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Saturday, 21 September 2019

THE GHOST OF ADM JABALPUR STILL HAUNTS US.


                                    THE  GHOST  OF  ADM JABALPUR  STILL HAUNTS US.

     1976 is a year the Supreme Court would like to forget because that is the year it reached its nadir. Legitimising Mrs. Gandhi's imposition of Emergency, it ruled in Shashikant Shukla vs ADM Jabalpur that " under emergency provisions no one could seek the assistance of any court in India to try and save his life, liberty and limb." In other words, a citizen did not have a fundamental right to life or liberty when emergency was declared. All habeas corpus petitions against the thousands of arbitrary arrests were dismissed.The four judges who authored this outrageous and disgraceful judgement duly received their reward as all of them subsequently became CJIs. The lone dissenting judge, HR Khanna, was superseded for the post of CJI and resigned, with honour, something which the other four will be denied forever by history.
   In the forty years since then it seemed that the court was correcting itself and making amends for 1976 by standing up to the executive. But in the last five years or so we have once again begun to see the chinks in its armour when confronted by a rampaging executive: the Collegium is unable to enforce its recommendations( just today it has capitulated to the govt. and revised Justice Kureshi's posting from Madhya Pradesh to Tripura), " sealed cover" communications between the government and the court has become the order of the day, enforcement agencies have run amuck with no check by the judiciary, senior and respected lawyers have made public the irregularities in the allotment of cases to various benches, a perception is gaining ground that the judiciary has become totally unaccountable, whether it is the quality of their judgments or their personal conduct. The politician smells blood: the BJP Delhi chief earlier this year defied the SC by breaking open a house sealed by the Court's committee and got away scotfree, last month the Law Minister, no less, dismissed the Collegium's recommendations by asserting that his Ministry was " not a post office", last week a UP Minister proudly boasted that " both the Ram Mandir and the Supreme Court are ours!", and on the 17th of this month Mr. Subramaniam Swamy even pre-empted the court by announcing that the Ram Mandir judgment would be delivered before 15th November and it would be in favour of the Hindus. Displaying a tolerance and benevolence the common litigant rarely gets to see, the court has taken no action against any of these contemnors.
   And now we have the tragedy playing out in Kashmir over the past six weeks, and with every passing day of state repression the judiciary appears to be heading for a new nadir. In many ways the lockdown in the valley of Kashmir is worse than the Emergency- not just a few thousands but millions have been virtually imprisoned for six weeks now, schools are not functional, mobile network is cut, businesses are shut, troops occupy virtually every square foot of space, unknown thousands have been detained and no one knows what the charges against them are. Unlike in the Emergency, now only a particular people, a specific region is coming in for all this heavy handed state attention. One would have expected that the Supreme Court would not allow the ghost of ADM Jabalpur to rise again from the grave.
   That expectation is being belied. It has been more than six weeks now and a large number of habeas corpus petitions, challenges to the shutting down of the media in the valley, and writs against the J+K Reorganisation Act have been filed. In a shocking expose by the Indian Express yesterday, it has been revealed that as many as 252 habeas corpus petitions have been filed in the J+K High Court since the 6th of August but not one has been decided. 147 of them are still at the admission stage and 87 are listed for orders. The state is routinely being granted time to file replies, as much as four weeks. This defeats the very purpose of a habeas petition. But the courts have shown no urgency in deciding them. The Reorganisation Act has been referred to a constitution bench which is yet to take up the matter. Only one habeas corpus case has been decided, that of the CPI leader Mr. Tarangini. God only knows where the others are languishing. Three or four well connected politicians have been allowed to visit Kashmir- why not the other citizens of the state, the hundreds of students stranded in other cities outside the state, running out of funds or news of their family? Why has the Kashmiri press not been unmuzzled yet? Why are no questions being asked about this extended suspension of the internet and mobile telephony, fundamental to the very concept of free speech and liberty ? Why is the Court accepting at face value the govt's "national security" argument and giving it so much latitude to "restore normalcy"?
   Contrast this with how the higher judiciary in the UK is conducting itself in the legal challenges to the suspension of the British Parliament by Mr. Boris Johnson on the 29th of August. Within a week of this, three High Courts ( Scotland, Ireland and London) ruled on the matter, two upholding the govt's action and one striking it down. The subsequent appeals have already been argued and heard in the country's Supreme Court, which has announced that it will deliver its verdict next week. All signed, sealed and delivered in three weeks! This is how vital constitutional matters should be decided in mature judicial systems, this is how genuinely autonomous institutions should function in a democracy.
  It appears that the ghost of ADM JABALPUR is alive and kicking. Kashmir is the judiciary's last opportunity to exorcise it- there won't be a third chance.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

THIS WINTER SEARCH FOR YOUR DNA.


