Justice (Retd.) Kurian Joseph
You were a judge for more than 18 years. Now, when you look back, what impressions are you taking with you?
I became a judge on 12th of July 2000. I took an oath in the name of God that I would bear witness to the truth within the horizon of the Constitution of India. I have done my duty without fear or favour, affection or enmity, treating all as same to the best of my knowledge and belief. When I look back, I have full satisfaction that I have done complete justice to the oath I took. In my conscience, I can say, I have done my best.
In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, which is the last judgment narrative, the only value held aloft is said to be justice, and you have spent your whole life on the basis of the simple principle and value of justice. You sat for 18 years on a seat that personified justice. How do you evaluate that kind of a life dedicated to justice?
If you analyze the life of Jesus, He was a man of righteousness. In the first letter of St John 2:29, you read, if you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him. So righteousness is a virtue of very high value. Righteousness that flows from love is a fundamental gospel value. I did not find any substantial difference between justice and righteousness. From the way the gospel values are placed, justice can be substituted with righteousness. Therefore, doing justice is the call given to every follower of Jesus Christ. The call to justice that comes from your heart is the manifestation of God in your actual life. You cannot have God in you unless you have your brethren along with God in you. Both are juxtaposed, God on one side and brother on the other. You cannot have God without brethren; if you claim to have, it is hypocrisy. To have brethren without God is a fallacy. If you analyze within the gospel prospective, my call was actually to dispense justice in terms of the Constitution of India. I feel the Constitution of India contains the true values. This is what you call the values of righteousness, justice, social, economic and political equality, liberty and fraternity. These are actually the manifestations of the virtue of justice. So, as a judge, I put into practice these principles of the Constitution in my judicial findings. When I think of liberty, equality and justice, I place the dignity of the person in the forefront. The Constitution protects the dignity of a person. In Article 21, whether you are a citizen or not, right to liberty is available to you. It is your right irrespective of citizenship. Trying to do justice, in my opinion is a humble attempt to protect the dignity of a person. So, when someone is suffering from unjust poverty, illiteracy or inequality, the Court has an active role to play to redeem the dignity of that person.
If you look at the basic concept of Christian incarnation, God emptied Himself of His divinity and became man. Therefore, Christianity can be reduced to a mere noble and winged humanism, a humanism on which you can fly up into heaven. Do you think justice is the horizon that man has to aspire for?
Well, you are actually putting both principles together. When you become a just person, you are in a horizon where you attain dignity. In fact, Jesus was very clear that God is the personification of justice. And that God decided to take the shape of a man to show Him that He has a right to share His divinity. So, this right to share God’s divinity is actually what we call the horizon of righteousness. The moment you realize that the horizon of righteousness you are partaking of is divinity, then you are in heaven.
A Jewish thinker called Levinas says that the face of the other is the primary Scripture, which means, when you confront a man, whether he is a stranger, an enemy, a friend or a relative, you are in some sort of a epiphany experience. How do you look at it?
Yes, this is actually the basic principle of incarnation and creation. God created you in His own image and likeness. Therefore, when you look at any other human being, you should be in a position to see the image of God in that person. Unless you see the image of God in that person, you are tempted to treat him unequally and to exploit him. Fundamentally it means that, if you see the image of God in a human being, then he is for you as precious a creation of God as you are. Everyone is created in the image of God.
You had initially thought of becoming a priest. Looking back, how do you understand the vocation that you finally chose? Did you achieve the goals of the vocation that God had designed for you?
You are right, I wanted to become a priest. In fact, it was revealed to me at the very start that priesthood is not my call. Because, not everyone is called to become a priest. It is a special call. It was revealed to me that I am not worthy of that special call. I realized my call is different. Well, I chose a different path in my life. As a layman, I have worked with the Church. I was part of the Church all through my life. From the moment I become a judge, I had to limit active participation in several Church organizations. As a judge, if you treat it as a vocation, I can confidently say that I have honored my duties with the best of my ability. For me, doing the duty to the best of my satisfaction and the expectations of that office is a vocation.
As a judge you became a more secularly oriented and committed person. You are catering to men and women irrespective of caste, creed and faith. Every human being is equally important to you. Don’t you think this secularity is also the undercurrent of Christianity? Some theologians point out that Christianity breeds secularism. How do you see it?
See, I did not say that I limited my relationship with the Church; I only limited my relationship with leadership of organizations. I remained fully a Catholic and I always felt proud of being a Catholic. I have done my duties as a Catholic very consciously. In the forefront of every action, I am accountable to God who is present in me. Every day I realize that in the Eucharistic presence. Now, coming to the question of secularism, in the Indian context, secularism does not mean anti-religion. Indian secularism is very typical, peculiar and beautiful. The Country welcomes all religions and it has recognized the role of religion in shaping the discipline of the person and of civic society. That is why Article 25 of the Indian Constitution gives every person the right to believe in any religion or not to believe in any religion. If one believes in a religion, one can practice it and also propagate it. I don’t think that any country in the world has given such a beautiful meaning to secularism like as in India. Being a Christian, it is secularism that gives me the freedom to believe in my religion. The Constitution has taught us firstly to keep a person beyond religious beliefs, because, everybody is born as a human being and every Indian is equal. Article 14 provides entitlement to equal protection. Everybody is equal and everybody is entitled to equal protection. The concept of equality of a person is rooted in the belief that all are created by God, and that value is imprinted in me. Being a Christian, I was able to see everybody as equal.
