Thursday, August 12, 2021

INJUSTICE: Innocents arrested and jailed, hate preachers remain free due to policemen's power to apply harsh laws selectively

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

In India, world’s biggest democracy, a huge debate is going on over incarceration of people who committed no crime and were framed.

A journalist who was going to cover a crime, was booked, arrested and languishes in jail. 

A doctor who saved lives of ailing children, was jailed for a speech and was much later given a ‘clean-chit’ by court, however, he had spent months in jail by then. A comedian was arrested even before 'cracking a joke'.

These are just three names from different fields. Apart from them, numerous activists are in prisons just because they were booked under harsh laws — one of them is Unlawful Activities Prevention Act or UAPA. It’s really strange, almost unbelievable that this can happen. 

That a man who came armed with pistol in front of university students, gets bail, another who makes inflammatory and threatening speeches day after day in Western UP is never arrested, yet another man who organised maha-panchayats and issued threats to minority community, was not detained.

In so many cases, such people were not even booked. It’s because the first step is an authority taking action and police doesn’t take ‘cognisance’. Or, even there is a person who is not high up in the rank and can be termed ‘fringe’ and arrested, then he gets booked under such sections that are ‘bail-able’.

Those who led a rally where slogans against Muslims were openly raised in Delhi recently and pamphlets containing extremely offensive content were distributed, [even minors brought in that demonstration], had it easy.

Such people, even when they are booked, are charged under such provisions that they get bail, within 24 hrs. This is because no UAPA  applied. No sedition charges either. The harsh National Security Act or NSA was not invoked and the officials prepared a soft case.

So it in a way creates a system where one person without committing an offence may rot in prison while other who is involved in issuing open threats, making genocidal comments, spreading hate, can breathe easy because no one is going to book them under a harsh law.

And, this is just a part of the story. People who have given inflammatory speeches in different states and that caused mob violence or communal riots, were saved because even after a case is registered, the State has power to withdraw charges.

Who will be booked or not booked under the harsh law, is a decision made by police officials. Laws can be applied selectively by an official who knows that depending on a person’s leaning or background or other factors, he will take ‘cognizance’ of his actions and act accordingly — case under a bail-able law or harsh law.

Even the video of a speech gets cleverly edited and a false complaint made, on the basis of which a person can be booked under harsh law, and will remain in detention and he, his family will suffer for months, year or even more, before it’s known that he committed no crime.

Worse, a standup comedian was arrested on the basis of a complaint. He hadn’t even performed in the city till then. But, a senior officer who arrested him, was quoted as saying that he hadn’t performed but he may have cracked a joke later’.

The names of a doctor, a comedian and a journalist mentioned to give an idea about the situation. The difference is clear when you see treatment meted out to Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid, Shahrukh on one hand or Rambhakt Gopal, Kapil Gurjar, Suraj Pal Amu and many more on the other hand.

Imagine, the seriousness of the situation. How do you resolve it when there is such disproportionate power — the power of ‘taking cognisance’, the power to book anyone and destroy their life, while let a hate-preacher get away without even detention!

Cops can add a section or just not add it. This causes sufferings for the person and his family. It’s an example of ‘show me the man, I'll show you the rule’. The officials know well depending on regime and political climate, how to act — very soft on one group, extremely tough on other. 

So that’s injustice at the first and critical stage. It can’t change until people realise how it impacts everybody. When there is public opinion. When top courts finally take a call on this power of police and administration.

Besides, does media even inform citizens about the double standards in implementation of law and actions, taking place! No. There are such twists, just listen how the TV anchors speak, that it confuses the ordinary viewer.

What would you do when one of the largest circulated dailies or the most viewed TV channels repeat a false claim and present in a way that it gives a totally wrong impression — that something happened though it didn’t happen at all!

But, as a result locally officials get under pressure or due to this reason, take unfair action. It can’t change until there is huge awareness and also action against those officials whose actions lead to false cases, undue harassment, unjust incarceration and such extreme injustice.

The freedom to consider an incident ‘cognizable’ or ‘non-cognizable offence’ just because of political line, affiliations or community link, and then adding harsh sections is nothing but a symbol of unfair action, tyranny, prejudice and clear double standards.

Recently, a movie and TV star’s video clip went viral. He was speaking in front of right-wing leaders and rued, “The issue is that people belonging to minority, are able to speak to us, look at us in our eye, talk as equals”.

If you want to subdue or harass minority or turn them second class citizens, will you bring a harsh law like UAPA, amend it to make it more tough, and then misuse it, so that discrimination becomes legal — through a law!

Another version of this piece is available on Medium.