Fraternity is the only constitutional method of assuring the dignity of every individual citizen, former Supreme Court judge Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman said on Friday, while stressing that the cardinal principle must be given “some teeth”.
He was delivering the keynote address at the 13th V M Tarkunde memorial lecture in the national capital.
“If we are actually going to live by the cardinal principle of fraternity, which is the only constitutional method of assuring the dignity of every individual citizen of this country and of assuring the integrity and unity of this nation, it must be given some teeth,” he said.
The former top court judge emphasised that one of the fundamental duties of a citizen under the Constitution pertains to the principle of fraternity and casts an obligation on citizens to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood, “transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities”, and “renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women”.
“Fraternity is something that is very, very important so far as this nation is concerned, particularly at this time. We know that the criminal law is sometimes put in motion selectively, but I am going to suggest a remedy… The moment a citizen petitions in the court against hate speech, the [civil] court can not only issue a declaration and an injunction because of the fundamental duty, it can also award punitive damages. Nothing hurts more than that which hurts the purse,” the former judge said.
During his address on the topic “Rights, Duties, Directive Principles: What is Fundamental”, justice Nariman also said that civil courts should award punitive damages in hate speech case that disrupt harmony.
He asserted that while criminal law is selectively put in motion at times, action taken by civil courts would go a long way towards preserving and protecting fraternity.
“Civil courts should take up a suit filed by any citizen against, say, hate speech. After all, it disrupts harmony and brotherhood. So, if courts were to actually now take cognisance of civil suits in which these three things are done, it would go a long way towards preserving and protecting fraternity….,” justice Nariman said.
He also spoke on the constitutional scheme in relation to fundamental rights and duties, and suggested that the government should distribute free copies of the Constitution in every possible language among the citizens enabling them to know their rights.
Justice Nariman pointed out that there is an obligation on the citizens to abide by the Constitution and its ideals and the cardinal value of fraternity — enshrined under the fifth fundamental duty — is of crucial importance.
He also spoke on the effect of certain existing provisions in the Constitution under the directive principles of state policy which seek to curtail further the right to property while empowering the State to ensure proper distribution of resources among people and prevent concentration of wealth.
The former SC judge hoped that the Supreme Court, in an appropriate case, examines whether such provisions under Article 39 can abridge the fundamental right under Article 19 to carry out any trade or business and earn livelihood.
If the right under Article 19 can be snuffed out, justice Nariman warned, India will be no different from China or Russia.
While concluding his address, justice Nariman quoted a Supreme Court judgment and said, “Our tradition teaches tolerance, our philosophy preaches tolerance, our Constitution practices tolerance. Let us not dilute it.”
The event was attended by several dignitaries, including former Supreme Court judge justice Madan B Lokur and members of the bar. Justice Lokur highlighted the contributions and “prophetic lectures” of former Bombay high court judge justice Vithal Mahadeo Tarkunde, in whose memory the lecture was instituted.
Born on July 3, 1909, justice Tarkunde was a prominent lawyer and civil rights activist credited with defending many activists and journalists jailed during the Emergency. He has been referred to as the “father of the civil liberties movement” in India.