India’s Supreme Court is becoming a national embarrassment. One of its judges, Justice Dipak Misra, has forced cinemas to play the national anthem at the start of every film, ordered people to stand, and banned dramatisations of the anthem. The judge’s order, which is very poorly written, is bad in law and damages the credibility of the court.
Baloch leader Brahumdagh Bugti’s request for asylum in India has prompted calls for a uniform and apolitical asylum law. That would be a mistake. Asylum has always been a diverse institution, resistant to homogeneity and friendly to political dissidents. Last winter, three asylum bills were introduced in Parliament, including one by Shashi Tharoor, but none of them would protect Mr. Bugti. Denying the government the ability to make sovereign decisions about who can receive India’s asylum is counterproductive. We need a nuanced law which recognises that asylum and refuge need not overlap.
The Indian nation-state is unique, so is its experience of refugees and migration. Future asylum law must acknowledge the country’s exceptionalism. An intelligent asylum regime should: (i) create different forms of protection; (ii) address mixed flows; (iii) prioritise mass influxes; and (iv) proactively govern refugee situations.
“Perumal Murugan is dead,” wrote the Tamil writer and teacher Perumal Murugan after his books were burnt, his family displaced, his safety threatened, and his career made uncertain. The Madras High Court has brought Murugan to life again. His right to write was upheld. More importantly, his right to offend, without which the right to free speech means little, was upheld. And, crucially, the state was reminded that it is charged with the obligation to resist the illegal demands of censorious mobs, not to appease them.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to strike down the anachronistic colonial offence of criminal defamation is wrong. Criminalising defamation serves no legitimate public purpose; the vehicle of criminalisation – sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) – is unconstitutional; and the court’s reasoning is woolly at best.