We are delighted to feature India’s eminent jurist par excellence, Justice B. N. Srikrishna in our prestigious LEADERBRIEF section. The highly respected and admired thought leader was the guest of honour on Satya Vigyan Foundation‘s significant and ‘truth-igniting’ TRUTHtalks series. This is an initiative of Satya Vigyan Foundation and Vallabh Bhanshali, co-founder DeshApnayen and ENAM Group, and seeks to bring to the fore those who have ‘experimented’ a lot with Truth, to understand it as the most powerful phenomenon in Nature, more than just a moral value or a legal obligation.
Justice Srikrishna spoke of Truth and its many facets and manifestations, about what Truth means to him, about what’s True and what’s Fair, and so much more.
The talk was anchored by Somasekhar Sundaresan, well known litigation counsel in economics and administrative law, and we bring you excerpts from the conversation.
This is a long and truly rewarding, thought-provoking read; a precious dive into the mind of the great, unparalleled philosopher-jurist inspiration, Justice B N Srikrishna, for everyone who seeks to harness the power of truth for the greater good — for one’s own consciousness and for the betterment of society, Nation and humanity.
Read. Reap. Revel.
Someshekhar Sundaresan: What exactly does truth mean to you, what is truth, what is it not. I thought let us begin there?
You have raised a fundamental question which has baffled philosophers for ages. Now this question, let me be frank. I will talk purely from the standpoint of the Indian philosophers. I will not dabble too much into the way the westerners are looking into it because I have my own reservation from that.
Talking about the philosophical point of view, truth is something, Frankly, where did Indian philosophy begin? Indian philosophy began from the Shruti, the Vedas. It says if it is truth, it is going to be unchanged. Unchanged over what? Unchanged over a period of time. Now whether it is past, present or future, it should remain constant. Again, with regard to what they say, your status.
Now the human being is either grateful or having a dream or having what you call in scientific terms REM sleep or deep sleep. Now what you see around you is true to you because you are able to see it, receive it and visualize it. What you see in your dream, your sensory organs are at rest, you do not hear anything and I may dream and I may feel that I am the King of England and the Chief Justice is coming to offer me something on a platter or I am the King of Saudi Arabia, everything is possible in your dream.
Now the next is, I may be in a state where I am totally bereft of this dream sensation also, absolute REM sleep as we call it in modern terms. At that time, I am neither in the wakeful world nor in the dream world, but a sense of absolute stillness.
I will say nothing prevails at that time, but what is it that persists in all these stages. You asthe perceiver, you as the perceivers start with it second stage, third stage. So our philosopher said, In western philosophy, I think it was Rene Descartes who said that the world changes so much that you cannot cross the river twice because he said when you cross the river once, by the time you try to cross it back, the atoms or molecules of water have flown away.
So everything keeps changing. And if everything keeps changing, there must be some entity, which remains solid. So our philosophers identified it and called it Brahma; give any definition or name it does not make any difference. So there is an entity that is steadfast and that does not move and that does not change. Everything else changes. And now when you talk of truth, what are we saying? For example, if I tell you that this is black. Now I will say it is true, it is black. Now who knows if I keep it in the sun for long time, it may become gray, it may become white also and ultimately it may lose it’s shine.
Therefore, do I say that the statement that I made that it is black is false, untrue? Truth is relative in time, that means I can only say at this point of time, this thing appears to be black to me and that is true, but if I were to make a bold statement and say, at all other times, without change, it is going to be black? Who knows after 100 years, you will not be there, I will not be there.
Probably you will be there, I will not be there and this itself may not be there. Therefore, all statements typical to true have to be hedged in by this concept of time element. Now one more thing that needs to be accepted. When we talk of truth, are we talking of this kind of a truth when we talk of truth in a societal organized context.
Someshekhar Sundaresan: To push this a little further. In the Vyavaharika space, every person believes in his own sovereign right that he stands for what is dharma. So I have seen people justify to themselves that their cause is a just cause, which is why they knock the doors in a legal conflict of a court as well. So each side resolutely believes that it stands for dharma.
Sir what would be your guiding principle to see what is this dharma because I have often seen clients also who may have been completely caught in the wrong. When it comes to the rule of law, they resolutely would believe that it stands for cause of dharma. How do we reconcile that?
First of all, dharma is not determined by individual thinking. Let us be honest about it. Again, the interesting thing about Bhagavad Gita is as a lawyer you must have seen, as a judge you must have seen it is kept in one witness box, tattered book which contains half the number of pages are missing with full of dust, everybody puts his hand on that and says I will swear on this and I will say the truth and blah blah.