    "Satire": ( noun) ridicule, irony, etc. used to expose folly. [ The Little Oxford Dictionary.]

    Art Buchwald ( Washington post columnist):" You can't make up anything any more. The world itself is a satire. All you're doing is recording it."

   It's that time of the year when Delhi-wallahs start planning for their winter vacations. They begin their google search for  locations which are exotic but still serve " chhola bhatura", hotels which do not sell bananas at 250 bucks per piece, and airlines which can still afford to buy their fuel. Aggregators like " Make Me Trip", " OHO Rooms!" and " Ube(tte)r not" redouble their efforts to can these sardines as quickly as possible. Toll barriers prepare to take a heavy toll on frantic motorists, like the Kodak bears on migrating salmon in Canada. Traffic cops prowl the highways, anxious to recoup the moneys spent on the Diwali festivities- a job now made so much easier by Mr. Gadkari's fines.
   I too briefly considered running the gauntlet of falling boulders, landslides and mile long traffic jams better known as the Kalka- Shimla national highway to spend some quality time at my cottage near Mashobra, but decided that more urgent things need my declining powers of attention. I have decided instead to go to my ancestral village in Fatehpur in UP, which I have not visited in 40 years. I really had no choice- the decision was made for me by our Home Minister, Mr. Amit Shah, when he announced-again- in Assam that the NRC( National Register of Citizens) would be extended to the whole country and that every single " ghuspaitia" would be thrown out of the country, perhaps in the manner of Satan being hurled out of Heaven. Watching him on TV, I had the uneasy feeling that he was looking accusingly at me. If there's one thing we have learned in the last three months ( other than the "fact" that Section 370 has been responsible for all of Kashmir's problems) it is that you can't mess with this gentleman- he must be taken seriously.
  You see, I'm a classical migrant: born in Odisha ( not my fault, one has to be born somewhere), I've been on the move constantly in my 68 years- to Asansol, Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Kanpur, Fatehpur, Calcutta, Delhi, Himachal. Not only have I gathered no moss, I've also not gathered any papers to prove that my family has been in this country since it became a country! As 1.9 million wretches in Assam found out, one or two documents will not do since in India every type of document can be forged; one has to provide, I learn, about ten different documents. The logic of NRC appears to be that if you can forge ten docs then you are exactly the kind of intrepid, Fake-in-India citizen that India needs.
   There are no Shuklas left in Fatehpur, something which the local Fatehpurias are grateful for, but that is not my point. The point is: how do I find the voter's list of 1952 or 1954 to prove that my grandfather's/ grandmother's name was on it? Everybody whose name was on it is now certainly dead, or wishes that he were. The Deputy Commissioner's office , equally certainly, has by now become a gaushala and the voter's list served as breakfast to the starving cows. I suppose I could go to the Election Commission of India in Delhi, but they can't even find the statement of statewise votes cast/ recorded by EVMs in the 2019 elections! What chance is there that they will be able to confirm that Pandit Kalicharan Shukla was a voter in 1954?
  I was born in 1950 so my birth certificate should do, I suppose. But back then my Dad tore up the certificate after having one look at my crumpled face. I don't even have a School Leaving certificate because I didn't leave school- they threw me out because I insisted on being the first, and not the seventh, dwarf in " Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."  My pension order is another life line, it has my date of birth. But the Treasury Officer won't certify it either: for the last three years he has been insisting that I first prove that I am still alive. The last option, according to the NRC rules devised after much thought and little logic by the Supreme Court, is to produce what is called a " legacy document". Here too it's a no go; the only legacy document left for me by my father in 2017, by which time he had had enough of New India, was a note to state that I should pay the milkman, an honest tradesman, for he mixed only RO water with the milk. But  that won't convince Mr. Hajela.
   I need to find some DNA to establish my kosher descent. We Shuklas, pedigreed Brahmins all, are descended from Bharadwaj Rishi who prowled the Himalayas long before Mr. Modi meditated in that cave in Kedarnath. Since now even the Supreme Court has accepted that the Raghuvanshis are descended form Lord Ram, Bharadwaj Rishi's descendents cannot be denied the fruits of this res judicata. If my DNA matches the Rishi's ( he MUST have left some in another, two-star cave), I would be home and away. But I have a feeling my search would be futile, for all ancient DNA has now become NDA. Maybe I should go to Bangladesh and re-enter as a victimised Hindu when the Citizenship Amendment Act has been passed. But even this not without its risks- what if I am mistaken for a Rohingya ? Looks like it's going to be a long and bitter winter for me.
   They'll be coming for you too, folks: it doesn't matter how you voted.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

ONE WEEK IN BLUNDERLAND.


