Prashant Bhushan is a leading lawyer and activist in India. Prashant is noted for the use of PIL to support a number of causes related to corruption, environmental protection, and human rights.
In this exclusive interview with acadman.in he talked about his early life, writing The Case that Shook India, essentials for becoming a good lawyer, Social Media ban in the Universities to Kashmir Conflict, Naxal issue, and current politics in India.
To read this interview in Hindi – CLICK HERE
Would you please tell us about your Educational Journey?
After school, I was interested in physics. Those days people who were interested in science used to go for IITs and all. So I also took the exam and ended up at IIT Madras. After spending a semester there I realized that I was not really interested in engineering. My interest was in physics. I left the institute after a semester.
Eventually, I decided to do a two-year BSc in philosophy, Economics and Political Science from Allahabad University. The case of Mrs. Gandhi happened right after I finished college. I attended its hearing, even wrote a book about it.
After finishing college, I wanted to study philosophy further. But people around said that the philosophy department in our country is poor. There is a dearth of good students as well as efficient teachers. So I decided to pursue LLB formally and Philosophy and Physics informally.
When I finished my LLB, I applied for Ph.D. to many American Universities in Philosophy of Science. And because I received a scholarship I went to Princeton University. I was there for two and a half years and later I realized that whatever work was being done in Philosophy there, wasn’t much useful for me. So I returned to India and began practicing law.
How was your experience reading at Princeton University?
The overall experience at the university was good. It was only the Philosophy department where I felt that not enough useful work was being done.
How did you come up with the idea of your book?
My father was a lawyer for Raj Narain and as a result, I attended the hearings in Supreme Court and High Court. While the hearing was taking place, a complete emergency had been declared. So no official reporting was being done hence my notes were a crucial source of information where I had noted all the arguments and counter-arguments that took place. I realized the importance of this information and immediately created a draft of the book. Due to the Emergency, it couldn’t be published then, it got published when the emergency was revoked.
What significance do grades hold in terms of becoming a good lawyer?
I think marks don’t play a crucial role in becoming a top dog lawyer. One needs to have a clear and concise grip on the basic fundamental principles of law. They should have a firm grasp on logical reasoning and the ability to question the motives behind the creation of a particular law. What you mugged from your books and whatever marks you scored hereafter don’t guarantee your becoming a successful lawyer. You must understand the intricacies of the law.
Several universities across India have banned the use of social media on their Wi-Fi provided to the students. Students feel this to be a violation of their Freedom of Speech and Expression. What is your opinion regarding it?
There is absolutely no justification for this ban. In a way, it is a curtailment of the freedom of speech and expression. Because Supreme Court has said that freedom of speech doesn’t only mean freedom to speak. Freedom of speech also includes freedom of information. If you don’t get the information, which we get many a time through social media, how would you exercise your freedom of speech?
But it also can’t be denied that social media is being highly misused for unethical and amoral purposes. Rumors and defamatory statements are circulated on the internet. It is also a responsibility of the students to immediately report any kind of online harassment or unethical behavior on the internet. If stringent action isn’t taken against these miscreants, they’ll only get bolder.
What are some books and judgments that made an impact on you?
There are plenty of judgments and judges that impacted me. Justice Bhagwati and Justice Krishna Ayyar were very sharp and several other important judges of the Supreme Court who gave crucial judgments really affected me. They developed the basic legal principles.
There was a judge hailing from England called Lord Dennings. His books are excellent and very useful for law students to understand the basics of law. Another one is an American veteran trial lawyer called Louis Nizer. His books My Life in Court, Reflections without Mirror, The Jury Returns are very good.
What do you have to say about the impact of Human Rights Organisations and Human Rights Lawyers in Kashmir and Chhattisgarh?
In India, unfortunately, human right’s lawyers are very few. Their number should increase. But these few people have made a significant impact. Like the recent judgment of the Supreme Court about the encounter at Manipur in which the security forces killed people in the alias of an encounter. There used to be no investigation of these cases, but the Supreme Court ordered a thorough investigation by the CBI in this case.
But sadly, many times the judiciary doesn’t respond appropriately. Like the recent responses regarding whatever is happening in Chhattisgarh were very poor and disappointing. The situation of Human Rights there is harrowing.
After leaving the Aam Aadmi Party, you founded the Swaraj Campaign. Don’t you think your impact would have been higher had you joined a big political party?