Nobody, not even the witnesses, not even the judge sitting in the court would have ever opened it and seen what it contains. In fact, I must tell you between you and me I had an occasion to talk to one of the subordinate court judges and he was telling me that he was not able to get a copy of Bhagavad Gita. So he used his personal diary and wrapped it nicely in a piece of paper and kept it in the witness box.
So everybody would share on his personal diary and share it to reveal the truth. So ultimately, what did the Bhagavad Gita tell you, “Tasmatchastrampramanamte, karyakaryavyavasthitau”.
In order to determine whether something is good or not, you have to go by the rule what is ordained by the shashtra, not your insight, your individual thinking. Otherwise, individual thinking don’t forget is unless you are an enlightened person or a saint, it is always covered by self interest. Now if somebody comes to me and says in this dispute between you and you, somebody else, I will always say I am right or somebody comes and tells me, in this dispute between Som and XYZ, who do you think is right and I will say Som of course because Som is my friend.
If a person knows something is being done, which is contrary to all accepted human values. Now this human values, as far as a judge is concerned, the issue is very simple. You were talking of legislation. Now if the legislation is contrary to the accepted fundamental rights, then article 13 of the constitution gives the right to a judge of a superior court to strike it down on the ground that it is violative of a fundamental right. Now the real dilemma is not in that.
The dilemma is in as a lawyer you will realize that article 19(1) enumerates a whole lot of fundamental rights. At the same time, 19(2) says that in case of this specified cases, it is permissible for the state to increase the fundamental right in article 1 in the manner that is indicated. There will be dilemma that reiterates: Justice B N Srikrishna
See that is the immediate attachment that you have to the cause, to yourself and to anything that you consider as a projection of yourself. So that is why it is difficult to determine where the principle really lies. Therefore, you have to go back to the shashtra and say what does the shashtra tell you. Now what does the shashtra tell you here is. That is what I was telling you, the principle that Padma Purana told us is very simple and in fact he does not involve too many complications.
Now, somebody stealing my property is bad for me. So I should not go around stealing property. Somebody killing me is bad for me, therefore I should not kill. When somebody is doing violence to me, whether physically or by words is bad for me. Therefore, I should not do it. This is the fundamental principle that has been accepted. If you accept this and test, let us say somebody comes to you and says this is burglary being done, then how do you test where the real.
See as a judge, the problem is not, one of very few problems really for a moral dilemma. It is simply a question of deciding on the basis of law as it stands where the issue should be sorted out, trying to tilt towards a tilt little towards basic what you have learnt as moral principles or ethical principles. Now, I would like to give an example, let us say you are travelling by car on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, there are 4 or 5 lanes on each side that keeps a little bit of elbow room.
As more experienced car driver you will see that to go from one lane to another depending on where you want to go, but on both sides, you can jump the barrier and go. If you jump the barrier and go, you will kill yourself and kill everybody else, but within those 4 lines, carefully if you navigate yourself, you will be able to reach your goal safely. This is exactly what happens in a legal situation.
As a judge, I have the boundary created by the law. Now let us take a very simple situation. Law says, any person who is guilty of theft should be punished, but the law gives me some kind of a leeway. That is where I can use my discretion as a judge and say, “Hey, what is this case of. Is it the case of a poor woman hungry for 10 days, her child is hungry for 10 days and who steals a loaf of bread or is it the case of a super rich crook, who has picked into somebody’s pocket because he cannot be less than greedy as far as his pocket is concerned”.
There you have the choice. That is subject to the law because in both bounds, I cannot acquit him if I find him really guilty of an offence, unless there are cases where you have minimum statutory offences that both are involved and it is a little bit more complicated issues, but if a person is guilty, it will not come up into the court and say, the person is not guilty.
The person may say he is guilty. Therefore, I will charge him Re. 1 or I will charge him 1 paisa or I will make him sit in the court and look at me one on one or as some of the progressive agendas are done, I will make that person go into social service, go and plant 100 plants or something of that sort, but there basically the modulation would be of the punishment, not of the guilt or the offence itself. Now you have that situation, let us say if I don’t know my moral dilemma can present itself with various methods, I gave you 2 examples.
If a person knows something is being done, which is contrary to all accepted human values. Now this human values, as far as a judge is concerned, the issue is very simple. You were talking of legislation. Now if the legislation is contrary to the accepted fundamental rights, then article 13 of the constitution gives the right to a judge of a superior court to strike it down on the ground that it is violative of a fundamental right. Now the real dilemma is not in that.
The dilemma is in as a lawyer you will realize that article 19(1) enumerates a whole lot of fundamental rights. At the same time, 19(2) says that in case of this specified cases, it is permissible for the state to increase the fundamental right in article 1 in the manner that is indicated. There will be dilemma that reiterates.
