Why is SC discouraging Article 32,which Ambedkar said was ‘heart & soul’ of the Constitution?

Seven out of ten Indians in prison are undertrials. Many are in prison without trial, without conviction and some even without charges. Only 14 other countries in world have a worse record than us

Why is SC discouraging Article 32,which Ambedkar said was ‘heart & soul’ of the Constitution?
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Ranjona Banerji

The honourable Supreme Court of India felt really hurt the other day. How could people, especially pesky journalists, be unfair to it?

The esteemed Chief Justice of India aimed his remarks at the lawyer of journalist Siddique Kappan, in jail since October 5 for the terrible crime of trying to get to Hathras in UP to report on a rape case.

The “unfair reporting” did not come from Kappan, who hadn’t even been allowed to meet his lawyer. The Supreme Court though was sad that “unfair” reports had claimed that Kappan had been “denied relief”. Having said all that, the Supreme Court of India recorded that the UP Government had no objection to Kappan meeting his lawyer. And Kappan’s jolly holiday in jail continued as the hearing was deferred until next week.

Unfair or what, eh? How can anyone say that Kappan has been “denied relief”? His matter has been heard by the Supreme Court of India. He actually might meet a lawyer. And he’s an honoured guest of the state.

By the end of 2019, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, 7 out of 10 people in jail were undertrials. More than 37 per cent of these undertrials spend between three months to a year in jail without being convicted. Most of these undertrials are from Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Caste communities and one in five are Muslim. There are only 14 other countries in the world which have worse records than India when it comes to undertrials in custody.

But one must not be unfair to the Supreme Court of India because the lordships get really upset.

In Kappan’s case, we can see how expeditious they have been. Arrested on October 5, 2020 and being heard in the Supreme Court with hearings deferred twice by November. By normal Indian records, that’s faster than the speed of light if such a thing was possible.

I am sorely tempted to compare our grand version of justice to what we’re seeing in the American courts over President Trump’s legal challenges to his electoral loss. Court after court has thrown out his cases or dismissed them in days. Days! But I’m not going to make this ungenerous comparison to the justice system in another nation.

But you know, there’s that one case in India that I can use as a comparison. The case that also went to the Supreme Court of India. Where the so-called “journalist” was taken into custody in an abetment to suicide case. Where the entire Union government machinery went into attack mode to save him. More action than we’ve seen against China, sorry I mean nation-that-cannot-be named-by-the-Prime Minister, in Ladakh.

Article 32, the right given to Indians by the Constitution, to move the Supreme Court for habeas corpus writs and so on, went straight into action in that case. In Kappan’s case, the Chief Justice of India said, “We’re trying to discourage Article 32 petitions”. His Lordship said the same thing in an election matter, also last week: “We are trying to cut down the Article 32 jurisdiction.”

But for Arnab Goswami, without casting unfair aspersions and hurting anyone, it was all about Article 32, the right to “personal liberty” and the “path to destruction” when personal liberty is attacked and bail is not given immediately. Eight days to personal liberty and Article 32 for some. But alas, the jurisdiction of Article 32 has to be cut down and discouraged for others.

I know, I know, who am I to say anything. Am I a lordship or even a lawyer? Do I own a TV channel from where I can spew nonsense at the top of my voice every day? Of course not. I am just an idiotic citizen of India. One who, in spite of watching the country spiral out of control for the past few years, still believes in Dr BR Ambedkar’s words: “If I was asked to name any particular article in this Constitution as the most important — an article without which this Constitution would be a nullity — I could not refer to any other article except this one (Article 32). It is the very soul of the Constitution and the very heart of it.”

I leave you with some names: Sudha Bharadwaj, Stan Swamy, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, Anand Teltumbe. There are others. Many others. To whom the soul and heart of the Constitution has been denied.

I really want to be unfair to the courts.

Don’t you?

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