Scholarly Discourse, Public Perceptions, and the Cementing of Norms: The Case of the Indian Supreme Court and a Plea for Research
Journal of Appellate Practice and Process, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2008
27 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2007 Last revised: 10 Mar 2008
For economic and nuclear reasons, India has received considerable attention over the last decade from observers in the United States. But attuned Americans are well-aware of India's rich culture and status as a shining constitutional democracy for most of its post-1947 independent history. For all that India has accomplished, however, its public has long viewed its government officials with great disdain. At the same time, a fascinating norm exists in this society which holds one institution in exceedingly high regard - the Indian Supreme Court. In this article, I seek to examine what accounts for this counter-intuitive norm. As opposed to other state institutions, the Indian Supreme Court is perceived as uncorrupted and as an aggressive protector of individual rights. Yet as I argue, these affirmative sentiments towards the Court mainly appear within scholarly discourse. The Court's various landmark judgments over the years certainly have enabled participants in this discourse to promote its reputation. But because actual evidence is lacking, we simply do not know if this scholarly norm reflects the perceptions of the mass public. Indeed the reality is that most Indians never have any contact with the Court; interaction with the legal process is usually done at the lower court level which can be delay-ridden and expensive. Moreover, because there are legal sanctions that can result from criticizing the Court, it may well be that many within the general public individually reject the scholarly norm but are afraid to speak-out or believe that they are alone in their disagreement. That this psychological phenomenon of pluralistic ignorance, which I discuss in detail, may be occurring has important implications, including forcing us to reexamine the extent to which the Court is able - in the eyes of the Indian public - to protect and advance a substantive rights agenda.
Keywords: India, Supreme Court, Public Opinion, law, psychology
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