Now it maybe in the interest of state to state, now take for example the COVID situation today. The government wants to say because of health reasons, I am going to say that nobody will have a right to do this, that and the other. How far is it permissible, how far is it not permissible will become a matter of judgement. Now that is where the skill of a judge arises, that is where the skill of the neutral arbitrator arises. For example, yes there is a lockdown.
Therefore, is the lockdown justified or not. Fortunately, nobody tested it in a court of law, otherwise questions would have been raised as what did the lockdown achieve, what were the consequence of a lockdown, did it do more good to the people or did it do more harm to the people. Anything, take for example the great announcement that was made by the government suddenly for demonetization. Was the demonetization stated to be for purpose X, Y and Z.
Now all the topmost economists have told that none of the purposes was every fulfilled. Now who knows if it had been challenged in a court of law. Somebody might have asked this question and said, hey, this is an action of the executive, it infringes the fundamental rights and the principle is that the fundamental rights can be infringed on the basis of the doctrine of proportionality, that you can use a fly swatter for killing a mosquito, but you cannot do an atom bomb. That is the principle.
That is where the dilemma is thought to be resolved. Therefore, for example anything that you come normally across, now freedom of speech is a great exulted issue in democracy. It is an exulted fundamental right, but then should there be a curb on freedom of speech actually grappling with that issue in some of the matters. Should there be a situation where the freedom of speech of the media to be curbed. Don’t forget one thing, why is it necessary to guarantee fundamental freedom, fundamental rights and then conversely also say no you should be able to curb them to some extent.
Guaranteed because it is an inherent requisite of human dignity and also because of the fact that we are subscribed to the charter. The restriction is needed because it is needed in order to ensure that you and I are able to effectively use our fundamental rights. Therefore, it is really a situation of one individual’s fundamental right against what is going to happen to the rest of the people in the society.
That is the reason if you remember in the famous Puttaswamy’s case also, the Supreme Court formulated the principle and said, yes it is necessary to enable the government to access the data of individuals without consent because that would be an essential requisite of protecting the rights of the citizens at large. Take a simple case. During war time, all kinds of restrictions were put on the fundamental rights.
Why they had put on fundamental rights because the entire country needs to be protected. Otherwise, if you say no I have got fundamental right of the constitution, therefore this law should not be made applicable to me or it will be devoid under article 13. What happens to the rest of the country if you go around talking, if you go around doing something that will cause some kind of an adverse effect on the activity of the country, the rest of the population will suffer.
The rest of the people will suffer their erosion of their fundamental rights. That is the reason why then you use this question of what is it that is going to be achieved. That is why I started by saying, “What is the dharma in the issue that you have to take care of all the time”? Test is, its good for everybody or is it bad for everybody. If it is good for everybody, do it. If it is bad for everybody, stop that and say this is not good.
Someshekhar Sundaresan: Trying to move a bit to the business and the corporate side. We have a bunch of corporate sector and financial sector people in our audience today. Accounting standards and the auditing standards. When an auditor expresses an opinion on the accuracy of financial statements, what effective signs off is that they represent a true and fair view of the state of affairs of the company. Now this phrase “true” and “fair” suggests that we need both and not just one.
What may be true may not be a fair depiction and what maybe a fair depiction need not be a truthful depiction and therefore this is sort of a true and fair view concept as it has been brought in, which resonates with some of what you had said. So why unlike in a judicial legal dispute, this is more about business as normal as a growing concern and you are depicting whether the statements represent a true and fair view.
Now while this gives one the ability to talk about corporate manner of depicting, appropriate manner of depicting state of affairs of a company. Most of the accounting scandals that we have seen over time have found their roots in the management calls and justifications that the accounting standards enable.
For example, even in Enron, the Securities Exchange Commission enabled companies to recognize future income on a par purchase agreement which is over a long period of time and give value to it today and recognize it as income. So therein began the problem of collapse. So again, I know this can be a little circular, but when we look at fairness and bring in the element of plasticity, do we somehow bring in an element of ends justifying means and that turning into a slippery slope.
Progress inevitably requires some kind of deprivation of natural resources. Therefore, way down the line, this is exactly what courts have been grappling with all over the country in the developed world, developing world and underdeveloped countries.
This is exactly the point. Progress versus deprivation of the natural resources. So deprivation of the natural resources has a long-term deleterious effect on the populace, whereas progress requires I must build a dam, I must build a factory, I must produce more steel, I must produce more chemicals, more fertilizers, manufacture more nuclear bombs, have more nuclear thermal stations. So where do you draw the distinction?: Justice B N Srikrishna
If you are talking of corporate world, let us ask a simple question. What is the philosophy of the persons in charge of the corporation with regard to the objective of the corporation. If their philosophy is maximum value to the shareholders, so dividend should be increased, their point of view would be something different. Their perspective also would be totally different, but if their perspective is that this is in order to do good for the society, which has practice to do all kind of business like this, then there would not be any difficulty.