    You're not going insane, dear reader, the world ( more particularly, India) is. It needed the prescience of a Lewis Carrol to express our current perplexity in these words from " Alice in Wonderland":
" If I had a world of my own everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it is. You see?"
You don't? Well then, just consider the nonsense that has been playing out over the last  week or so on our march towards a five trillion economy and a one messiah polity.
   It began with a Congress triumverate of Abhishek Singhvi, Jairam Ramesh and Shashi Tharoor heaping encomiums on Mr. Modi for the " good work" done by him, in a reversal of the Mark Antony elegy over Caesar's body: " I come to praise Narender, not bury him."  OK, not bury, but they could at least have waited till he attained the Margdarshak age. The nation is now a-twitter with speculation: do the three penitent confessors have a 10/10 vision that they could see " good work" when most of us can only see the ruins of an ancient civilisation, are they preparing to jump ship a-la Mr. Hooda in Haryana and Mr. Scindia in MP, are they holding out the white flag or the white feather?
  None of the above, I believe. The truth probably is that the three ( all urbane, polished, articulate Parliamentarians with a combined IQ in excess of the NDA's bench strength in Parliament) think they are boxing by the Queensberry rules while Mr. Modi is doing a WWE bout where the only hold that is barred is holding anyone worthy of any respect. Only this misconception can explain why they have asked people not to "demonise" Mr. Modi when the latter has left nothing undemonised or undemonetised . As the walrus would no doubt have said if he had met Mahatma Gandhi: There is no point turning the other cheek when you're getting kicked in the backside. Or, as Mr. Shashi Tharoor himself would have put it if he had seen the light: "It is futile to gyrate the buccae when it is the posterior brachial region that is being belaboured."
   Consider next the VC of JNU( Jawaharlal Nehru University) whose eureka moment came one morning in the bathroom when he realised that the mirror image of VC is CV! Elated, he decided to ask Romila Thapar to furnish her CV in order to continue as Professor Emeritus. Immobilised by his own intellectual rictus, he forgot that she was India's leading historian, had taught in JNU for 20 years,had published more books and papers than he had read, was a winner of the Kluze prize. Most important, he did not seem to know that a PE is not a job but an honour, and that the honour is entirely that of the university. It's a strange world where Education Ministers don't have degrees but a Professor Emeritus has to submit a CV to a VC. It is under such VCs that our universities have become the" slaughter houses of intelligence" and are being reduced to a binary: a slaughter house or a gaushala. Ms Thapar, I hope, voluntarily resigns her position- there is no longer any honour being a Professor Emeritus of an institution presided over by such time servers.
   But all is not lost: there is some good news from Ulta Pradesh. If the District Magistrate of Mirzapur is to be believed ( notwithstanding that villainous cap he wears on TV), in UP these days they are serving five course banquets for the school mid-day meals! That at least was his anemic explanation to rebut a video which showed the poor waifs being given only dry rotis and salt. He said that the other dishes were to follow when the journalist shot the video prematurely- the roti and salt was just the apertiff. And this two days after he had suspended the school staff for what is clearly embezzlement of mid-day meal funds. The journalist, of course, has been arrested for not waiting for the main course. The DM was being true to his salt and masters but my question is this: what kind of training do they impart to the IAS these days? In our time we were taught to lie with more intelligence and conviction, our untruths were more credible-obviously, all is not well at the Academy in Mussoorie.
   Rounding off this crazy week, I am happy to see that doctors are finally getting a taste of their own medicine. We spend most of our unhealthy lives trying to read their illegible prescriptions, wondering whether our dysfunction as recorded in the prescription is tactile or erectile, whether the gastric condition is due to corpulence or flatulence, whether the prescribed medicine is Allegra or Viagra. So it was only poetic justice when a senior cardiologist in Delhi was summoned by the NIA to explain why he had sent a text message to the jailed Yasin Malik stating " Value INR 2.38." The NIA, expert at cracking arcane codes, was sure it referred to a payment of Rs. 2.38 crores for terrorist activities. Turned out that the good doctor was simply conveying the result of a blood test, INR being  "International Naturalised Rate", being the time it takes for blood to clot! Hope the medical fraternity now reads the writing on the wall- an illegible prescription or report is now a non-bailable offence, even if the patient survives the treatment.
  And finally, a rooster in France has just conveyed a resounding message to our government and "independent" institutions. An HT report of 6th September informs us that a rooster named Maurice on the island of Oleron was wont to express himself vigorously and freely every morning. A neighbour, not impressed by this seditious free speech, approached a court for a gag on the rooster. The judge ruled that the said bird had every right to sing whenever it wanted. A huge blow for free speech which, hopefully, our courts will take note of while they dither over the curbs in Kashmir! Last heard, the rooster was cocking a snook at the neighbour with a loud Cock-a-doodle-do. So, dear reader, don't take everything you read or hear too seriously; as the walrus would have said: My desire to be well informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.
  