In India, there is a new phenomenon of people hating people. There are divisions created in the name of religion. There is prevalent a fundamentalistic or communal understanding of religion. Don’t you think that we are facing a corrupted form of secularism?
I would look at it differently. No religion teaches its followers to hate followers of any other religion. Every religion teaches love of God and love of human being. But, unfortunately, religions are misinterpreted in communalistic terms. This trend is very dangerous and unhealthy. People should begin to share. Thanks to the goodness of humans, no religion teaches a person to hate another person. The purpose of every religion is to make a person better and help him to lead a life of righteousness and ultimately to reach the creator.
In the Hindu scriptures, we read ‘Adithi Devo Bhava.’ A guest is to be honored and received as God. It is a lofty idea that contains equality, fraternity and freedom and also of conceiving the other person as ‘aham brahmasmi, tatvamasi.’ But, today, that is not what we see. Selective interpretation of texts is used to divide people on communal lines and for political games. Isn’t that quite obvious now?
Hindus welcomed the Parsis, the Muslims and the Christians. Which means they have an open approach to the truth. So, you are free to embrace truth wherever you see it. Wherever there is a ray of light, you are free to seek it. That broad-minded approach of the Hindus is actually contained in ‘Adithi Devo Bhava.’ The fundamental principles of Hinduism are so all-embracing. Three world religions were born in India, including Buddhism and Jainism. You look at the communal harmony that existed among Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains in the country. They are so God-minded people that they could welcome everybody.
Hinduism is a lofty religion. Would you agree that Hindutva is its degenerated political form?
Hinduism and Hindutva are two entirely different concepts. Hinduism is a very lofty, noble idea. It is actually a way of life. Hindutva is a very narrow and selfish concept.
Do you believe Hindutva as just a passing phenomenon and that the Constitution of India will survive its attack?
The Constitution should. The Hindus are good people who hold fast to brotherhood, liberty and equality. I am quite sure that they understand the Constitutional principles and noble values of all religions. They are living the Constitutional values despite the communal graph.
You are a devout Catholic. How have the scandals happening within the Church affected you. True, scandals have happened in the time of Jesus too. It has erupted not only in the Universal Church but also in Indian Local Churches. What have you, as a Catholic, to tell the Catholic community about these scandals?
Why do scandals happen? Because people deviated from the right path. They have fallen away. Religion should not be blamed for it. It happens because people fail to live up to the values of their religion. For me, scandal is the call to a person to turn back to Christ and back to Church. The whole purpose of religious practice is to bring people to Christ. The cry behind all this scandals is a call back to Christ.
Some Catholics are anguished, whether it is in America or in Europe or in Latin America or here. The real issue is the attempt to cover up when one or two fall. How should the Church handle this kind of failures?
Since the Church has always been for faith and truth, there is no point of not facing the truth or the reality. So, the covering up of truth is not going to help the Church. If any member has gone wrong, at least they have to admit it and take corrective action. It is the spirit of renewal of the Church to admit mistakes and come back. The prodigal sons are always welcome back to Church, only thing is that they have to repent and return. This is the call of the kingdom of God, which was brought to us by Christ.
We have to come back to Christ, and for that we have to stop covering up and start facing the truth, which is very often unpleasant. There is a prophetic spirit within the Church that points out the mistakes for correction. Even king David was told in his face, ‘that man is you.’ How important is that role within the Church of self-criticism, of improving oneself, of the prophetic spirit?
See, the prophets were sent from time to time when things went wrong. By its very meaning, the prophetic role is one of, giving good guidance. They show the right path in a spirit of love. The real meaning of prophetic role is the practice of the truth by telling people they are on the wrong track and enlightening them to tread the right path.
The Church should be a confessing Church. Don’t you think so?
No doubt about it. The Church should confess if she has gone wrong.
Do you think money and power are a strong temptations for the Church leadership?
I do not think that it’s a temptation only for the Church; it’s a temptation for everybody. It is the attitude towards money and power, that make them succumb to temptations that corrupt people. But I do not think that money and power should become problems in the Church. Jesus Himself, never bothered about money or power or position. So, if you are a true follower of Jesus, you simply depend on your nothingness and cast all your hopes in divine providence. That makes all the difference. Being nothing and having nothing is important for Christian leadership.
Both in the High Court of Kerala or in the Supreme Court of India, you were respected widely as a man who is looking for love, compassion and justice. In John 3:16, we read, ‘God so loved the world that he sends his only son.’ God so loved the world that He sent you and me with a mission. Do you believe in that?
A Hundred percent! We all have a mission, and He has sent you and me to accomplish that mission. Our problem today is, we have a lot of missions, but no vision. And sometimes we have some vision without any mission. Both are wrong. We should have the right vision and we should have the right mission to accomplish that vision. We need clarity of vision too.
You are retired and there are still miles to go. What are your future plans?
Well, God has given me a lot of opportunities. I thank Him for that. So, I am still in the pursuit of being of service to the people for the rest of my life. For the better glory of God and the betterment of men, I will continue my humble work.