Whenever someone is arrested or accused of having committed a crime, we are told that the law will take its own course and justice will be done. We hear it, believe it and leave it at that. We neither concern ourselves with what happens thereafter nor do we inquire what kind of “course” that the law takes subsequently. We are told to trust in the “course” and so we don’t try and understand this “course” till, of course, something goes terribly wrong. Even then we think what has gone wrong is really an aberration and not the usual practice.
The other day I was attending a meeting organized in JNU on illegal detention and anti-terror laws in India which had at least three speaks who were accused of by Delhi and Maharashtra police of engaging in terrorist activities and imprisoned for years together. One of the speakers, Arun Thomas Ferreira, an alleged Maoist, recounted how it took him close to 6 years to be fully acquitted by the courts after the police slapped over ten cases against him. Each time he was released by the court, he would be picked by the police on another charge right outside the prison premises. There was another young Muslim man, Mohammad Amir, who emotionally narrated his ‘kidnapping’ by the Delhi police when he was just 18 years old and put in prison for 14 years before being released by the court. The National Human Rights Commission wrote to the Delhi police earlier this year seeking an explanation for what it did to Aamir. How can anyone compensate Aamir, whose father passed away and mother became paralaysed while he was still in jail, for 14 years of terror, shame, stigma and pain?
Kashmiris are not new to such stories, I know. The story of Syed Maqbool Shah who was acquitted by a Delhi court in the Lajpat Nagar bomb blast case after spending 14 years in jail is just one of the too many stories you would remember. I simply cannot imagine what Shah must have gone through after being picked up by the police at the age of 17 and thrown into jail!
While we talk about the need to give the country’s police forces more autonomy from the corrupting influence of the politicians, we often forget to think of the innumerable wrongdoings by the police forces in this country. Police officials, like many in the armed forces, recklessly engage in the framing of innocents in order to “solve” cases and get rewards and promotions. What is shocking is that such rewards and promotions are hardly ever withdrawn even when the court finds the arrested person innocent and that he/she was wrongly accused in the first place. Moreover, because the police officials do not want to be seen as having framed an innocent person, they continue to re-arrest the person for new cases even after being declared not guilty by the courts. The way innocents are arrested (or ‘kidnapped’, to use Aamir’s phrase), how evidence is planted, how they are thrown into jails and being called terrorists and then rearrested show that this is nothing short of state condoned violation of human rights. We must think twice before granting ‘complete autonomy’ to organisations that exhibit disregard for the rule of law and human rights.
The judiciary should also accept its share of blame. It often looks to an ordinary citizen that the courts in the country spend more time on long vacations and handing down contempt sentences than dispensing justice. Some of those who spoke at the meeting recollected how the trial judges were simply not interested in listening to the version of the accused. They would listen to the police and the public prosecutor and extend police custody, in total violation of rules. They also recollected how the judges are often unconcerned about complaints of third degree torture by the police while in custody. It is deeply puzzling as to why despite such power at their disposal the judges do not show the courage to clamp down on police excesses. Lack of accountability is also a problem that is plaguing the country’s judiciary.
Sometimes even when the courts issue release orders, they do not reach the prisoners lodged in far away jails and they continue to be incarcerated without knowing that they have actually been exonerated by the court. Who, one wonders, will take the blame for such serious lapses of justice and violation of human rights!
The politicians are hardly ever concerned about what happens in the country’s lock-ups, jails, or courts except when one of their own has to go through such experiences. Without bothering with judicial or police reforms, they continue to say that the law will take its own course! The fact is that the ones with influence, power or connections will end up getting a better deal and most others are given a less than satisfactory deal by the country’s legal system. The media declares the accused as guilty from the moment the police says so and the general population, people like you and me, think that they deserve what they are getting. Some of us even initiate a social boycott against the accused. Our media celebrates the arrests but almost never looks at who made the mistake when the court finally release someone. In our naive minds, anyone accused of any crime is already a criminal. While most of the not-so-well-to-do people end up getting a raw deal, those from the minority communities get a worse deal.
(Source: Greater Kashmir, April 6, 2014. URL: http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/2014/Apr/6/when-justice-is-subverted-5.asp)