Thursday, 5 September 2019

THE SKY CANNOT BE THE LIMIT.


[ This piece was published in THE WIRE on 4.9.2019, with slight editing, under the title: THE AVIATION SECTOR'S RAMPANT GROWTH MUST BE REINED IN.]


                                    THE  SKY  CANNOT  BE  THE  LIMIT.

   It’s just not working. The sixth Global Environment Outlook ( GEO6) report released on 13.3.2019 warns that even if countries achieve the nationally determined contributions ( NDCs) under the Paris accord 2015- which they are far from doing- this will be just a third of the mitigation needed to restrict rise of global temperatures to 1.5-2.0 degress celsius by 2100. In fact, it has stated that this limit will be reached by the middle of this century and is likely to reach 2.7 to 3.0 by 2100. To prevent this  emissions have to drop by 40%-70% globally by 2050, and to net zero by 2070. Instead, they went UP by 3% in 2017. We are staring at environmental Acopalypse.
   The problem is simple: the world, especially the developed countries, simply has to change its lifestyle, its reckless consumption patterns, move to a more simple and sustainable way of living. It has to waste less food and water, travel more sensibly, reduce its ever increasing dependence on power guzzling technology to make life more easy going and convenient, shop less, use recycled materials rather than plunder more from nature. It has to shift from consumption to “ nonsumption” and accept “minimalism” as the biggest NDC of all. One area of human activity which could do with more attention on this score is aviation, which poses a looming threat that most people are not even aware of.
   The global aviation sector accounts for 3.5% of total emissions, and in absolute terms the figure is expected to reach 1.250 billion tonnes by 2030 because of its continued dependence on fossil fuels. It has been allowed to grow like an unchecked carcinoma because it has been excluded from any restrictions under the Kyoto protocol; it is growing at 7.5% per annum ( the figure for India is 17%); the total number of flyers in 2017 was 4.1 billion- in other words, every second person in the world is a flyer!  There are 42000 commercial flights a day in the USA, 34000 in Europe. If this did not cause enough pollution, the uber rich add more than their fair share by the indiscriminate use of private jets: according to the website airliners.net there are between 25000 and 30000 private aircraft globally. The future projections are even more worrying: according to a study by Boeing 39600 additional aircraft shall be required by 2038, doubling the current number. The number of flyers shall grow to 7.8 billion. Just recently there was widespread criticism when the BBC revealed that 1500 private jets were used to ferry world leaders to Davos in January 2019.
   It’s not just emissions that concern us here; more flyers mean more airports, more runways, for which thousands of additional hectares of land has to be acquired. This land has to be denuded of all green cover, right next to urban centres which need trees most; thousands of families are displaced and fertile agricultural land is concretised with serious implications for recharging of ground water. ( The Civil Aviation Ministry in India has just announced the construction of 20 more airports). Acquisition of 5000 hectares of prime agricultural land has already commenced for Delhi’s second airport at Jewar in neighbouring UP; hundreds of farmers will be displaced. 4500 acres of priceless wetlands ( including 70 acres of mangroves) will be devastated for Mumbai’s new airport which is coming up in total violation of all CRZ rules. This can only accentuate Mumbai’s annual flooding woes and destroy the habitat of at least 250 identified bird species.Separate terminals and even private airports are being built for the rich and their jets. How long can this wanton decimation of nature continue ?
   This cancerous growth of a sector that caters essentially to the rich at the cost of the poor has to stop. Mitigation measures will not work- a recent report of the US Govt. Accountability Office( the counterpart of our own CAG) has stated that measures such as technical innovations in air-frames/engines, improvement in fuels, mandatory emission reduction targets or even tax on emissions will be insufficient to curb the expansion of the aviation sector. Governments all over the world have to find more draconian and innovative policies to rein in this monster.
   They should stop building more runways and airports, and if they do not, then residents of the areas effected should oppose them. This shall automatically restrict the number of flights. (A struggle has been going on for the last ten years to approve a third runway for Heathrow, with Londoners opposing it tooth and nail.) Railway systems should be upgraded to offer an alternative almost as fast but less expensive. In this context the plan to introduce 160 super-fast trains in India over the next two years is a welcome step, but the identification of the routes should not become populist: the emphasis should be to connect metros and routes where there is maximum air traffic. A single train can obviate the need for at least six wide bodied aircraft. Rail tickets should be subsidised: after all, if the govt. can spend tens of thousands of crores on constructing and maintaining airports, it should not balk at this incentive. A heavy carbon tax should be imposed on all air tickets to bring down demand; this would also recoup the subsidy on rail tickets. Private aircraft should be banned altogether: why should someone be allowed to pollute the air just because he has the money? The natural environment is a common heritage and everyone has just one share in it, it is not a corporate entity in which the rich can be allowed to have a “controlling interest”.
   A global pushback against rampant expansion of this sector has begun. There was a public outrage when the BBC revealed that 1500 private jets were used to ferry corporate honchos to this year’s Davos summit, with demands that they should use commercial flights instead. Megan Markel, the Duchess of Essex, had to face widespread criticism when she too flew the Atlantic in a private jet in February to attend a baby shower in New York. Even more interesting, BBC has reported that an environment group in Sweden has launched a campaign to persuade people not to take a flight in 2019; their target is to obtain 100,000 pledges this year: by March they had obtained 10000 pledges. They make a very important point: governments cannot do everything- citizens themselves have to exercise choices that are in the best interests of the planet and themselves. For, as the poet Mahmoud Darwish lamented:
“ Where should we go after the last frontiers?
   Where should the birds fly after the last sky?”



