath his garment, said ” O Qazi, in obedience to your command I came instantly to your Court, but if you had not done your duty I swear that with this sword I would have taken off your head. Thanks to God I have in my dominion a Judge who acknowledges no authority superior to the law.

The Qazi then took out a whip which he had concealed under his robes and said to the King ” I also swear by Almighty God that if you had not complied with the injunction of the law this whip would have made your back black and blue. It has been a trial for both of us “.

Thus, fear of God prevailed over the fear of the Sultan in the mind of the Qazi.

In today’s context, God should be understood by judges to mean loyalty to their oath to uphold the Constitution and protect the rights of the people, and the Sultan should be understood as the political and executive authorities, before whom judges must never surrender.