In a span of a few days, an indicted politician becomes a Chief Minister. An actor, accused of heinous crime, plans the release of his next big movie. And a businessman on trial returns to his cozy home. All these three individuals were guilty with stacks of evidences against them available in the public domain. While lustily protected by their supporters, they were badly abused in media generating a strong public perception about them as being guilty.
Now, Indian judiciary is staring at a confronting public perception – are these verdicts justified, rather known?
You speak to a legal luminary. You must be certain to receive a laundry list clarifying the course of legal discourse. You will also know that these verdicts are not closed chapters; and quite a few scopes are available for taking the game to a new elevated level. Simply put, they will opine, to take the matter to higher judiciary – perhaps with the same set of evidences, yet for demolishing the existing truth; and to establish a new one.
A few months ago, the situation was different. The Chief Minister had to step down as she was convicted and sent to jail. The actor had, in fact, broken down in fright of imminent imprisonment. The businessman had already spent many days and nights behind the bar. There was no prospect of any respite for these three unfortunate individuals. Thus, one may wonder how truth could change its character of infallibility in the span of such short time.
Meanwhile, our Indian media had gone overboard in telling all stories as they unfolded. They had also exposed their obsession of intermingling facts with their business compulsion – a heightened struggle of maintaining greater TRP along with a better return from paid news service.
Well, let us go philosophical. Does the judge (symbolic representation for all judges) know that the real lawbreaker is being punished, and innocent is being acquitted? To know that somebody is guilty would certainly require that the judge should have a belief in the verdict. And the belief has to be true and justified with adequate evidence, and with no false assumption (lemma). There is a famous example while studying about knowledge in the field of Epistemology – the sheep case – to explain the illusion that may creep in while disclaiming knowledge (philosophers call these illusory cases as Gettier-style cases), told by an American philosopher Roderick Chisholm.
You have seen sheep behind the hill near your country house. And when you peep out of your window, you see a sheep in your garden even though it is a sheep-like object or simply a hairy fat dog looking like a sheep from a distance. But the evidence that you have noticed sheep behind the hill may encourage you to claim: you know that it’s a sheep outside. But that is not the knowledge though the statement is based on your belief, you find it true, and moreover, you have prior evidence.
Should the judge be naïve to get carried away by the sheep behind the hill thereby calling a hairy dog as sheep because the dog now looks like a sheep? Or, should the judge evaluate the evidences available in the judicial proceedings in front of him or her to arrive at the justified-true-belief (JTB), and call a sheep as sheep and a dog as dog?
It is up to us, the general public, to discern in the scenario. Well, I have never told that media stays behind the hill. Also, the judge must not see such analogy, and complain that public perception influences judgements. Analogy is valid only inside court, and again in relation to the proceedings only.
On the other hand, we can look at the scenario from a different point of view, and can have different argument. We can seek light with another illusion-ridden case; this time an original case by Gettier, the philosopher who illustrated the illusion about classical knowledge through his seminal paper in 1963. Here, it’s about what is known to the judge and what is known to all of us.
Let us take the “Smith and Jones” case or story (modified version). Smith is the protagonist who is fighting the legal battle against Jones in front of the judge. Smith, the accused, sees ten coins in the pocket of Jones. The judge has also told Smith privately that the verdict will be in the favour of Jones. Now, Smith carries coins in his pocket, and believes that coins are the means of deciding verdict in someone’s favour. His belief has been reassured by the evidences available, and will be true if Jones wins the trial.
Will the judge agree to this knowledge of Smith? Will judge’s knowledge of actual felony and the consequent verdict sync?
It is up to judiciary to wake up and look at. Well, I have never said that Indian judges are corrupt. But a verdict should come in the full knowledge of a judge, and should then turn into the knowledge for the general population. This can only be possible iff the judge has a true belief in the pronouncement of verdicts supported by evidences and with no false assumptions. And this should be visible to all; at least, to defeat the fallibility and to avoid luck.