The Mere Anarchy of Law

writer pen

India that is more Bharat these days is a democracy,which proclaims to the whole world that unlike socialist dictatorships is ruled by law.It has become quite difficult to understand what it means.Suppose a government passes into law some absurd whim or some new gag on free speech on some fanciful ground,,then troops on the ground armed with social media weapons are kept ready on the ground to watch out for violations. Soon enough and sure enough some hapless fellow gets ensnared in this enormous web and the troops from all over the country and pounce upon him to bind him hand and foot to bundle him into the police van arriving in time.

There is an appeal to courts which follow the letter of the law(otherwise in danger of getting roundly condemned for overreach by higher courts) to send the poor fellow to jail.Is this rule of law or not?To decide on it the busy judges of the highest court sit on it for three years to determine whether the law in question is constitutionably tenable or not.But that itself is punishment enough  for the victim who does not know what his crime is.

That may be dismissed by some ardent champion of the doctrine as a frivolous example.But consider the present very real account of the kind of things that are common enough these days.

On the day the Child Ram (Ram Lala) was welcomed into the Ram Mandir under construction by our Prime Minister with due reverence and opulent ceremony,a young Assamese poet of Nagaon district was struck(as poets notoriously given to flights of fancy that displease solemn senators of the state) by a rather unusual fancy and followed it with words that eventually took the form of a poem.  In that poem he dreams of a laborer called Ram tormented by fits of hacking cough that leave him whimpering and whinnying in exhaustion.He cannot earn anything to feed his family.His anemic wife Sita is too weak to stand in a line for hours to seek medical aid for her husband.The only resource they have left is their buxom young daughter who might fetch a good price but they naturally cannot bring themselves to sell her youth.

Now it may be a matter of opinion if it is a good poem or not.But these are times when other yardsticks are in virulent use.The poet who writes under the pen-name ‘Neelabh Saurobh’ happens to be a Muslim with the name Rekibuddin Ahmed.A neighboring youth who knows this promptly posts on social media a message condemning him for ‘hurting the  feelings of devotees of Ram’.Soon after dozens of vigilante groups mentioned earlier on echo this denunciation and to date twenty eight cases gave been registered against him in as many police stations scattered all over the country. 

The poet already cornered by the charge is now devastated by its  echoes all over the country and he is cursing his own fatal urge to use words in creative ways.He simply cannot afford to travel to all those police stations located in distant places and begged the Gauhati High Court to bunch  all those cases together so that he can face them in a court in Guwahati.But the honourable judges of the high court,having a much keener sense of the law, denied him his prayer in their wisdom. Meanwhile he has abjectly tendered his unconditional apology for unwittingly offended sentiments of some Hindus.But there too the accusers are unrelenting.

 If he has to approach the Supreme Court for relief he must raise a sum of fifty to eighty thousand rupees for bringing the matter to the notice of that court.Not being so well-heeled he is at his wit’s end as to how to keep out of jail.He is running from pillar to post with the dutiful police hot on his trail.His friends are scrambling to raise the amount in a hurry.

That happens to be a striking example of rule of law in the country.Unless the highest courts take some urgent steps to restrain such groups on the prowl and issue guidelines to the police on the actionable  content of hate crimes,such monstrous absurdities will besmirch the very term ‘law’ in this country.

N.B. I think the point of the account of what had happened is better understood if one thing is kept in mind.The name ‘Ram’ is a common enough choice for newborn male children in villages of North India.So it occurs fairly frequently among workers and jawans.The legendary linguist and scholar Suniti Kumar Chatterjea was an inexhaustible store-house of amusing stories and anecdotes.Once I myself heard him saying that in one regiment of the colonial Indian army there were so many Rams without any second names that the British captain was compelled to tag them as Ram one,Ram two,Ram three and so on to mark one from another.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

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