Tuesday, 3 September 2019




A REVIEW OF 'SPECTRE OF CHOOR DHAR" BY AVAY SHUKLA.


                                                     BY    ANIL     PRADHAN


                                           
 [ VISHWAKARMA PUB. AMAZON. 136 PAGES. RS. 180.00 ]


Avay Shukla writes with a flair which is unmatched. A true Nature Lover, the ten stories in his book, 'Spectre of Choor Dhar', weave a magic tapestry with words that transmute ordinary natural scenery to scenes of wonderment.

The raconteur is Onkak Yadav, the retired Chief Secretary, better known as the Collector, who lives in his cottage at Namhol village. The setting is the Officers' Club in the district headquarters of Bilaspur town near Shimla. The motley crowd consists of the District Collector, the Sub Divisional Magistrate, an IAS Probationer, the Executive Engineer, the Chief Medical Officer, sometimes the Superintendent of Police and a businessman or two. To this assorted crowd, the Collector recounts his tales of yore, enlightening them about places, myths, proclivities and a few home truths.

The writer's choice of words marvellously echoes the scenery that he describes. Early in his first story he writes, "Bilaspur's USP, however, is the picturesque Gobindsagar lake, curling around the town in a loving embrace as if loath to part with its companion of centuries past." A little later in the same story, describing the avalanche of rain, he says, "Claps of thunder blasted the stillness and echoed around the crags like some menacing symphony. The whole atmosphere was still and inert as if waiting for the arrival of some primordial force. And then the force arrived - huge dollops of rain cascaded down in their millions of litres ....."

The writer’s knowledge of his locale is astonishing. Every trek worth knowing in the state of Himachal Pradesh is listed. Every mountain and valley and stream is mapped out. In 'The Lost Treasure of Dibbi Bokri', he writes, "The Parbati river, as you know, originates from the glacial Mantalai lake just below the Pin Parbat range ...... It cascades furiously down its narrow, thickly forested, habitation-less valley .... before it confluences with the Tosh stream at the village of Pulga." In 'The Devta of Jiwa-Nal', the local legend of the Pandavas' wanderings in the upper reaches of the state is peppered with accurate descriptions of the locale.

Each story has an element of palpable suspense. In 'The Judgement', till almost the last paragraph we do not know how the wily judge will negotiate between the twin dangers of Scylla and Charybdis, between the death sentence and life imprisonment, while fulfilling his bounden duty with the utmost regard to rectitude and fair play. The ending of 'Ambush At Chanshil Pass' is chilling while that of 'The Lost Treasure Of Dibbi Bokri' and 'The Spectre Of Choor-Dhar' are both Hitchcockian. Equally unexpected is the way the lanky, expressionless, penitent representative from the Naxalite region is dealt with in the 'The Midnight Visitor'.