So of course this complicated issue of whether future income should be recognized today or not, I am leaving it aside for the accountants to debate. Originally, it was thought that only thing that the corporate governance required was the dividends and the share value should increase. That was their only objective.
Today, do we recognize that?. Do we recognize that is the only objective, they say no. If that is the only objective, is it that we come across situations of environmental protection, why is it that we deal with corporate social responsibility. Therefore, even for corporates, the same issue. Now let us say you are manufacturing some kind of gas, which is deleterious to general health. Now, there is lots of demand for that because it is industrially useful.
Now, while doing it, what is it that you are required to do, while manufacturing it, are you really allowing it to escape into the atmosphere, are you really protecting the neighborhood, the rest of the populace in ensuring that it is not exposed to it’s deleterious effects, while if you do that, are you going to suffer profits.
When I invest money in a company, am I expecting that money should grow, multiply ,never mind what happens to the rest of the country, or money along with guaranteed security of my health and my longevity? Now, this is the realm in which every country wants to progress. Progress inevitably requires some kind of deprivation of natural resources. Therefore, way down the line, this is exactly what courts have been grappling with all over the country in the developed world, developing world and underdeveloped countries.
This is exactly the point. Progress versus deprivation of the natural resources. So deprivation of the natural resources has a long-term deleterious effect on the populace, whereas progress requires I must build a dam, I must build a factory, I must produce more steel, I must produce more chemicals, more fertilizers, manufacture more nuclear bombs, have more nuclear thermal stations.
So where do you draw the distinction. Each one is inversely proportion to the other. Today, it is undoubtedly true that travelling by plane is a risk. I don’t know statistically, but it has worked out, but planes are crashing despite the best plane manufacturers.
During my grandfather’s or great-grandfather’s time, people either walked from place to pace or went by bullock carts. The safest method really was walking, a little more safer, a little less safer, but a little more convenient was bullock cart. A bullock cart is a very safe method of going and it is one way of looking at it.
Are we in a position to say let us all go back to bullock carts, stop manufacturing automobiles, stop manufacturing or importing planes. Is it feasible? Therefore, you have 2 principles which are conflicting. One is what we require in modern world, which goes by the term progress now, that is another debatable issue. For the time being, I will keep it aside.
Someshekhar Sundaresan: What about Vikas?
ustice B. N. Srikrishna: Let us call it progress as against environmental degradation. Now these are 2 issues which are conflicting. Therefore, once you have expanded one, the other one decreases. Conversely, the other one decreases, this one decreases. Therefore, where do you maintain the balance depends on your viewpoint always.
Now, if I am saying note to me the health of the citizens is more interesting. I am more interested in the citizens health rather than a company making profit or rather the petitioners getting more money or rather than the GDP increasing it to so many trillions.
That is your viewpoint, it is completely justified. Conversely, somebody may say to hell with whatever happens, I want my GDP to increase, particular viewpoint. Now, which is right or wrong is to be determined by this kind of a moral principle. Do you value the comfort, the monetary will of a citizen more than his physical and moral health.
That is the question you will have to resolve every corporate one choice have to resolve. I wanted to say in the principle, what happens is that a lot of regulation gets thrown into it. The regulations are somewhat irritants, but then they are required to steer the car. As I said, these are the boundaries within which you must steer the car. These are the boundaries within you must be the corporate governance.
Someshekhar Sundaresan: Sir it brings me to another question. Sir you presided over the Riots Commission for the 92/93 riots that happened at a fairly early stage in your judicial career.
Justice B. N. Srikrishna: Just about in 1 year 6 months.
SomeshekharSundaresan: The Fact Finding Commission’s task was to arrive at the truth of what transpired. Now different jurisdictions which have faced civil war situations have had different approaches. Some establish what they called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where the idea is to again arrive at the truth, but the directional path is forgiveness rather than vengeance and penalty.
South Africa post apartheid seems to have healed itself by using a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with decades of atrocities being acknowledged, established and forgiven, as opposed to say Cambodia which had a war crime tribunal. People are dying before their trial can conclude.
There is no closure still and lot of contentious festering that is continuing. So while both are seeking to arrive at the truth, is the intended destination being varied, got some value there and I would like your thoughts on these 2 approaches to dealing with the truth in such a difficult circumstances.
You were talking of South African commission. What about the war tribunals, war crime tribunals, Tokyo Tribunals and the Nuremberg Trials? Those Nazis are still being found, identified and being punished at the age of 97 and 100. Anyway, that’s up.
