Justice With A Human Face

scales of justice

When an old and  seriously ill Stan Swamy,one more accused in the infamous Bhima Koregaon-Elgar Parishad case, knew death  was near,he had pleaded that he be allowed to spend his last days at home.The High Court judges fired with passion to save the country and the invaluable Prime Minister’s life,curtly rejected the plea.Already the case had been shot through with several downright fallacies;vast but wispy conjectures and shaky factual evidence.It was particularly distressing that the court rejected outright the report from two reputed foreign forensic research and analysis labs with an international clientele that incriminating material had been digitally insinuated in laptops of the accused without their knowledge then and thereafter.That  stuff had become the kingpin of the prosecution’s campaign against them.

To many people’s shock and disgust Rev.Swamy died soon after in prison.Only recently the Supreme Court which seems to have roared back to life to the dismay of the government,and re- asserted its dormant independence ,again surprised people by declaring that Gautam Navlakha,an independent journalist and author of interesting articles on security issues and Maoist uprisings in tribal areas,under arrest as an accused in the Elgar Parishad  case,was curtly informed that if he wanted a lenient treatment by government by changing prison-term into house arrest he would have to pay  one crore and sixty lakh rupees to pay for maintenance of security cordon around his house. This hardly looks like a blow for liberty and dignity of the individual citizen.My impression is that  Navlakha’s life-savings   can scarecely  add up to the amount,though there are scores of affluent rogues guilty of squalid corruption strutting around in complete freedom under bail granted by courts.

And why this harsh condition imposed by the Supreme Court?I believe this is because poor Navlakha in the charges maintained by the NIA appears as a dangerous criminal like a drug-lord! Prima facie,as the legal jargon goes,he deserves such harsh terms for house arrest in the interest of the country’s security. It would have been uproariously funny had it not been so tragic.

Among the litany of charges against the man arrested eight months after the ill-fated meeting,apart from inciting violence between the Marthas and Dalits the following day the accused had conspiratorial links with Maoists,contacts with an ISI agent while in the United States,and Kashmiri separatists to boot.And all the ‘evidence’ had been gathered by the eagle-eyed NIA from the documents  surreptitiously infiltrated by unknown agents that the alleged recipient had never once browsed,not to speak of acting on them.  It beats one’s understanding as to why the courts had never cared to consider evidence of hostile action by agents most likely close to the shadow and shady arm of the police.

Gautam was openly an admirer of Maoists who among other things were standing up for the life and immemorial livelihood and community rights of tribals against rapacious corporates invading and devastating their habitat.It had been made clear by the Supreme Court itself long ago that holding views critical of,and indeed inimical to the state was no crime in itself,but taking up arms against the state was.Likewise inciting violence against  against it.Navlakha had been guilty of neither.

As for inflammatory speeches he was hundreds of miles away from the Elgar Parishad meeting.And the violence that erupted the next day could as well be the retaliatory action of landed and powerful middle castes who subscribed to the Hindutva view of inviolable inequality.In any case it would mean stretching facts too hard and taut to link such violence to a direct revolt against the state.

Navlakha has been robbed of his freedom now for nearly five years,and in stead of upholding the prescription that “bail.. is the rule” the courts have been putting numerous procedural hassles against a plain passage of Navlakha’s petitions for bail.Of course on ticklish legal grounds which could have been easily waived.Not being an erudite and finicky scholar of law,we must protest our utter incompetence in disentabgling those fine distinctions.But we have had throughout a sense of a looming shadowy presence glowering at the dais where their lordships went through such deliberations.

Guilt by association is the primary instrument with which each nail in the coffin of law had been hammered into place.For one thing gross and monstrous acts of oppression and torture of Kashmiris is a matter of record,and questioning it at home or abroad is no revolt against the sovereignty of India.A journalist is bound to meet all manner of persons one of whom might well turn out to be an ISI agent.That by no means amounts to being a link in a chain of enemy intelligence.The evidence turns out to be mere and rather wild surmise.

While this prolonged senseless torment is touted as the last word in just dispensation of justice the flagrant scheme for extortion passing as law in the electioral bonds case passes right under the nose of ED untouched.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

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