21/05/2018 1:37 PM IST | Updated 21/05/2018 2:30 PM IST

Democratic Liberties Only Belong To The Bold And Vigilant, Says Justice Chelameswar In Moving Farewell Speech

"Liberties are not something to be granted."

Adnan Abidi / Reuters
Justice Jasti Chelameswar gestures as he speaks during the news conference in New Delhi, India, January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Justice Jasti Chelameswar, the Supreme Court judge who retired on Friday, urged the younger generation to question what they believe to be wrong and help fix systems, including the legal system in India.

"I am convinced that democratic liberties only belong to the bold and vigilant people," the 64-year-old said during a farewell gathering organised by Lawyers Collective. "The docile and timid don't have liberties. Liberties are not something to be granted."

He said that it was the young people of India who had to take this upon themselves.

"It was pointed out to me that over the last year and a half, I have undertaken to democratize the institution," he said. "It's the younger generation that has stood by me. The established and acknowledged constitutional lawyers and jurists attacked me from every side."

Justice Chelameswar was one of the four Supreme Court judges who addressed a press conference earlier this year, criticising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and raising questions on how cases were allocated to various judges.

"If something is good, it is to be preserved; if something is doubtful, it is to be checked and rectified; if something is bad, it is to be destroyed," he said. "I worked with that belief; I had nothing personal against anyone in the system."

The former chief justice of the Kerala and Gauhati high courts had turned down a farewell program that the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) wanted to organise for him. However, he attended a farewell by Lawyers Collective, an advocacy NGO founded by activist senior lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover.

He described how young lawyers came forward where established seniors did not support him, and encouraged this questioning, reminiscing how he had learnt to ask "why" from his father, to whom he dedicated Friday's speech.

"The established systems are such, that any questioning will not be taken kindly," he said. "You are required to have the courage, the determination to fight the system if you are to bring about a good change."

He described how several former judges of the Supreme Court and various high courts congratulated him for his attempts to question the current functioning of the apex court, but chose to stay mum themselves.

"Those who still have opinions but wish to remain anonymous is a problem," he said. "Speak up. That is what is stopping this country. Perhaps the younger generation will wake up."