On May 22, the Jabalpur bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking directions to stall a religious event in the State on the ground that it would hurt the sentiments of tribal communities.
However, soon thereafter, a video clip from the hearing was circulated on social media where the presiding judge, Justice Vivek Agarwal, is seen reprimanding the petitioner lawyer GS Udhe for "misconduct."
After watching the clip, many alleged that the judge's rebuke bore casteist connotations because Udhe belongs to the Dalit community.
Justice Agarwal is seen telling Udhe in Hindi,
"Tum logo ne soch liya hai ki badtameezi karke tum jo hai, apne aap ke liye bohot badi TRP collect karloge? (You people think that by misbehaving you will garner TRPs for yourself?)."
Udhe then mumbles an apology, which prompts the judge to say,
"You should be sorry."
Justice Agarwal then again says in Hindi,
"Tum logon ko ye sikhake bheja jaata hai ki badtameezi karo? (Are you people tutored and sent to misbehave?)"
Many believed that that the use of the phrase "tum log" or "you people" was directed at Udhe's caste.
However, if one watches the entire video, one will realise that Justice Agarwal and Udhe had entered into an argument much before the said comment.
Udhe was constantly claiming that the proposed event was likely to hurt the Adivasi community's sentiments.
However, Justice Agarwal asked the lawyer who authorised him to file such a PIL and whether Udhe had an authorisation letter from the community. The lawyer failed to produce any such authorisation. Instead, he can be seen citing Article 51 of the Constitution.
The judge repeats his question on authorisation, after which Udhe raises his voice and says in Hindi,
"Wahi toh bata raha hoon lekin aap sun hi nahin rahe hain. Kuch bhi bole ja rahe hain," (I am trying to tell you what the Constitution says but you are not listening. Instead, you are going on speaking random stuff)."
A visibly irritated Justice Agarwal asks Udhe how Article 51 translates into an authorisation letter from the tribal community. The judge then asks Udhe for his name and warns to issue a contempt of court notice against him for his misbehaviour in court.
Another lawyer is then seen asking Udhe to calm down and it is then that Udhe mumbles his apology and Justice Agarwal makes the "tum log" comment.
If one examines the comment in this context, it seems likely that in saying "people like you," the judge meant lawyers who file sponsored or motivated PILs for publicity.
This argument holds weight since the judge also goes on to warn "all the lawyers present in Court" against filing motivated cases and misbehaving in court.