Herald view: It’s time for courts to wake up and question the state

ASG Aman Lekhi told the Delhi High Court that the allegations made by Pinjra Tod activist Devangana Kalita that police were making criminals out of innocent people were ‘damaging’ the country

Devangana Kalita 
Devangana Kalita
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NH Web Desk

ASG Aman Lekhi objected this week to Delhi Police being described as part of a ‘massive Hindutva machinery’ by jailed Pinjra Tod activist Devangana Kalita. The ASG told the Delhi High Court that the allegations made by Kalita that police were making criminals out of innocent people were ‘damaging’ the country. He also found the comment to be ‘uncivilised in the extreme’. While it is for the court and legal scholars to determine if what the Government’s law officer said made any sense or was even reasonable, the righteous indignation appears to be a part of the growing problem of human rights violations in the country. Kalita is not the only victim of arbitrary arrest by the police. And in most cases involving long detentions and arbitrary arrests, the Government is getting away by feigning outrage at alleged anti-national statements, tweets, facebook posts and emails. The investigating agencies are ‘overburdened’ and investigations never seem to end, while the accused, presumed to be innocent till the court holds them guilty, continue to be denied bail and languish in prison. The ‘common sense’ that prisons are meant for the convicted is no longer upheld even by the apex court, which has allowed the executive to flood prisons with undertrials. Poets, teachers, lawyers and students have been incarcerated on preposterous charges of waging war against the state, conspiring to assassinate political leaders and disrupt public life. All the while, investigating agencies seem busy feeding the media with charges against the accused that remain unproven. Is it really enough for the agencies to declare that such one-sided and unattributable disclosures are not meant to prejudice the court and influence public opinion? By booking activists, protestors and critics of government policies and action under draconian laws, ensuring that they are denied bail and arresting them again in another case if they are granted bail in one, the Government is either betraying extreme panic or its complete lack of confidence in Rule of the Law and the administration of justice.

‘Every man’s rights are diminished if even one man’s rights are threatened’ is something that investigating agencies and the courts need to remember more often. Abdicating their responsibility, giving agencies including the police a long rope by saying they are overworked or that they were merely carrying out orders reflects poorly on courts. The judiciary was never meant to be an extension of the executive. But we increasingly find the courts acting as partners and accepting blindly the statements and claims made by the executive. Arresting and imprisoning political workers and activists and then claiming that if released, they would tamper with evidence against them, is a juvenile argument that no sensible court can possibly allow. It is again common sense to arrest such people after evidence is collected and investigation is complete. Nor can investigating agencies be allowed to selectively produce some sections of social media and not the rest, to present one video clip to the exclusion of a hundred others on the same incident. Yet, this is what is happening now almost as a matter of routine. Even the Supreme Court is today far less pro-active on human rights violations than it was earlier. It is time for a frank discussion on why courts seem to be giving investigating agencies a long rope. Surely the courts cannot seriously swallow the narrative that this country is full of traitors and terrorists, that disruptors lurk in every corner and that critics like the Pinjda Tod activists are a threat to the nation?

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