The Press organized a discussion of Anuj Bhuwania’s Courting the People: Public Interest Litigation in Post-emergency India, the second title in the South Asia in the Social Sciences series on 16th January, 2017. The session was chaired by Pratiksha Baxi, Associate Professor at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University. On the panel were Anup Surendranath (National Law University, Delhi), Rohit De (Yale University), Nivedita Menon (Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi) and Shomona Khanna (Advocate, Delhi). Ajay Pratap Singh, Head of Academic, introduced the book and the author.
Courting the People studies the politics of Public Interest Litigation in contemporary India. The PIL is a unique jurisdiction initiated by the Indian Supreme Court in the aftermath of the Emergency of 1975-1977. It is defined by the premise that a petition can be filed by any public-spirited citizen demanding prompt social justice. The book argues that the PIL, which once championed the interests of the subaltern classes, is now often used as a weapon against them. It examines how the PIL arose as a form of judicial populism, and how the informal nature of PIL can allow for actions akin to Emergency.
The session sparked debates and a lively discussion, where the PIL was described as a phenomenon that “began as a tragedy that has become a dangerous farce over time.” Significant questions like the role of PIL in transforming cities, the pathology of the Indian legal system and the failure of jurisdiction came to the fore during the discussion. The author was applauded by the panel for his meticulous work in bringing together legal ethnography and anthropology and for his “gumption to take stalwarts of PIL and subject them all to scathing scrutiny.”