Room No 13: Is Kerala HC suffering from triskaidekaphobia?
As Kerala reels from the twin murders allegedly committed as part of a horrific human sacrifice ritual, the High Court in the state, too, seems to be in the grip of irrational fears and the victim of an age-old superstition.
The Kerala High Court, which allegedly suffers from triskaidekaphobia (the fear of number 13), steers clear of assigning the number 13 to a chamber in their court premises. Despite being hauled to the Supreme Court (SC) for its phobia of number 13 and a directive issued by the apex court not to encourage such superstitions, it seems, the high court continues to stay away from number 13.
In its new building, the Kerala HC managed to number the rooms of its new building in such a manner that they managed to altogether avoid number 13.
This dread of number 13 dates back to the 1990s. The high court had 30 rooms, including room number 13 before 1995. But, advocate V T Reghunath, a retired session judge and a practising lawyer at the high court told The Federal, “I have heard that two judges who were using room number 13 passed away, and since then, the number was changed.”
The high court was first housed in the Ram Mohan Palace in 1956 – the year the state was created. At that time, chamber no 13 existed (till 1995). According to a retired high court judge, this was changed to 12 A in the year following the death of a couple of sitting judges who were using chamber 13. They were, however, not the only two judges who passed away in the entire history of the high court. One of them was even a heart patient as well. However, such rational arguments did not find a place in the high court and chamber no 13 disappeared.
The foundation stone of the new high court building was laid in 1994 and was completed by 2006 and was inaugurated by the then Supreme Court Chief Justice M N Venkatachaliah. However, chamber no 13 is missing in the new building as well.
NK Chandra Mohan, a citizen rights activist from Kannur, filed public interest litigation in the high court challenging this decision to not have chamber number 13 on the court premises. The number proved to be unlucky only for Chandra Mohan as he had to face the court’s wrath. The division bench of the high court not only dismissed his writ petition but also penalised him, making him pay ₹10,000 to the legal service authority.
At that time, then Chief Justice V K Bali and Justice Sirijagan held that avoiding number 13 was purely ‘an administrative matter’ and the petitioner’s PIL was a ‘frivolous misadventure to embarrass and malign the court’. Chandra Mohan, though, paid the cost as instructed by the high court and filed an appeal in the Supreme Court.
On November 20, 2006, a three-judge bench of the apex court comprising the then Chief Justice YK Sabharwal, Justice CK Thakker and Justice RV Raveendran, turned down the high court’s ruling against Chandra Mohan’s writ. The SC’s direction to the senior counsel who had appeared for the high court came as a further embarrassment and shame to the high court. The three-judge bench held that the high court is an institution and it should not be allowed to encourage superstitions. The SC asked the counsel to pass the message on to the high court to set it right.
However, chamber number 13 was never brought back. The rooms in the high court’s new building have been numbered with the floor number followed by an alphabet. The chambers on the first floor were numbered 1 A, 1 B, 1 C, 1 D, while the rest of the rooms on other floors were also marked in a similar way. As the high court is just an eight-storey building, number 13 never found its way back in the court building.
Triskaidekaphobia, or the fear of number 13, is a myth which has its roots in Greek mythology. And, to have the highest court of law in the state to be caught up in some outdated superstition seems unbecoming for a literate state like Kerala.