Someone has taken offence to the images of eggs in Hindu and Jain places of worship in the location-based augmented reality game Pokemon Go, developed in far off San Franscisco. A public interest litigation in the Gujarat High Court has sought a ban on the game in the country calling it ‘blasphemous’ since egg is considered non-vegetarian food in both communities. The player is supposed to collect the eggs and incubate them to get Pokemon monsters. Mind you, these are not real eggs. There’s no violence involved. And it’s only a game. Still we have a PIL.
Have you heard of someone preparing to file a PIL against pigeons for laying eggs in the cavities of temples? If you haven’t, then you would soon. The countrymen have taken to PILs with amazing enthusiasm. Citizens are asking courts to clear every doubt, settle every grievance on every topic, from nationalism to Constitution to whatnot. Struggling with over three crore pending cases and acute shortage of judges, and time to manage more serious cases at hand, the judiciary still entertains them.
Now, what great public purpose this above-mentioned PIL serves? In this context it would be instructive to look around and notice how many establishments selling non-vegetarian food and even raw meat are named after deities or revered religious figures. It’s surprising that no one has taken the owners to courts. The practice has been there since ages – people tend to keep religion and profession in separate spaces. For example, the person concerned invokes deities so that his business does well; he does not feel his profession offends religion. If it were, he would not have clients in the first place. Given we live in hypersensitive times it’s possible someone must already have started thinking in terms of a call for a ban on such a practice.
The PIL was conceived as an empowering tool. Coming soon after the dark experience of Emergency, it aimed at giving the ordinary citizen the power to question the state and seek remedy against its acts of excess against the individual. The courts, in a way, stood guarantee for his rights and well-being, thus making the equation of power involving the state and the citizen more equal. The courts were later accused of, and they still are, of overreaching into the territory of the executive and the legislature in the name of public interest. But that took nothing away from the fact that PILs served a salutary purpose. We have had several revolutionary judgments coming through such litigation, specifically in the areas of human rights, environment etc.
But the growing number of frivolous PILs suggests that many miss the import of such a precious gift. Wary of the piling number of PILs the Supreme Court had issued a set of guidelines for accepting them way back in 2010. It had asked judges to check, among other things, whether the matter involved public interest. It had advised judges to give priority to PILs dealing with issues of larger public interest and verify the antecedents of the petitioners. If the court finds the petition frivolous, it can impose exemplary costs on the petitioner. Despite all this there’s no end to silly litigations.
Many of these reflect the bigger malaise of our times: we have become too prickly, lost the capacity to ignore things that we don’t like and too intolerant of the other opinion. Also, we have lost the ability to settle minor issues through dialogue. So courts it has to be at the drop of a hat, no matter they have better things to do and they need to spend their stretched resources more productively.
Of course, the courts have the option to discard such frivolous petitions and obviously, they dump many before accepting some. Yet some slip through. In the Pokemon Go matter, the court has taken cognisance of the petition. Let’s wait and watch whether it ends in a ban on the popular game.