Cynicism is the leitmotif in 'The Cave Man Of Sainj Valley', the background being the Teachers Awards Day. The Collector laments that, "It's sycophancy and networking that brings awards". Be it the Republic Day or Independence Day Awards, or even the Teachers' Day Awards, the rule is, the more senior the more awards. The misandry and political give-and-take forms the core of the story, 'The National Park', so reminiscent of the hilarious but cynical BBC serials, 'Yes Minister' and 'Yes Prime Minister'.

As the writer confesses in his 'Introduction', "... his stories reveal everything about him". His love for the outdoors and for long, lonely, arduous treks, his intense passion for Nature, his utter and unwavering belief in Destiny, are all there splashed across his ten stories. The last tale, 'The House That Died Of Grief', is an intensely personal slice of the author's life. Yet, there is no rancour or bitterness at the way things are. Rather, there is a certain mirth, a certain joy mingled with a grin and an indulgent smile at the varied and multilayered dimensions of life in this world of ours.

At times, the reader may feel bogged down by the language used by the Collector while narrating his anecdotes. Then again, how else will a retired bureaucrat speak but in measured tones, using words which the assembled crowd of district officials encounter in their daily grind of officialdom. They don’t bat an eyelid .... and neither should you.

[ Anil Pradhan retired from the IPS as Director General of Police, Meghalaya. He lives happily in Shillong.]








