Human Rights

India must stop its Hyper nationalist policing says Asian Human Rights Commission

Recent events in India remind us of the landmark case of Balwant Singh & Anr. v State of Punjab 1995 (1) SCR 411. In this case, two Government officers were convicted by a Special Court under Ss.124 A and 153A of the Indian Penal Code for raising slogans in support of Khalistan on the day Indira Gandhi was assassinated.

Setting aside the conviction, a Bench of Justice Dr.AS Anand and Justice Faizan Uddin held,

“It appears to us that the raising some slogans only a couple of times by the two lonesome appellants, which neither evoked any response nor any reaction from any one in the public can neither attract the provisions of Section 124A or Section 153A IPC Some more overt act was required to bring home the charge to the two appellants, who are Government servants. The police officials exhibited lack of maturity and more of sensitivity in arresting the appellants for raising the slogans - which arrest -and act the casual raising of one or two slogans - could have created a law and order situation, keeping in view the tense situation prevailing on the date of the assassination of Smt. Indira Gandhi. In situations like that, over sensitiveness sometimes is counter productive and can result in inviting trouble. Raising of some lonesome slogans, a couple of times by two individuals, without anything more, did not constitute any threat to the Government of India as by law established nor could the same give rise to feelings of enmity or hatred among different communities or religious or other groups.”

On Sunday, 18 June, Pakistan won the final of the Champions Trophy against India. On Sunday night, in Mohad town, Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh, 15 persons were arrested for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans and for bursting firecrackers celebrating Pakistan’s victory. They were booked for offences under S.124 A (Sedition) and S.120-B (Criminal Conspiracy). On June 22, it was reported that sedition charges were dropped and instead, S.153A was invoked. In Savanur in Haveri District of Karnataka, it was reported that the police arrested a 35-year old Muslim man for sedition and for offences under S.153A for allegedly celebrating Pakistan’s victory and raising anti-India slogans. The complainant is the vice-president of BJP’s youth outfit, Yuva Morcha in Savanur. In another incident, a 24-year old Muslim man was arrested from Hebbala village, in Belgavi, north Karnataka on similar charges, after a complaint filed by a local. In a separate incident, in Kodagu district in South Karnataka, four people were arrested for the same reason.

S. 153A details the offence of ‘Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony’. A subsequent report in released on June 27 details the incidents leading up to the arrest of the 15 men in Madhya Pradesh. Allegations of racial profiling and false accusations abound and a grim picture emerges. The most serious allegation is that a Hindu man, Koli was asked to sign a false report that alleged that Muslims in the village celebrated Pakistan’s win. Koli had in fact gone to the police station to help his Muslim friend, Mansuri, one of the accused. Residents of Mohad village have said that they did not hear any firecrackers being burst. There are allegations of torture and custodial violence and of the men being picked up quite randomly, while they were going about their daily lives.

Eerily reminiscent of earlier cases of false accusations and wrongful arrest of innocents, the incidents of the last week in India leave many questions and not enough answers. Even if it was proved that people did indeed burst firecrackers to celebrate Pakistan’s victory in a cricket match, a sporting event, could this be grounds on which to arrest them under Ss.124A and 153A of the IPC? Judicial precedent set by the Supreme Court in cases such as Balwant Singh (supra) makes it clear that the police cannot behave in an ‘oversensitive’ manner, displaying a ‘lack of maturity’.

Torture and violence are frequently used to keep the ‘enemy’ in check, successfully othering different groups of people. Who is the enemy in India today? In India, the enemy is the Dalit who skins cattle. The Muslim who eats beef. The Hindu who helps his Muslim friend. The poor and vulnerable, powerless minorities, unable to fight back, fear taking over, forcing them to concur with this hyper-nationalist, majoritarian narrative.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls for the cases to be dropped and those wrongfully arrested and tortured to be compensated. Incidents such as these reiterate once again the urgent need for a domestic legislation criminalizing torture and the long overdue ratification of the UN Convention against Torture. The Indian police are here to perform their legal and constitutional duties. Picking up people for bursting firecrackers after a cricket match and torturing them to teach them a lesson is not one of them. Some sources say that there are more than 15 million pending criminal cases in India. It is time the police spent their finite resources in trying to fight real crime, protect law and order and uphold the Constitution of India – for everyone. (Statement issued by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission on 29 June,, 2017)

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