The point is the Commission of Enquiries Act in the country in India intended only to ascertain the facts as far as feasible without going into somebody to advice for the government to inform it’s mind. Now it is not binding on the government. So it is open to the government to, if it is inconvenient, say that we do not accept these are findings. One more good thing is that in my own estimate, it amounts to as you rightly said, if somebody acknowledges that this has happened, there is an element of catharsis in that.
That opens out so much of bottled emotions to come out, which might cause greater harm if they are bottled up than allowed to vent. Say for example, you were talking about Bombay Riots Commission. I am quite cognizant that I did nothing great, except give an opportunity to the persons to come and ventilate their grievances and I heard them patiently, sometimes too patiently after allowing 17 council to our cross examination and whatever I could ascertain as the facts that had taken place, not with a view to finding someone guilty, but for the view to finding what really took place.
That gave them a sense of catharsis as I said. A catharsis is necessary as you rightly hit on the nail. When you said, is it a situation of somebody recognizing that I am sorry, I made a mistake let us go forward. Of course, in our Indian terms it would be called.
You remember on all the Shravani days, we sit and you say we have committed all these crimes, knowingly, unknowingly, consciously, unconsciously oh god, do forgive us. You have the giants coming and say michhamidukkadam, michhamidukkadam.
Prayaschitta had been intended to me that whatever I have done till now, I accept that it is my mistake and I have been. What you say is a very interesting thing. When you do your Shraavana Upakarma, there is an interesting thing.
My desire to acquire more riches has made me to readily consult corporate entity and made me to divert the money into my pocket. So I realized that it is wrong. I am sorry, I will not do it. Of course, you cannot say that and get away, you will be caught and required to be answered before some court of law, but I am saying this is the reason. The reason in this again, I am sorry I cannot help coming back to Bhagavad Gita again and again because that is the one that really considers all this.
He says Bhagwan says in the Bhagavad Gita an interesting thing. In fact, Arjuna asked lord Krishna, Oh lord, why is it that a human being does something wrong. Although he does not want to do something wrong, he is being forced by something else. He says that is true. He says: ‘Kamaesa, krodhaesa, rajo-gunasamudbhavah, mahasanomaha-papma, viddyenamihavairinam’.
He says it is according to either desire or anger. I desire something, therefore I acutely desire something then I lose my perspective, then I lose that sense of proportion, then I start stealing from somebody, stealing somebody and taking away his property or sense of rage. In this also, a sense of proportion is lost. I lose my balance and I think I should kill them.
These are the basic human emotions which control our thinking. In fact, whatever rationality they actually describe our rationale thinking and impel us to do wrong things or what is recognized as wrong in the society. That is why it is necessary to have a larger perspective. So these are all the aspects which are addressed by this concept of dharma. That is why dharma tells you to do what. See everybody all saints in the world have always told you, hey it is easy.
Let me come back to what dharma really means, why is it distinctive. There is a very nice saying, which says, “ahara-nidra-bhaya-maithunam ca, samanyametatpasubhirnaranam, dharmo hi tesam, adhikoviseso, dharmenahinahpasubhihsamanah”.
Now, what is it that they are driven by. Hunger, natural instinct, fear, natural instinct, sex, natural instinct and then sleep, natural instinct. This is true for all human beings. It is true for all the animals also. There is no distinction between animal and human being because every animal when it wants to eat, it will go and eat something, whatever is permissible for it according to it’s thinking, when it sees danger, it runs away bhaya, when it feels sleepy, it goes and sleeps in a corner somewhere and when it wants to urges and indulge in sex, it goes and indulges in sex in a manner that pleases itself.
So what is it that distinguishes human beings from animals. So this the answer given is “dharmo hi tesamvisesohetu”. It is the dharma, the ability to think and say, “I should not allow this natural urges to take over without being controlled. This ability to think and this ability to put a control over your natural urges is what distinguishes a human being and this is a very interesting thing.
The more you are able to do it, the greater is your index of let us say goodness or sentiness and the more your index is, the more you will be grateful to society. The more everybody’s index is, the society will be a better society
Someshekhar Sundaresan: There is a lot of inter linkage between religion, spirituality on one side and truth. I wanted to push the question to see whether these are integral elements for a truthful life.
Can there be an atheist who is truthful, who is not afraid of retribution in the current life or afterlife, but still desires to be truthful as opposed to fear driving atheist saying that he will face the punishment of karma for being untruthful today.
So these are 2 facets that I wanted to table because you would have come across religious liars and irreligious truthful people in your career. I wanted you to talk a bit about that.
That is why I said this issue is debatable on two platforms. One is purely from the religious or Indian philosophical perspective, the other is from purely the social perspective. Now, let us take that somebody says I don’t believe in god, I am an atheist or an agnostic.
