(This was written as a class assignment for my LLM program at Azim Premji University. I ended up writing a very personal note and found it worthy of sharing here. Caveat : It is very personal, and there’s not much for someone looking for something fruitful )
If I am asked what defines me, I’d say curiosity. The curiosity of a five years-old that drives him to open an abandoned box he found on the street. I think I never grew up – I still trust strangers, I listen to their stories, and I yearn to wander. I make immature decisions, and I’m impulsive.
Praveen, my classmate is what you see when my curiosity is doubled. And Sulyab, my friend from hometown sits on the other end – as a personification of maturity and intelligence. When Praveen suggested that we should do a bike ride during the Puja holidays, I already had the same proposal from Sulyab and what prevented me from saying a quick yes was the sorry state of my academics. But finally I decided to do the ride, and chose Hogenakkal – a beautiful waterfalls in Tamil Nadu – a state that speaks a language that I love.
We leave in the morning, and ride through scenic villages waking up to a holiday. It was almost 11 am, and we had covered half-the distance. I see a temple atop a hill and I ask Sulyab who is pillion riding with me : “let’s pause and visit?”. “Are you crazy?” – he retorts, intimidated by the height of the hill. I pause the bike there and wait for Praveen. “Sure, we should”- Praveen’s excitement is twice mine. It is at least 1000 steps – warns Sully again. That is vetoed by the majority of two, and we proceed towards the temple. Before ascending, I ask Sully : “do you want us to rethink?”. Rawls made me ask that question. Sulyab was an extraordinarily tall person and it was his first bike ride. The ride itself was a task for him, and he deserved an application of the difference principle. But he said – “we’re doing it”, And when Praveen asked if he was sure about it, he looked at us and smiled in a way that melted our moral dilemma.
While ascending the hill, I was thinking about the utilitarian benefit of the majority opinion being accepted and the possibility of an alternative arrangement where none of us would have had to give up on our choices – an arrangement where Sully does not climb the hill and me and Praveen do. But that would mean Sully having to sit downhill and wait for us while we climb up without him. A rule of law that does not recognize the difference would also be the same – while the majority of the society benefits or progresses, there would be the least advantaged being left out.
Now when I sit down and reflect on how the program has impacted my thinking; I realize that it has made me more confused, but in a positive way. Certain decisions that I would have taken without much thought – like going by a majority opinion – now requires more thinking. Certain new people like Rawls and Mills bother me now. But apart from gaining more information on philosophical nuances of the concept of justice, I think what I have garnered more from the course are more reasons to feel content about the choices I made.
When Abhay, the course instructor met me personally, he said it was okay to be confused. That it was okay to be late sometimes, and that it was okay to hurry in the last minute. When I was tasked with the formation of a legal team under the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishath – a grassroots organisation that I am part of – to work on environmental issues; I foresaw the fact that I would be missing some precious time that I should have spent on academics. But still I chose to do that. The task was harder than I expected, it costed me time as well as my health. Continuous travel and loss of sleep made me sick, resulting in me losing almost two weeks of attendance. More than attendance, it was about the troubled sleep cycle that followed which incapacitated me from indulging in my readings and preparation for classes. But even as I am struggling now, I feel that my choice was right.
When I engage in a moot court session in my thoughts where my decision is disputed, utilitarians argue for me. They adduce evidence from the work that the team I helped form was doing, or from a landmark judgment that another organization I co-founded fought and won. They argue against the voice inside me who demands a punishment for my choices, and point out that while I had some personal costs to pay; more number of people benefited from my choices. Until I attended the program, I did not have those lawyers.
I always used to be the son in the Cat Stevens song, “The Father and Son” who was often swayed by what his father was telling him. Azim Premji University was such a decision.
I wanted to discipline myself and be organized. I wanted to improve my academic writing, and garner a theoretical understanding of law. Why? I wanted to try attempting civil service examination. If it did not work out, I wanted to teach law. Wanted to build a safe and respectable career and free my father from his worries.
Now, though I don’t have a strict career choice before me, I want it to be one where I can contribute to justice. The question of a universal account of justice still remain unanswered, but my notion of justice encompasses the ideas of fairness and equity.
Let’s go back to the ride.
We ascend and descend the hill without seeing the deity inside the temple as it was closed. We don’t regret because we were all ‘nasthiks’ and the picturesque view of the valley offered by the hilltop itself was worth the climb. We continue riding our motorbikes and pause next near a tree inhabited by a troop of monkeys. I have a special love for photographing monkeys, and I open my camera. I see two monkeys making love, and I click pictures.
After a while Praveen says : we are violating their privacy. And I say, privacy is only a ‘human’ right. I also point out that nature porn in itself is a photography genre that is appreciated for its artistic value. Praveen (contrary to his nature) was not interested in a debate then. We continue our journey.
But I still brood. Is our notion of justice too anthropocentric?