'Ignorance of law is ok?' SC asks Gujarat police officers in Kheda flogging case

The SC was hearing the policemen's appeal challenging the Gujarat High Court order sentencing them to 14 days' imprisonment

The Supreme Court of India (photo: National Herald archives)
The Supreme Court of India (photo: National Herald archives)

NH Digital

The Supreme Court on Tuesday admonished four Gujarat police personnel accused of publicly flogging five Muslim men in 2022, while staying contempt proceedings against them.

The Supreme Court asked the police what authority they had to tie people to poles and flog them. “Since when do you have an authority under law to tie people to poles and beat them?” questioned Justice B.R. Gavai while hearing the policemen's appeal challenging the Gujarat High Court order sentencing them to 14 days' imprisonment.

A bench of justices Gavai and Sandeep Mehta were hearing the appeal by four police personnel against their 14-day sentence for contempt of court and violating guidelines about detaining and interrogating suspects.

Criticising the officials for their actions, justice Mehta said, "What kind of atrocities are these? Tying people to a pole, beating them in public view and taking videos. Then you want this court to intervene."

The high court had stayed the execution of its 14 October 2023 order for three months to enable the police personnel to appeal.

Appearing for the policemen, senior advocate Siddarth Dave said the police were facing criminal prosecution, departmental proceedings, and an inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission. When Dave claimed that there was no wilful disobedience, justice Gavai wondered whether ignorance of law could be a valid defence.

“So ignorance of law is OK?” he remarked. “It is the duty of every police officer to know the law laid down in D.K. Basu. We were hearing about D.K. Basu even as students of law…”

In the landmark D.K. Basu vs State of Bengal case, the Supreme Court had laid down guidelines which had to be followed during arrest and detention of a person, and any violation of it would not only invite departmental action but also contempt of court proceedings in a high court having jurisdiction over the matter.

Dave contended that the finding that the men were detained illegally beyond 24 hours was subject to trial and could not be the subject for contempt of court.

Justice Gavai said since this is an appeal, the court will have to hear the matter. Dave sought a stay of the high court order sentencing them to 14-day imprisonment, saying the appeal will become infructuous otherwise. After much persuasion by Dave, justice Gavai stayed the imprisonment proceedings, which allows the police to appeal the judgement.

The incident involved the accused policemen allegedly beating five Muslims with batons and tying them to a pole in Gujarat’s Kheda district in October 2022. The victims, Jahirmiya Malek (62), Maksudabanu Malek (45), Sahadmiya Malek (23), Sakilmiya Malek (24), and Shahidraja Malek (25), petitioned the high court last year against 13 police officers from Kheda. 

The arrested had been accused of pelting stones at a garba event during the Navaratri festival the previous day in Undhela village of Kheda district. On 3 October 2022, a dispute broke out in the village between members of the local Hindu and Muslim communities as the latter objected to a garba event being held near a mosque. The argument led to a violent clash, and seven people were reportedly injured.

These individuals were among 13 people detained for their alleged involvement in throwing stones at a garba event during the Navratri festival. The chief judicial magistrate conducted an inquiry and identified the role of four policemen, leading to their conviction for contempt of court.

The police had also attempted to give compensation to the five men, which they had refused to accept. When the case finally reached Gujarat High Court in October 2023, the court found them guilty of contempt for the alleged violation of the Supreme Court guidelines issued in D.K. Basu vs State of Bengal.

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