Niti does not always result in Nyay; speak truth to power, stand up against hate speech: Justice DY Chandrachud

Being accepting and tolerant of the opinions of others by no means translates into blind conformity and it does not mean not standing up against hate speech, he added.
Justice DY Chandrachud
Justice DY Chandrachud

What is legal could probably be unjust whereas what is just might not be always be legal, Supreme Court judge Justice DY Chandrachud said on Saturday while exhorting young law graduates to distinguish between legality and morality.

He said that niti (law) does not always result in nyay (justice) and, therefore, exhorted law graduates to critique law and be guided by the path of one's own conscience and equitable reason.

"At many points in your career, you will realise that what is legal is probably unjust whereas what is just may not be always legal. This is where your law school training of learning to critique the law will come in handy....You must remember the importance of differentiating between law and justice and critiquing the law as a step to advance justice. Niti, in other words, does not always result in Nyay," he said.

Pertinently, he also urged law graduates stepping into the legal profession, especially those who pursue a career in social justice lawyering, to speak truth to power.

"Stepping into the world as fresh graduates amidst the increasing noise and confusion of political, social and moral clashes of ideologies, you must be guided by the path of your own conscience and equitable reason. Speak truth to power, maintain your composure in the face of unspeakable social injustices and utilise your good fortune and privileged positions to remedy them," he said.

Being accepting and tolerant of the opinions of others by no means translates into blind conformity and it does not mean not standing up against hate speech, he added.

"You may encounter people who will tell you the situation is much better than before or better than situation in other places. However, the journey to justice does not stop midpoint or where we feel that we are less unjust than the others," he further stated.

He was addressing law graduates at 11th Convocation Ceremony of Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar

In his speech, the Supreme Court judge also highlighted the dangers of cultural imperialism.

"As Iris Young discusses, cultural imperialism is one of the faces of oppression faced by marginalised groups and she knows how the dominant culture will always define such groups as deviant...in other words respectability politics may sometimes even lead to further marginalisation of sub-groups," he said.

He then proceeded to differentiate between law and justice and the importance of social justice lawyering.

In this regard, he quoted from William Quigley's 'Letter to a Law Student interested in Social Justice'

"A lot of work which leads to achieving justice within law also happens outside the law in terms of social movements, faith in politics and cultural understanding. In our own context we don't have to look too far to decipher the difference between law and justice. It was only in 2005 that women were granted interest in coparcenary property and were given equality in terms of succession to property. Until the longest time in our history, there was no legislation regulating child labour. Minimum wages across the world are a result of recent labour movements. During your own time at law school, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalised sexual relations even between consenting adults of the same gender was the law of the land. It was only in Navtej Singh Jauhar v. Union of India, a bench of which I was part of that the Supreme Court held that Section 377 was unconstitutional," he said.

He also added that pursuing a career in social justice lawyering may not be for everyone as graduates from impoverished backgrounds might have education loans to pay off and might, therefore, have to take up high-paying jobs.

"But one can promote Constitutional values and social justice if you imbibe Constitutional morality in the way you conduct your professional life regardless of the career you pursue," he stated.

The Supreme Court judge also stressed on the importance of reinterpreting law.

"Along with critiquing law, it is important to simultaneously look for ways in which laws can be reimagined and redefined to make them better and more just. The reinterpretation of law takes place as much through the lawyer's vision as through the judges craft," he stated.

Importantly, he said that lawyers should not be afraid of failures.

"Always remember to not be afraid of failure. As a matter of fact, if you are not trying to achieve things when you are falling, you are probably not even trying to meet you potential because it is only at that edge that you will receive equal amounts of success and lawyer. And if you are in the space of social lawyering, always remember that never has justice been achieved in any movement without encountering failure, criticism or chaos," he said.

He also cautioned against being swayed by social media distractions.

"It also helps to remember especially the world of social media with a limited attention spans, that a lot of work you do will have only long term impact and you should not worry too much about the everyday distractions that will become a given in your path," he opined.

Before winding up he added that "as young wide eyed graduates, you must aspire to attain utopia, for the harbingers of change are often hopeless dreamers."

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