Bail, not jail
Justice Anup Bhambhani of the Delhi High Court, if I recall correctly, recently ticked off Delhi Police for insisting on keeping undertrials in jail. Prisons, the good judge reminded the police, were for the convicted and not those who were undergoing trial. Nor, arrests by the police were meant to send a message to society, as was argued in court. But the trend of police charging citizens with serious criminal offences and conspiracy, without a shred of evidence, has become an epidemic. Practically any citizen can now be charged with anything and kept in prison for three to four months, if not longer. If they are charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), they can be detained for several years. Sadly, the judiciary has been complicit in this brazen violation of civil rights.
Police get a long rope by arguing that investigation is still on, that disclosing details would affect the investigation or national security or some such nonsense. This week they seem to have argued that pregnancy of a research scholar, booked for apparently blocking a road, can be no ground for granting bail.
There is an urgent need for legislation to ensure compensation by the state for unlawful detention. If the state fails to prosecute an undertrial and the court acquits her for lack of evidence, she should be entitled to compensation. All political parties need to come together to press for such a legislation. Bail, not jail, should be the norm. A jail term should be given to those who are finally convicted.
Mental Health Emergency
Appropos the comment (The most depressing country in the world, NHS, June 21) on mental health, it does seem alarming that we have just five thousand psychiatrists and fewer clinical psychologists to deal with a population of 137 Crore.
Even if two per cent of the population suffer from serious mental health issues, it is a huge number.
They certainly would be affecting productivity as well as the well-being of individuals and families at large. Many crimes like murder and rape as well as suicides can perhaps be attributed to stress, depression, anxiety, paranoia and violent tendencies. They require assistance from experts and medication.
Since it will take many years before we can have the requisite number of mental health professionals, what is needed is to ensure regular and intensive tests conducted in schools and colleges. Counselling of parents, training volunteers and identifying NGOs to spread awareness will be important. The role of the police is crucial and every police station should be mandated to take the help of mental health professionals and counsellors while interrogating criminals. A similar programme can be initiated in prisons and shelter homes.
The point is, we have little time to lose. Or else, we could be caught napping again by the mental health crisis just as we have been caught unawares by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Nation of liars?
A lie can travel halfway around the world before Truth can put on its shoes’ is often attributed to Mark Twain but is disputed by many. What is not disputed, however, is what Jonathan Swift wrote way back in 1710:
“Besides, as the vilest writer has his readers, so the greatest liar has his believers; and it often happens, that if a lie be believ’d only for an hour, it has done its work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late…” Listening these days to the PM, his ministers and BJP colleagues and some TV anchors, I am reminded of this wisdom. It clearly helps to lie. But the thought of being citizens of a nation of liars is disturbing.
If we really want to turn the lockdown into an opportunity, we must start building community centres in villages or panchayats on a war footing. These centres can be made to serve several needs of the people. They can have a library and a computer centre with Internet facilities. They can also have a reading room and a health centre. They can be made to double up as centres for adult education or for outreach programmes on agriculture. They can be equipped with TV and radio sets.