Victoria Gowri sworn in as Madras HC judge: The controversy surrounding the appointment decoded
A section of the legal fraternity from Chennai, citing her ‘affiliation’ with the BJP and ‘hate speeches’ against minorities, urged President Draupadi Murmu to return Victoria Gowri's nomination to the SC Collegium. Gowri was sworn in on Tuesday after the apex court refused to entertain the plea cha
On Tuesday, Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri was sworn in as an additional judge of the Madras High Court
Gowri’s nomination has been mired in controversy after a section of the legal fraternity objected to her elevation to the higher judiciary.
Gowri in her address after being sworn in vowed to dispense justice in realising the dreams of the makers of the Constitution.
Following usual practice, including reading out the Warrant of Appointment issued by the president and a Central government notification, Gowri was administered the oath of office by Acting Chief Justice of Madras High Court Justice T Raja.
Let’s take a closer look at the controversy surrounding Gowri:
As per New Indian Express, Gowri was born on 21 May, 1973 in Kanyakumari district.
Enrolling as a lawyer in 1995, she has practiced civil law, criminal law, tax law and labour law. Since last year, Gowri has been the Centre’s assistant solicitor general (ASG) in the Madras High Court’s Madurai Bench.
The Supreme Court Collegium – its panel of most-senior judges who decide on appointments to the higher judiciary – in its 17 January meeting recommended Gowri’s name for the Madras High Court.
Then, on Saturday, 21 lawyers from Chennai sent a petition urging President Draupadi Murmu to send back the collegium’s recommendation.
The advocates in the letter expressed their shock at Gowri’s name being recommended both due to her affiliation with the BJP and for ‘hate speeches’ she made against minorities, as per The Hindu.
The memorandum signed the nearly two dozen lawyers including senior advocates NGR Prasad, R Vaigai, Anna Mathew, D Nagasaila and Sudha Ramalingam, stated that Gowri, by her own admission, is the general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party Mahila Morch.
As per Bar and Bench, an unverified Twitter account, purportedly of Gowri, in its bio says she is the BJP Mahila Morcha’s national general secretary of BJP Mahila Morcha.
“I just joined the BJP, you too can join the BJP and join hands to help create a New India!”, the account tweeted on 31 August, 2019.
As per The Wire, there are also several videos of Gowri from 2017 on BJP TV in which she is referred to as BJP general secretary and in which she praises Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
They also cited ‘hate speeches’ Gowri had made against minorities – available on YouTube and in publications associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – in which she spoke about conversions and ‘love jihad’.
The lawyers said Gowri claimed Roman Catholics were carrying out ‘nefarious activities’ and that Bharatanatyam should not be performed for Christian songs.
The Wire quoted Gowri as saying: “ The list of Christian aggression is not ending. ‘Where there is a temple, there must be many Churches’ is their aggressive motto.”
“As far as India is concerned, I would like to say Christian groups are more dangerous than Islamic groups. Both are equally dangerous in the context of conversion, especially Love Jihad,” the outlet quoted Gowri as saying.
The lawyers further said Gowri’s statements were tantamount to sowing communal discord and even urged that criminal cases be registered against her.
“Ms. Gowri’s regressive views are completely antithetical to foundational constitutional values and reflect her deep-rooted religious bigotry making her unfit to be appointed as a High Court judge… Can any litigant belonging to Muslim or Christian [communities] ever hope to get justice in her court if she becomes a judge?” the lawyers asked in their letter.
“The Collegium’s recommendation of a person who harbours such strong antipathy towards the minority community is disturbing, to say the least,” the letter stated, as per The Hindu.
However, another group of 54 lawyers sprang to Gowri’s defence.
As per NDTV, this group from Madurai, in their letter to the collegium, said the claims made against Gowri came from “political animosity and malafide intent”.
“The alleged speech was made when she was in a political position. That shouldn’t be linked now. As a judge, she would only go by law, taking an impartial view,” advocate Krishnaveni told NDTV.
By now, petitions had been filed in the apex court challenging Gowri’s nomination.
As per Bar and Bench, three Madras High Court lawyers approached the apex court, saying Gowri had exhibited “strong prejudice” against citizens on basis of their religion.
The petitioner lawyers, Anna Mathew, Sudha Ramalingam and D Nagasaila, in their plea referred to the alleged hate speeches made by Gowri against Muslims and Christians.