For him the question will be, the social dilemma. Then for him, the answer will be, hey look, what are you doing. For him the answer will be what Padma Purana told him. Hey, if you are a good man, don’t do on to others what they don’t want them to do it to you. I don’t have to bring in the religion. Actually, that is the teaching of religion, but you can just put it and parcel it in some other fashion and give it to him and we will say okay, I am an agnostic or an atheist, but I accept this principle. Now, what if he says I don’t accept this principle.
Then what do you do. Therefore, you have to. See the point is everybody is interested in his self, in his self-interest and anything that comes into the way of fulfilling a self-gratification is immediately bound to remain. Now, you must have noticed a child wants to go and play, the mother says no don’t go and play there is a rebellion. The child says I want to go and see this movie, she says no.
I want to watch videogames, today what is happening. I want to watch videogames, I want to watch TV all the time, mother says no don’t do it. There is an instinct towards self-gratification because the child watching video is great self-gratification for him, but the moment you put a restraint on that, there is a tendency to rebel.
Now that tendency to rebel is controlled by several things, one is discipline by the society, the other is you cannot discipline all thepersons all the time in respect to everything. So you tell them that hey look, there is this doctrine of karma which whatever you do, there is going to be some kind of a resultant which you will have to face. Now you do good things, you will be happy with good things, good results. You do bad things, you will have the consequence and pay for it.
Now, let me for a moment assume that this is an invented doctrine, although the doctrine is documented way back in the Veda and Upanishads itself. Now it is invented by some clever fellows, for what purpose. For keeping the society under reins, for good purpose, isn’t it? What did it teach you, hey don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t run away with your neighbor’s wife, otherwise something bad will happen to you.
The answer is somebody has to pay for it. So he will take another birth where he will have to answer for the consequences. Now, that is why the doctrine of karma has been used and that is one of the most used doctrines without people understanding it.
Therefore this is something that even if you treat it from a sociological perspective, I agree that the person can be truthful without having any iota of belief in god or iota of belief in being a total agnost. From a sociological perspective, he is right. That is the way he looks at it, possible.
You have to defend it for yourself, in this man, that is where your relative truth is compare to bad hell. If you deal with me on a daily basis and if you find that I am not true to my work, what is the impression I will leave on your mind. This fellow is not believable. I will tell you, take a simple thing.
You start make an appointment, it is 11’o clock in the morning and you want me to log on and you don’t find me at all till 11:30, what will you say. If I do it 2 times, 3 times obviously I will be charged as an unworthy person. Forget your religious beliefs, it is a belief. Social interaction which determines. The answer is easy, what you said is correct. I agree.
SomeshekharSundaresan: Sir it brings me to some of the practical questions that people have been asking while we are having this conversation. Many want to know what is your suggestion for instilling the value in truth for somebody who is a chronically given to departing from the truth. What are your suggestions for dealing with somebody who is chronically given to departing from the truth.How do we instill values. What suggestions, practical suggestions do you give for dealing with such a person?
Don’t deal with people at all. If somebody comes and takes money and tells I am going to return it to you on the first and he does not, the next time he comes to me I will say good luck to you, do what you like, I will not give you money, isn’t it or somebody enters into your contract with you and breaches it and does not pay you the money in time or deliver the goods on time, what do you do with him. In practical life, you will say good luck to you, I will not enter into agreement with you at all. That is the thing.
SomeshekharSundaresan: With the third party it is easier, but suppose it is a child or it is a sibling or it is.
Justice B. N. Srikrishna: Child can be disciplined. I am talking of societal relationship in corporate.
SomeshekharSundaresan: By child I mean an adult offspring.
Justice B. N. Srikrishna: Yes adult offspring can be subjected to all kinds of discipline, why not.
SomeshekharSundaresan: So any practical suggestions do you have with some of the questions people are asking?
An adult will not be beaten, I agree. You cannot beat them. Of course in various countries, even beating, even raising your voice is considered an offence, fortunately not so in this country. The child can be put under restraint, discipline, but for adults discipline is by way of cutting of your. Let us say my son, luckily I don’t have a son. My son is wretched liar.
So I will tell him very good, you don’t want to be truthful, you are dealing with your dishonest, everybody comes and complains that you are dishonest and you are encashing your father’s appreciation and taking money and running away. Very good. From my whatever little earning I have, I will not give you a fortune, unless I am satisfied that you are straightforward. You go and look for yourself and do what you like. That is the way you can discipline. I cannot do anything, I cannot beat him.
