BEIJINGâ€"In recent years, Chinese judges have regularly become the targets of physical assault. Among the most notorious cases that have made national headlines are a Hunan farmer who sent a package of homemade explosives to a court in 2005, killing one and injuring two others; and last year, a Hubei man involved in a labor dispute stabbed four judges.
The most recent case occurred two weeks ago in Beijing when Ma Caiyun, a female judge, was shot dead by two men unsatisfied with their divorce settlements, both of whom killed themselves after the attack.
While clearly condemning these perpetratorsâ€™ unconscionable violence, we also ought to ask what pushed them to such a dead end, harming others and themselves to express their protests againt the system? If someone had been willing to listen to these desperate people, could violence have been avoided?
The justice system is considered societyâ€™s last resort in resolving disputes. Nevertheless, the final settlement of a dispute is not meant to be a judicial decision of superiority and contempt for all; both compassion and respect for the rights of the weak should be reflected through the judicial procedure. As Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman philosopher, politician and lawyer, famously said â€œLet us remember that justice must be observed even to the lowest.â€
Yet, when a lower-court judge is obliged to handle more than 100 cases per year, we somehow expect that she or he has the time and patience to listen to every involved partyâ€™s voice, let alone fully understand and respond to each. Meanwhile, for people involved who have a lower education level, their understanding of justice does not necessarily allow them to follow the esoteric reasoning of certain verdicts.
Moreover, in China today, too many judges stray from pure arguments based on legal precedent, and rely on their own personal reasoning and attitude, without the time or inclination to care for or respect the parties involved. Reducing judgesâ€™ caseloads will not only improve the judgesâ€™ situation, but will also improve the quality of their judgments and their social impact.
When there are too few avenues for appeal or ways to ease emotions, verdicts not only fail to solve the conflict at hand, but create new ones. When people are let down by justice, too often despair and thirst for revenge on society are all that is left.
We have to recognize that as long as poverty and social injustice are not totally eliminated, conflicts and confrontations will always persist.
Unfortunately, when addressing the tragic death of Ma Caiyun, a Supreme Peopleâ€™s Court judge commented in an online post that, for their protection, judges should have the power in a court hearing to arbitrarily rule against those â€œwho constitute the crime of disturbing court order,â€ and in this he means specifically the defense lawyers. To mince no words, it is precisely such thinking, which opposes state power against individiual rights, that creates confrontation in a court and turns problems that could have been solved by law into social issues, sometimes explosive ones.
Defense lawyers help citizens to better understand and accept a court decision. At the same time, their professional knowledge and rational thinking allows them to communicate with the judge.
Suppressing a lawyerâ€™s voice means that an appeal by an involved party remains unexpressed. This is when things can get dangerous. Chinaâ€™s Cultural Revolution showed what happens when lawyers are banned, for even the public security authorities were not spared.
Montesquieu, the 18th-century French philosopher, famously said: "Justice for others is charity to oneself.â€ Providing better legal rights to individuals and their lawyers is the best protection a judge can ever have.
Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?
BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.
The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.
This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.
Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.
"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.
Can you trust environmental officials?
For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.
This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.
It could have sunk because of the rain.
After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.
The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.
"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.
"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.
Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water
A questionable claim
That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.
"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.
He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."
Living in pollution
The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.
"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.
He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.
The mining work should have been stopped long ago
Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.
The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.
In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.
The mine has affected the landscape around the villages
Resisting lignite mining
The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.
The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.
They were dependent on others' land for work.
Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.
In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.
The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.
"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.