Gandhi Smriti Peace and Nonviolence Lecture on ‘Judicial Empathy, Jurisprudence and Justice’


Empathy seems to be vital for social justice, which is defined as the “ideal condition in which all members of society have the same basic rights, protection, opportunities, obligations, and social benefits.” - With this in mind, Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti (GSDS) in association with G D Goenka University organised the Gandhi Smriti Peace and Nonviolence Lecture on Judicial Empathy, Jurisprudence and Justice. It was a momentous moment for all of us to have Prof. (Dr.) Upendra Baxi, one of the stalwarts of legal education in the world, to enlighten us on this very dynamic topic on August 14, 2021.
For decades, legal scholars and philosophers assumed the law and its underlying justice principles are cleansed of emotion, thus allowing reason and logic to prevail. They now acknowledge that emotions inevitably creep in and influence legal judgments and decisions by judges and at times law’s very substance.
Prof. Baxi explained the concept of Empathy by quoting and interpreting Favourite Bhajan of Mahatma Gandhi, “Vaishnav Jan To”. Later he beautifully explained existence of empathy in highest sense by explaining the judgment of Keshwanand bharti case.
He further explained, “Empathy is commonly understood as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. In other words, imagining what another person is thinking and feeling. He distinguished empathy and sympathy by classified two types of empathy. First, there is a cognitive form of empathy, where we use our thoughts to think from the perspective of someone else. Second, there an affective or emotional form of empathy, where we feel something of what we imagine that person is experiencing. The strongest forms of empathy are likely to combine the two – we have an emotional sensation but also remain aware that those emotions are not based on our own experience.
He interlinked Constitutional Empathy and Jurisprudence as having empathy is very helpful as a law student. Using empathy to think about why that individual is behaving in that way can help legal professional to take a constructive approach to resolving the issue. It could lead to us having a positive conversation with that person and setting in place practical strategies to enable them to contribute more. Even if these don’t work, it can help us to manage our frustration and appreciate the circumstances that have led to that person’s behaviour. More widely, it can help us when studying law, particularly case law, to connect with the human elements involved. It reminds us that behind every case report there are people whose lives may be affected financially, emotionally or in myriad other ways.
At the end of this lecture series, we can take out that throughout life, empathy is vital. It can equip us to deal with a wide range of people, such as work colleagues. It can also enhance our relationships with family and friends by helping you to understand and respect their viewpoint more. Thus, all legal professionals need to understand the role of empathy.
In addition, he conducted an extensive discussion with the participants and clarified all related doubts. Altogether, it was an informative, insightful and interactive session.