As per Bar and Bench, the petition listed five reasons why Gowri’s appointment suffers ‘serious defects’ including
- An article entitled Aggressive baptising destroying social harmony in RSS’ publication Organiser
- An interview with Bharatmarg with the caption – More Threat to National Security & Peace? Jihad or Christian Missionary? – Answers Victoria Gowri
- Another Bharatmarg interview with the text ‘Cultural genocide by Christian Missionaries in Bharat – Victoria Gowri’
- Her affiliation with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
- Collegium not being informed of controversial speeches and statements.
“Had such material been placed, the same would have revealed her ineligibility to be appointed as a judge of a High Court,” the plea added.
The plea said, “The petitioners are seeking appropriate interim orders injuncting the 4th Respondent (Gowri) from taking the oath of office as a judge of the High Court, in view of the grave threat to the independence of the judiciary.”
The plea relied on the 2016 NJAC judgement, and said it ‘reiterated that absence of prejudice is the essence of an independent judiciary’.
‘She has shown strong prejudice during her public speeches against citizens on the ground of their religious affiliation, which disqualifies her under Article 217(2)(b) from dispensing justice, without fear or favour, and affection or ill-will,’ the plea alleged.
It alleged that Gowri has shown utter disdain towards the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined in Articles 14 and 15.
‘She is, therefore, ineligible at the very threshold. Her proposed appointment as a judge poses a grave threat to the fair administration of justice and citizens’ right to the same under Article 21 of the Constitution,’ it claimed.
The plea sought a direction that all the records and the material before the collegium of the Madras high court and of the apex court relating to the resolution be summoned.
It also sought the setting aside of the recommendation as unconstitutional and void for lack of effective and informed consultation under Article 217 of the Constitution.
The petition read: “The petitioners respectfully submit that the strong prejudice shown by Respondent No. 4 [Victoria Gowri] through her vitriolic comments against Muslim and Christian citizens are antithetical to the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India. Such prejudice will threaten their access to justice.”
It said her elevation raises a question of whether the fundamental right to access to justice is infringed by the appointment of a judge ‘with strong prejudices against citizens based on their religious faith’.
‘The petitioners believe that relevant materials regarding the 4th Respondent’s (Gowri) publicly expressed views were not placed before the collegium of the Madras high court or of this Hon’ble Court, and this has affected the consideration of her eligibility,’ it said.
SC advances plea date, then refuses to entertain it
On Monday, a bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud had in the forenoon put the plea of three Madras high court lawyers opposing the proposed appointment of Gowri for hearing on 1-10 February but later advanced it to 7 February after Ramachandran again mentioned it, saying the Centre has notified her appointment.
However, on Tuesday, the apex court refused to entertain the plea
“We are not entertaining the writ petition. Reasons will follow”
SO said the special bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and B R Gavai, which assembled at 10.25 am to hear the plea, five minutes before the scheduled time of the court.
The oath to Gowri was administered by Madras high court Acting Chief Justice T Raja at around 10.48 am, while the top court was hearing arguments on why Gowri should not be elevated.
During the hearing, the bench told senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, who was appearing for the petitioners, that there is a difference between eligibility and suitability.
Ramachandran referred to Article 217 of the Constitution which deals with t appointment and conditions of the office of a judge of a high court.
He said a person who is not in sync with the ideals and basic principles of the Constitution is unfit to take the oath because the oath talks of true faith and allegiance
The bench observed that the petitioners have placed certain materials on record and these things must have been placed before the collegium also which had recommended Gowri’s name for elevation as a judge on the high court.
“When the collegium takes a decision, it also takes opinion of the consultee judges who are from that particular high court and you cannot assume that judges who are from that particular high court are not aware about all these things,” the bench said.
The top court said that Gowri is being appointed as an additional judge of the high court.
“If the candidate is not true to the oath and if it is found that she has not discharged the duties as per the oath, is the collegium not entitled to take a view of that? And there have been instances where people have not been confirmed,” the bench said.
Meanwhile, Gowri was sworn in as an additional judge.
Bar and Bench quoted Gowri as saying, “I will strive to liberate the marginalised and to nurture fraternity in this diverse and beautiful land called India.”
“I thank Mata Amritanandamayi, and mother India. I thank my husband who stood by me through all my experiments in life, and my two daughters. I bow to the noble feet of all the elder judges here and seek your blessings,” she added.
With inputs from agencies
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