Saturday, 31 August 2019

VIOLATING THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE CONTRACT


                        VIOLATING  THE  CRIMINAL  JUSTICE  CONTRACT

   The criminal justice system is based on an implicit four sided contract: the legislature shall pass the laws, the judiciary will interpret them, the people will observe them, and the police will enforce them. This contract appears to be breaking down in India because the law enforcers( the police) in an increasing number of cases is refusing to abide by the judiciary’s interpretations of some critical laws. The lower courts too in an increasing number of cases are failing to exercise the diligence to check this tendency.It would suffice to refer to three of them- Sec. 124A of IPC ( sedition), Sec. 306 of IPC( abetment of suicide), and Sec. 66A of the Information Technology Act( restrictions on on-line speech and content)- to prove this point.
   The sedition law is perhaps one that is most being misused by the executive to serve its political and ideological ends. Ever since the Kedar Nath Singh case in 1962, which first read down Sec. 124A, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the mere raising of slogans, writing of articles or even possession of pamphlets does not constitute the offence of sedition ( Balwant Singh 1995, Common Cause 2016). It has stated unambiguously that Sec. 124A is attracted only if there is a clear and immediate incitement to violence, or actual violence, “ or the tendency or intention to create public disorder.” In the absence of these ingredients all free speech is guaranteed by Article 19(1) of the Constitution. In Balwant Singh it held that even the mere raising of  “Khalistan Zindabad” slogans did not amount to sedition.
   And yet the executive/ police keep on registering sedition cases and arresting people voicing anti-government opinions. The Congress had arrested the cartoonist Aseem Trivedi in Mumbai; earlier this year three intellectuals have been charged in Assam for criticising the Citizenship Bill, the BJD in Orissa last year arrested a journalist for daring to speak against the state govt., in January the Delhi police have charge sheeted Kanhaiya Kumar and nine others for raising anti-India and pro- Kashmir slogans in JNU, and on February 11th UP police have lodged sedition cases against 14 students of Aligarh Muslim University after a scuffle with some ABVP activists. It has been reported in the media that in UP alone 150 sedition cases have been registered in the last few years. From all reports appearing in the public domain so far none of these cases come within the definition of sedition mandated by the SC, but this has not deterred the police from going ahead. According to a news report based on MHA statistics 179 sedition cases were registered between 2014 and 2016; the number of convictions was only 2! The figures speak for themselves, and what they are saying is that the intention of the govt. is not to convict but to harass and persecute through our tortuous judicial process.
   It does not help the cause of free speech when High court judges themselves consider books such as Tolstoy's WAR AND PEACE a seditious piece of writing ( an obiter dicta by an Hon' judge in Maharashtra just this week in the Koregaon trials).
   The misuse of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act is just as pronounced, even though the Supreme Court had struck down this section too in the Shreya Singhal case( March 24, 2015). The court held that this section was violative of Art.14 ( equality before the law), Art. 19( freedom of speech and expression) and Art. 21( right to life and personal liberty). And yet it is employed freely by administrations to stifle dissent or settle personal scores:  the legal data site Indian Kanoon has listed 45 cases between just January and September 2018; a petition in the SC claims that 22 persons have been arrested since 2015. A typical example is that of one Zakir Ali Tyagi of Muzaffarnagar( UP) who was charged and arrested under this section in April 2018 for posting on his Facebook page that the UP Chief Minister had 28 cases registered against him! He is currently out on bail but the case continues.
   In fact, so pervasive and widespread has this blatant misuse and illegality become that on 7th January of this year the Supreme Court, acting on a PIL by PUCL( People’s Union for Civil Liberties) even threatened to arrest govt. officials for violating its orders and continuing to harass people by foisting this section on them!
   The law pertaining to abetment of suicide ( Section 306 of the IPC) provides another fertile ground for the police to demonstrate their disregard for settled law. Both the SC and various High Courts in a plethora of judgments have laid down the essential ingredients that can constitute abetment. They have ruled unambiguously that the mere naming of a person in a suicide note is not enough to infer the offence; there has to be mens rea to commit the offence; for the charge to be made it is necessary that the accused should be    “instigating a person or intentionally aiding a person to commit the act.” In fact in one case ( Madhav Rao and others vs. state of Haryana, June 2018) the Punjab and Haryana High Court has gone so far as to say that “ another person cannot be blamed for the wrong decision taken by a coward, fool, idiot, a man of weak mentality, man of frail mentality.”
  And yet, all over the country, dozens of people are charged, and arrested, for abetment without any evidence, merely because they are named in a suicide note or accused by the next of kin of the deceased. An irresponsible media  exerts pressure on the police to act.  School teachers are arrested because they scolded a pupil who then killed himself, employers because they took some action against an employee, men because their refusal to marry someone prompted the latter to take their lives. In the most shocking such case in Noida in December last year one Swaroop Raj, an executive in a multi-national company, was accused by two female employees of sexual harassment. An Internal Complaints Committee was set up to enquire into the matter and Raj was placed under suspension. He went home and committed suicide. On his wife’s complaint the Noida police registered a case of abetment of suicide against the two lady complainants and members of the ICC. Not only does this fly in the face of the SC ruling, it is also a major set back against efforts to ensure the safety of women in their work places: it will seriously discourage women from coming forward to complain about inappropriate behaviour by male colleagues. The issue here is not whether the molestation complaint against Raj was correct, for that is something the ICC to adjudicate on. The objection is to the hasty and knee jerk over reaction of the police: making a complaint to the rightful authority can in no way be construed as instigating a person to kill himself or aiding in that act.
   In a more recent case, on 1st August 2019, a 25 year old marketing executive in Gurugram killed herself because her boyfriend refused to marry her. She did not leave behind any suicide note or accuse him, but her parents did. A case of abetment to suicide has been lodged against him, without any evidence whatsoever. This in spite of the fact that it was this boy friend who had called the police station the same day to warn them that the woman might commit suicide after an argument with him!
   Such instances of disregard of even Supreme Court and High Court rulings appear to be on the rise, and it does not bode well for our criminal justice system. But the onus to correct this does not lie on the police alone, the trial courts too have to accept their fair share of the blame. For it is the lack of scrutiny by them of the charge sheets/ complaints that allows such cases to be admitted for trial; they fail to act as counter checks on the police. Sometimes they even entertain such frivolous and baseless( in law) complaints directly, as in the instance of a West Bengal judge issuing an arrest warrant against Shashi Tharoor  for having stated, 18 months ago, that India was becoming a Hindu Pakistan. The warrant has been stayed by the High Court on the ground,inter-alia,that it is without jurisdiction.                                                                    The police/ prosecution agencies may claim ignorance of the law but surely the courts cannot be allowed this privilege. It is indeed time for the higher courts to carry out the threat held out by the apex court- hold such police officers and even trial judges to account for contempt. That at least would be legal.




Saturday, 24 August 2019

THE WORD AS ZEITGEIST.


