Supreme Court is not exactly the place show solidarity. However, if somebody opts to do so, nothing will stop them.
In the aftermath of 1971 insurrection, a group of (old) JVP hardcores demonstrated their loyalty to the party by rising not at the entry of the judge, but of their supreme leader Rohana Wijeweera sahodaraya the great to the court room. They were promptly banned from observing the subsequent proceedings.
Last Friday, the history repeated. A group of Buddhist monks saw no need to rise for the judges – who on an earlier date have ordered the remand one of their ilk. They were asked to leave the room to return, but that direction went unheeded.
Anuradha Ratnaweera, a fellow blogger, who maintained a deafening silence when Buddhist monks were tear gassed, baton charged and physically assaulted till they vomit by the Sri Rohana Janaranjana Rajapakse regime few months back, for conducting a peaceful unarmed protest, now sees this incident as an insult.
He questions whether Bhikkus should be made to rise at the entry of (lay) judges.
Let me try to answer, as a lawyer and a Buddhist.
Firstly, our feudal beliefs only make us think showing respect to another makes one inferior. That is not so. In Western universities professors sometimes address their students ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’. Government officials address every citizen respectfully. That does not make them any inferior.
Secondly, one rises at the beginning of the court proceedings to show respect not to the judges – but to the judiciary. Shouldn’t we show some respect to the body that we trust to offer justice?
Thirdly, everybody has a domain. It is stupid to expect the same level of respect outside that domain.
Let me take an example from the President Mahinda Rajapakse himself. On one New Year occasion (when the country was not at such a mess) we saw him offering ‘bulath atha’ and kneeling down in front of his elder brother Minister Chamal Rajapakse according to the traditional Sinhalese customs.
Why don’t we question the appropriateness of the Executive President of the land kneeling down in front of one of his own ministers?
The simple answer is although he is the President in one domain, the moment he comes to ‘Maha gedara’ for New Year celebrations, he becomes another member of the family. In that domain he is expected to show respect to elders, irrespective who they are.
Similarly, the court is not the domain of Bhikkus. The court does not see the differences between priests and laymen. (That is why no white sheets cover their chairs) So in the same manner that any judge is expected to remove footwear at the entry of the temple (that is irrespective of his/her religion) a Bhikku is expected to rise when the judge enters. If any Bhikku does not want to do so, he can remain at the temple and save the trouble.
Interestingly, Buddhist monks normally follow a ‘trick’ to avoid any confrontation. Instead of staying in the court room, they enter the room after the judge(s) take chairs. That circumvents any conflict between the religion and the law.
This incident, to say the least is a bad precedent. It should not have happened. Nobody says laws are perfect. They are made by imperfect human beings. Still this is not the way to protest a law.
After all, the Ministry of Environment is headed by the lay leader of a very much pro-Buddhist, pro-Bhikku political party. If they do not like the noise pollution laws why not put some pressure on the Ministry to change them?
(PS: One point I fully agree with Anuradha is his observation that the judgments should not be based on the behavior of the public in the court room.)