Someshekhar Sundaresan: Sir it brings me to one another question I have been meaning to ask. Sir the shloka of “satyambruyat, priyambruyat, nabruyatsatyamapriyam. The problematic or dilemmatic, where people are often, people read it to me that speaking a harsh untruth is not a good thing.
So rather keep quiet than bring it up or you may get hounded for speaking harsh untruths or it maybe seen as an unpleasant person, unpleasant character. Therefore, how do we deal with that, what is the correct way to interpret it.
What is the practical lesson for people faced with that situation because Gandhi pushed a lot for speaking the truth, but equally the 3 monkeys of Gandhi, to say speak no evil means speak no truth that is seen as evil by anybody else is the way we have come. So how do we deal with that?
For the time being, we will keep the monkeys where they are. We just talked about the issue you have raised. First of all let us analyze what that statement you referred to. If you remember the Ramayana, Vibhishana is an honest person, he is a straightforward person. He feels that what Ravana has done in running away with Rama’s wife and imprisoning her somewhere is wrong. So he goes and tells him.
He says brother it is wrong on your part, what you are doing is extremely sinful. Please apologize and return the lady to him or I will have to take her away. You are right, Ravana says what nonsense, I am the king here in Sri Lanka, who are you to tell me all this. You are a fellow who does not understand it, you are a traitor and then he kicks him out or something or that sort.
That charge of sedition in the good old days also used to be there when you talked truth. So what does it mean. It means that there is a very nice, now that you raised it. If you remember as a member of Bombay Riots Commission, the beginning shloka itself I had put in the Ramayana shloka, which says, “sulabhah purusha rajansatatampriyavadinah, apriyasyatupathyasyavaktashrota cha durlabhah”.
It said this is what Vibhishana tells his brother Ravana. He tells him, “O king, there are 100 of people, scores of people who are willing to talk, but what is pleasant to you, but what is pleasant and at that time virtually what is not present, but at that time what is healthy for you, you will not find a person who will be able to talk like that nor will you find a person who will accept it”. See this is the difficulty, the Mahabharata puts it in a different sense and these are 2 independent principles, “satyambruyat” speak the truth, at the same time “priyambruyat” in such a manner that you don’t hurt the person and don’t forget what is the ultimate reason for all this, “satyam cha priyahitambruyat”. Your truth that you put to somebody is also diplomatically true in a way that does not hurt the person and also intended for his benefit.
“Esha dharma sanatanah”, that is the dharma. So the dharma is a convergence of various principles of conflicting principles I would say. So where what is the resultant is important. I normally give you a mathematical illustration, it is like a triangular forces or a parallelogram of forces. It is the resultant that is important, not the sides. If you take a triangle of four sides, one side will be truth, that will be priyam, one side will be priyam whatever.
What is it that you want, the resultant is always converging towards it.That is the dharma, dharma is you have to be able to maintain your relationship, you have to ensure that there is no discarded note in your interrelationship and at the same time, it is necessary that the truth has to be put that is beneficial to the other person without being offensive. Why is it not possible. Take for example, let us say I am walking around on the street and my zipper is loose and it is down. So somebody who sees me, kindhearted person will come to me and say, “Sir excuse me, your zip is down”.
That is one way of thinking or shouting from the other end, “Hey old man, your zipper is down, don’t you see things are hanging down”? which is truth, but then the other one puts it in a diplomatic man satyam cha he wants to make sure that I am not caused and offended by his words and at the same time he wants to make sure that he is telling me the truth and ensuring that my reputation in the public is kept intact. So that is the concept, that is the resultant.
So I don’t see any difficulty in that. See the 3 monkeys is a situation where you shall not speak evil, you shall not go around looking for evil in others. Otherwise, our tendency is to look for wrong things in others and then you shall not listen to a gossip about somebody else. To that extent, monkey is right. That does not mean that you speak the truth or that you don’t see evil wherever it is there and eradicate it or that you will not talk about it. I don’t think that was the intention of Mahatma Gandhi or anybody else.
SomeshekharSundaresan: So we have some questions from the audience. One is sometimes a senior person speaks a small lie and his supervisor may know it. Should I confront him at the same moment or ignore it so as to not embarrass him?
Correct. If you are smart, you call in and say, hey I want to talk to you, take him to your room and say this is not a falsehood that you are rendering my friend. Why do you want to do this? That is a more diplomatic way I feel. Diplomacy is not telling lies. Diplomacy is saying the truth in a manner that is acceptable to the other one without being offensive.
If I say anything, nothing happens. Your ego gets hurt and you get offended, but if you had to put in a diplomatic fashion and say, “I know there is some problem about this statement. Can you rework it?”. Why is it done. It is done for benefit of yourselves, so you may not get ultimately face the consequence of seeing something that is not true. Simple.