Had there been a party good enough to join then the impact might have been higher. Unfortunately, most of the big political parties have flaws in their ideology. One of the motive for launching the Swaraj campaign was that the best activists that came out in the campaign of India Against Corruption, they were all disheartened and sitting at home after leaving the Aam Aadmi Party. So the motive was to reignite that flame inside them and bring them together again. We felt that there were plenty of issues in India that require a large campaign.
The issue of farmers, corruption, and communalism – since the BJP has come to power. There is also the issue of education which has become more intense now because of the elimination of universities like JNU, BHU in contemporary times.
The education in schools is being saffronized. Therefore the older problems like the paucity of schools or teachers or even universities have started co-existing with graver problems.
Now only those people are appointed as the Vice Chancellors of Universities who are somehow affiliated to the BJP-RSS and mostof them are absolutely un-qualified for that post.
You have frankly spoken on the issues of Kashmir and Naxal conflict. What do you think can help solve these problems? Is the problem going to be solved or will it continue?
If the Government of India is generous towards the poor, especially those who are the most backward like the tribals, then naxalism would not fester. The only reason why there’s a surge in naxalite activities is that they’re being gravely exploited. Their forests are being sold to mining companies.
The problem of Kashmir has become very complicated. I have been saying from the beginning that one of the major reasons for the discontent in Kashmir is the deployment of Army for the internal security of Kashmir. And by putting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act there, they have given impunity to the Army men.
If the army violates the Human rights, rapes women or kills, then no investigation takes place. No one is held accountable. Because of this, more than 20,000 people have been killed in Kashmir in the last 20 years by the Army and the Security Forces. An NGO Association for Parents of Disappeared Persons exists, but their pleas are not being heard. And because of this, the Kashmiris feel that Hindustan has been forcibly occupying Kashmir.
From the beginning, I’ve believed that there is no need for applying AFSPA and there is no justification for deploying the army without the consent of the Kashmiris.
Therefore, when AFSPA is removed, then the major reason, where discontent and resentment persists in Kashmir might appease. Then if you run a democracy there and run a good government, you can win back the confidence of people.
But the attitude of the government is exactly the opposite. The government considers Kashmir as just a security problem and wants to solve it on the strength of the army, which is absolutely wrong. No country in the world can control any territory on the strength of the army for a very long time if the local people are against it.
Many people believe that if AFSPA will be withdrawn, we will lose Kashmir. What do you think?
If you cannot win the confidence of the people, then who is benefiting from forcibly occupying a territory? If the present unrest continues there, then a normal Indian citizen won’t even be able to visit Kashmir.
The person who attacked you in the Supreme Court has been made BJP – Delhi’s spokesperson. What would you say?
This shows the mentality of the BJP and how they keep these kinds of goons, scandals, and miscreants in their party.
According to you, what kind of politics is happening in our country? Where are we headed?
A very big problem of fascism has spread in the country right now. On one hand, this BJP government has given full freedom to all its miscreants. Beat-up anyone they feel like. Beat people in trains, kill people in the name of cows, harass people in the name of the Romeo Squad.
On the other hand, institutes such as police, bureaucracy, judiciary, media, everyone is being demoralized. They are being taken into control by the BJP government.
The police have been instructed to protect the (BJP) party people instead of protecting the laws. If they dare stand against any BJP leader, then they are suspended or transferred. The media has also mostly been brought under the government’s control. They are trying to control the judiciary too. Dissent is being crushed. A case was filed against Kanhaiya Kumar. He was beaten in the court. If you write something against the Prime Minister, then they charge you of sedition.
It is absolute mayhem just like the way it was in Germany when Hitler came into power. He too came into power by winning the election. After the belligerent atmosphere was created in Germany, a total lapse of democracy was witnessed. The same kind of atmosphere is being created in India today, which is very dangerous, for our democracy, for our society.
Any plans on writing your autobiography or memoir?
Not memoirs, but I have started writing on some of my important cases and campaigns.
Any message for students?
Students have a huge responsibility in shaping the future of this country because they are young and educated. Their entire future lies in front of them. That is why students have a big role to play in taking this country on the right path. Students should understand what is going on in our country and society. Whatever is happening on the Social, Economic and Political front they must understand it and take interest in it. Wherever there is injustice or some things that go against public interest, they should raise their voice together and do whatever they can to take the country on the right track. Students should give some time to the work of public interest activities.