   Those of my readers who still follow the gibberish I churn out every week will be glad to know that I am haemodynamically stable. Gotcha! You don't know what it means, do you? Neither did I nor does Google which insists on putting a red line below it. Actually, one has to be a retired ( also known as retreaded for those with stents, knee replacements and penile implants) fogey to decipher such neologisms: only such a person has the time to sift through the mega tonnes of garbage being voided in print and other media, and find the occasional gem like this one. Unless, of course, you are a follower of Mr. Sashi Tharoor, in which case you will encounter such words more frequently than the UP police stumble upon criminals in encounters. Unlike the latter, however, you will not die but merely be elevated.
   Reverting to this seven syllable word, however, it means that your heart is functioning normally, and I found it recently in an AIIMS bulletin about a VIP. Doctors do this, you know- when they use such words you can be assured that they don't know whether the patient is coming or going, literally. It's time to reach for the ventilator if not the family priest. But I don't mind because I intend to leave behind a Living Will with explicit instructions to my direct descendants to pull the plug on me the moment a doctor uses a word that has more than four syllables or mumbles a four letter one. Till then, however, I continue to rummage through this beautiful, linguistic trough like a pig nosing around for truffles.
   I am a trenchant critic of our present political dispensation but must admit that, quite against their wishes or intentions, they have enriched and enlarged our vocabulary. If it were not for their retrofitting of past events, for instance, how would we have known that they are committing "historicide"? An utterly stunning word, invented by the literary critic George Steiner, which means destruction of historical-factual reality. Examples: making the Nehru- Gandhi duo culpable of all the evils in this country, maintaining that Maharana Pratap had won the battle of Haldighati, insisting that Aryans were the original natives of the sub-continent but Sunny Leone is not! Have you noticed how this word elevates the political discourse?- instead of saying they are  talking s--t or lying the Congress can now politely accuse them of historicide. And by the time they figure this out with the help of their resident history expert, Mr. Bhupendra Choubey of CNN-TV18, the Opposition would have stitched up another alliance. Or, as another wonderful phrase has it, " nipped their plans in the butt!"
   These wonderful discoveries are not limited to just words, but also embrace theories and concepts. Did you, for example, know that there is an " underwear index" of recession to assess the health of an economy? It was created by the former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan: it assumes that when the sales of men's underwear falls the economy is in decline. Now, we had heard of the Nudge, Fudge and Shove theories but this is a new one. It may explain why there are so many "briefless" lawyers these days, but also raises some questions. Why has the Indian male stopped wearing underwears? Is he switching over to the "langot" or thong of the Patanjali variety, or is this part of the freedom of New India? Will it lead to a spike in sexual molestation cases, what with millions of Indian males now going around with ungirded loins? Is this theory by itself adequate to explain a drooping economy- should it not be supplemented with a Viagra Index or a Condom Index ? Because if the latter two indexes are rising while the underwears are falling then Mr. Greenspan has a problem with his concept.
   And why is this theory limited to men's underwear? Why not have a panties index too? Because if the panties too are falling then this may result either in over exposure  or in a stirring of the famed animal spirits, which, economists and our current Chief Economic Advisor inform us, is good for the economy. I don't know whether falling panties indicate a panting bull or a sulking bear, but the two indexes appear to contradict each other- one shows a limp and wilting economy in need of some stimulation, the other promises a rising one, ready to mount the commanding heights. No sir, Mr. Greenspan, it's back to the drawing board ( or draw strings or G strings) for you to reconcile these contradictions.
  Here is some more stimulus. Did you know that we all have two types of intelligence? " Fluid intelligence" is what you possess before the age of 50 years; it is creative, inventive, innovative and characterises entrepreneurs, inventors and ideators. The second type is " crystallised intelligence" possessed by those above 50 years: assimilated knowledge of history and archival data which is typically found in historians and researchers. This explains a lot about the trajectory of our lives, why practically all start-ups have been founded by people below 35, why we grow more conservative and risk-averse in later life. But in today's India it doesn't really matter what type of intelligence you have. In the first category, if you are a successful entrepreneur you will be hounded by the Income Tax chaps, and if you are a failed one then the CBI and ED will have you by the short and curly in no time at all. Similarly, if you belong to the crystallised category and are loyal to history you will be branded a libtard or leftist or anti-national. The only intelligence which matters today is the ossified form: stop thinking and follow the martial music of the jackboots. If you are still wondering what this is, just tune in to any TV channel today evening.
   And now there is another danger confronting those with any form of intelligence: you may be locked up without any bail. On Thursday, while opposing bail to Mr. Chidambram, our Addl. Solicitor General argued thus: " He has tremendous potential for not cooperating in the probe since he is highly intelligent." Shorn of legalese it means intelligent people should be denied bail. The judge agreed and sent Mr. Chidamaram to the cooler for five days. It's best to be a moron these days and have it as a default option. But it's good to know that once upon a time there was such a thing as human intelligence, of whatever type.
   Finally, there is no better place to conclude my neologistic travels than my home town, Kanpur. Its spirited citizens are no respecters of either the Queen or her English and do a section 376 IPC to it on a daily basis. On my last visit there I noticed a superlative advertisement issued by a newly opened private hospital. It promised a special rate for dentistry procedures, including for " loot canal" treatment. And it also boasted of a modern ICU or " Incentive Care Unit"- no marks for guessing who gets the "incentive" for keeping a stiff in the ICU long after his/her expiry date. Truth will always out.
   In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. No longer. It is now with Shashi Tharoor, George Steiner and Kanpur.