SomeshekharSundaresan: There is one question more from a common kind of a question. As a judge, do you accept the truth or facts as presented to you or do you have a more fundamental responsibility to use the smell test and strive to discover the real truth or facts.
My oath of office as a judge schedules 3 of the constitution assays, is into ensure that the laws as the constitution and the law as enacted are upheld. So I am not there trying to discover truth beyond what is presented. Let us take a simple case now. Let us say, I am sitting in criminal court, criminal office court or criminal trial court.
My job is not to say, evidence does not show this man is greedy, but according to me someone will say say how can I jump to that and holding duty and send him to jail. My job in a tribunal trial is to ensure that the evidence is collected in a lawful manner, presented in a lawful manner, against the person who has been charged and who has been made aware of what he is charged with, scrutinize it, after giving the accused person sufficient opportunity to meet the evidence at long and then if the evidence points to a situation of his guilt without any doubt conflicting.
I don’t have to find out from myself and say, no I have got some superior brain. I am going to indulge in it and tell you that irrespective of this what you are showing you are guilty. Supposing the evidence shows that he was never guilty. Am I going to say no my instinct tells me that you are guilty.
That is, unfortunately I don’t subscribe to that theory at all. I am not Solomon, I never claim to be a Solomon and a judge’s job is to do justice according to law, I am not god. I am not going to be nor I am a godly man, who can stand up outside the court of law and say, “You come to me, I will give justice to you”, no. As a judge, my job is to do justice according to law. Whatever law I have prescribed, I have to do it and within the parameters of the law whatever I can do to help the cause of justice.
SomeshekharSundaresan: There is one question for you saying what dominant forces shaped your value system as a professional and as a human being?
Justice B. N. Srikrishna: What dominant values.
SomeshekharSundaresan: What dominant forces shaped. What factors perhaps influenced your value system?
I was fortunate enough to be born in a family, which recognized us very high standards of moral and ethical values. My parents and I was fortunate enough to have studied under brilliant teachers, who from day 1 instilled in me a sense of high values, ethical values and I took some trouble to myself look into all this scriptures to understand whether they really say what people are advocating them to have been said and whatever little I gathered, I am managing with it in the last 2 years of my life and continue to do it.
SomeshekharSundaresan: There is one wide concept that is coming up repeatedly that somehow perhaps justice is trapped in legality. Justice is trapped in the law and with the constant barrage of how media coverage of even matters under investigation is underway in society.
Whatever be the outcome, there will be some segment of society, which should be left with a feeling it has not got justice because of some technical legal issue. Is there an antidote to this because a trust deficit in the justice delivery system is being affected.
See the point is it is impossible to please everyone. Let us understand that. As they say, it is not possible to please everyone at all times. Now, therefore, you have to do something and what do you fall back on.
Today’s poll says 80% say guilty, 20% say not guilty. Therefore, shall I go by it or as a person who has taken an oath at office, after 5, I cannot forget the oath of office I have taken. Now I will do justice with a clearer favor. Now this newspaper is a fear in my mind, “am I doing something wrong”? Therefore that is not something that is to actuate me or favor. Somebody calling me up and saying, “Let this fellow off, he is my friend”. That is favor. I can do neither.
I have to go by what the book says, what the law is and as interpreted by various wise people in this country, plus whatever little interpretation I can put on whatever little god given talent and apply it to the facts before me as I see them and then decide. Only if the newspapers called me I am wrong, I am wrong. Okay, if I am honestly right. Now that is something that needs to be seen.
Ultimately, don’t forget that whether Rama was right in banishing Sita or not is hypocrisy. Some people say from the point of view of Rama that he was justified, that he scotched a rumor that somebody was propagating about his wife, integrating and the feminists say nothing doing. He was masculine, MCP that he disbelieved his wife and threw her away into that. I don’t know, this maybe right, that maybe right, but Rama did what he thought was right according to the norms of his time, that’s all.
SomeshekharSundaresan: Any other practical suggestions or practical instructions you would have followed for normal, simple people in the Vyavaharika word.
I gave you one simple term, “sruyatam, dharma-sarvasvamsrutvacaivavadharyatam, atmanahpratikulaniparesamnasamacaret”. “Whatever has happened to you, please avoid doing it to others”. Follow this principle in life with a practical dharma shastra. You don’t have to read Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavata, Ramayana. Hang on to these principles, test on this principle anything that happens in real life and I am sure you will be on the right side, you will be absolutely on the right side of that, absolutely no doubt about that.
That is why they call it dharma sarvasvam, that is good essence of dharma. Do not do on to something, do on to someone else what you do not want to return to you, whether you are in corporate job, government job or whether you are a lawyer or a judge or anybody working on the street. This principle works good, that is a practical thing.