An Indian citizen is free and equal before the law. He has fundamental rights to life and liberty. He is protected by the Constitution to freely express his opinion, propagate his faith and has the freedom to dissent. There is a framework of rules within which the police must work. If state agencies breach the Lakshman Rekha, the judiciary is there to uphold liberty and rights of the citizen. Because India is a Republic. Or is it?
A Facebook post by Catholic priest Stan Swamy based in Ranchi shows a mirror to the Indian Republic. He called it “an appeal to the nation’s conscience”. Two telling passages expose the hypocrisy that has come to mark the Indian Republic. He writes:
“Last year when the United Nations Human Rights Council was trying to muster the nations of the world to sign the Treaty Against Torture, the Indian envoy loudly proclaimed “The very idea of torture is completely alien to Indian culture”! India refused to sign the UN document against torture.
“But everyone knows the police everywhere in India do torture prisoners to extract ‘confessions’. And when even eminent persons who have dedicated their life for the cause of the oppressed masses are subjected to this inhuman practice it is a matter of serious concern.”
Swamy along with 20 other public intellectuals, writers, activists and lawyers has been dubbed an ‘Urban Naxal’ by Pune Police while investigating the violence at Bhima Koregaon on January 1 last year. A dozen and more of them have been put away in prisons and accused of being members of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist). Pune Police raided Swamy’s home in Ranchi in August , confiscated his laptop, mobile phones, papers and CDs—but is yet to arrest him.
Swamy has been vocal in taking up the cause of tribals in Jharkhand. He has also been critical of the government and the police. But clearly he never expected to be branded an anti-national or charged with sedition or accused of any unlawful act. And yet his petition to the Bombay High Court to quash the FIR against him was turned down. Indeed the HC directed the police to complete the investigation against the 82-year old without prescribing a time-frame. Swamy admits to being shocked at this open-ended offer to the police.
The long post wonders why the judiciary should believe everything that the police present as the gospel. Referring to the violence at Bhima Koregaon he points out that Pune Rural Police had registered 22 FIRs in connection with violence and loss of property. The court was told that the loss of property in the violence was worth Rs 1.5 Crore and that 1,400 people were named as suspects.
But while the police and the courts have shown little concern at booking people who conspired and instigated the violence, stockpiled sticks and swords, vandalized a monument and called for a bandh---activists like Swamy, Justice(Rtd) P.B. Sawant, management teacher Anand Teltumbde, lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj, a teacher Shoma Sen etc. have been hounded for allegedly helping Naxals.
What shocked him even more, he writes, is the flagrant violation of rules by the Pune Police. Swamy and others like him were shown a search warrant in Marathi which they couldn’t follow. The seizure lists were also prepared in Marathi and they couldn’t decide what has been left out. And the Pune Police had brought with them ‘witnesses’ from Pune, which was illegal because the law states that witnesses during the search should be respectable citizens from the locality.
But while the courts admonished the police, the violations were clearly not serious enough to ruffle the courts’ feather.
The priest’s poignant plea to Indians to raise their voice to preserve individual liberty is unlikely to move institutions which see themselves as part of a muscular state.