The NLIU-India Foundation Constitutional Law Symposium was held on 16th and 17th
March, 2019 at National Law Institute University (NLIU), Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. This was the first such symposium to be conducted in Central India. It commenced with paper presentations from students from all over India. Out of over 80 articles received from students and scholars around the country, on contemporary issues in constitutional law, the organizers shortlisted eight outstanding papers to be presented at the Symposium via a thorough review process.
The inaugural session was graced by the chief guest, Prof N.L. Mitra, former Director, National Law School of India, Bangalore and Founder Vice Chancellor, National Law University, Jodhpur; Major General Dhruv C Katoch, Director, India Foundation; Prof. V Vijayakumar, Vice Chancellor, NLIU; and Prof. Ghayur Alam, Dean, Academics, NLIU. After the traditional lighting of the lamp ceremony, Major General Katoch in his address said that such events are usually reserved for Delhi, but NLIU and India Foundation have partnered to break this trend. Prof. Mitra, in his address, expressed his pleasure at being a part of this novel event, and detailed his journey from the world of economics to the realm of law. Prof. Vijayakumar shared his views about the Indian constitution being “one of the best written constitutions in the world, one which citizens should read regularly”. Prof. Alam outlined his take on the essence of the Constitution, which is to question everything and everyone, particularly the ones in power.
The first presentation of the day, titled “Does Your God Satisfy the Constitutional Test?” by Rajat Sinha and Stuti Bhargava from NLU Jodhpur dealt with the controversial Sabarimala verdict. The speakers took the stand that the core belief of the devotees of Sabarimala is not the alleged impurity of menstruating women, but a unique brand of celibacy practiced by Lord Ayyappa. The speakers advocated that preference be given to religious practices in case of conflict between them and government regulations, with exceptions made when the practices have crossed the intolerable degree threshold.
The second presentation of the day, “Relooking at the Admissibility of Illegally Obtained Evidence” by Paras Marya from NLU Jodhpur outlined the need for revamping of our evidentiary laws with respect to admissibility of evidence. The speaker contended that there should be a balance between human dignity and the weight of the evidence.
The next presentation, “How Islam and Article 25 Jibe Against FGM” by Deeksha Sharma and Kratika Indurkhya from RMLNLU Lucknow dealt with the controversial topic of female genital mutilation, practised by specific communities. The speakers elaborated how the practice cannot be protected under Article 25 as it does not pass the essential religious practice test, and is hence not sanctioned by Islam.
The presentation titled “Essential Religious Practices with respect to Sabarimala” by Kanika Sharma from MNLU Nagpur discussed the various definitions and understandings of religion in legal parlance. The speaker further discussed the doctrine of essential religious practice evolved by the courts and examines how it is violative of the right to freedom of religion with special emphasis on the Sabrimala judgement.
The fifth presentation, “Gulping the Spike: Rationalizing AFSPA” by Deepanshu Poddar and Vrinda Aggarwal from Jindal Global Law School, Sonepat, described the various sections of the AFSPA and their operations. It raised the question of whether the Courts have the institutional competence to delve into matters of national security and whether there is a constitutional basis for courts to exercise review jurisdiction over military actions.
The last presentation of the day talked about the Jarnail Singh case on reservation in promotions. The speaker Aparna Singh from NLU Jodhpur discussed the ambiguities brought about by the judgement and the issues regarding the ascertainment and effective choice candidates from SC/ST classes for reservation in promotion.
The second day of the Symposium commenced with the final paper presentation titled “Sedition: The Victorian Era Tyrant” by Vidhi Koolwal from Schoolf of Legal Studies, Mody University, which examined the use of the sedition law to stifle criticism against the government and the branding of people as anti-national.
The Symposium featured a special panel on “The Aberrations in Principles of Separation of Power” chaired by Justice A.P Misra, former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and Chairman, Legal Education Committee; with Prof N.L. Mitra, former Director, National Law School of India, Bangalore and Founder Vice Chancellor, National Law University, Jodhpur; Prof (Dr.) B.N. Pandey, Dean, Adamas University; Dr. V. Vijayakumar, Vice Chancellor, NLIU and Dr. Manoj Sinha, Director, ILI Delhi as panellists.
Justice Misra enunciated his views on the Indian constitution being a philosophy more than a document. He lamented the shift of society’s focus from obligations to rights, while urging students to value morality over money. The speakers touched upon landmark judgments, historical events, and relevant doctrines of law while discussing the prevailing theme of separation of powers.
The plenary panel on “Faith and Indian Constitution” began with an address by Shri Vikramjit Banerjee, Additional Solicitor General, Supreme Court, on the development of the relationship between law and faith. Law has always come from the people and always must be interpreted within people, thus making faith, society and law largely inseparable. This, unfortunately, has led to the State, through the judiciary, imposing upon Indian people its own definition of morality – an oppression in itself.
The second panellist, Prof. V. K. Dixit, Professor of Jurisprudence and Constitution, NLIU said, “I have little faith in faith, but tremendous faith in the Indian Constitution”. He staunchly supported the Sabarimala judgment, stating that women have been victimized by all religions for eons, dominated by the patriarchy, which was made more visible in the Triple Talaq and Sabrimala judgments where the Supreme Court was put on the defensive.
A spirited reply was given by advocate J Sai Deepak, often termed the ‘Lawyer for Lord Ayyappa’, who asserted that while equality is important, it commits an intellectual fraud by closing eyes on every distinction possible. Equality is a mandate that must be achieved in context. Unrestrained judicial activism ignores the nuances of beliefs of tantric temples, and leaps to ill-informed conclusions based on half-baked information. He urged people to read more extensively and wisely in order to form their own opinion, and not succumb to what is fed to them on prime-time debates. In his interaction with the students, he stressed upon the need for India to evolve its own brand of feminism, not relying on the import of its western notion.
The last panel discussion for the day was on “Freedom of Speech and Expression in the Age of Social Media” and it featured addresses by Dr. P. Puneeth, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU Delhi; Ms. Anuradha Shankar, ADGP, Madhya Pradesh Police and Prof. (Dr.) Ghayur Alam, Professor, NLIU. Dr. Puneeth outlined the important issues relating to regulation of speech and expression in the age of social media, pointing out that the actual issue at hand is not freedom of speech but rather protection given after the speech has been delivered.
Ms. Anuradha Shankar brought out the relevancy of the issue by referring to the latest terrorist attack in New Zealand, which stretched freedom of speech to deranged limits. He killed innocents at a place of worship while streaming it live on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. This leads to a dystopian 1984-like situation, but is not because of the presence of a draconian government. Prof. Alam offered his concluding remarks, illustrating the responsibility of the private actors in this scenario, who essentially decide what we read and access.
The Symposium concluded with the declaration of results of the paper presentation. The papers presented by (i) Deeksha Sharma & Kratika Indurkhya, from RMLNLU, Lucknow, (ii) Aparna Singh, from NLU, Jodhpur; and (iii) Rajat Sinha & Stuti Bhargava, from NLU, Jodhpur got the awards.
(This Report is carried in the print edition of May-June 2019 issue of India Foundation Journal.)