Khan Or Khanna: Lots To A Name

No innocent person should suffer because his or her name is Khan. That’s what the Indian Supreme Court said in its judgment of September 26 while acquitting 14 Muslims convicted on charges of fomenting violence back in 1994.

 “We emphasise and deem it  necessary to repeat that the gravity of the evil to the community from terrorism can never furnish an adequate reason for invading the personal liberty, except in accordance with the procedure established by the Constitution and the laws,” Justices H.L. Dattu and C.K. Prasad said.

Fine words from the country’s top Court. Both necessary and needed in a country where the rule of law is often observed in the breach and where innocents rot in jail because the system, or individual policemen believe they are a threat to national security.

One can hope and, perhaps, pray that police officials will be listening to what the Supreme Court has to say. But, down on the ground, we see repeated cases of innocents being picked up, tall stories being cooked up by the police and swallowed whole by the media in an overall climate of growing prejudice.

The Delhi-based Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, in a report prepared in mid-September, brought to the force the arrests and acquittals of 16 persons linked to different Islamist terror outfits in the city.

 “These men…were acquitted. Yet they all unjustly suffered the most harrowing of experiences…illegal detention and torture (physical and psychological), incarceration and trial. Acquittals were by no means the end of their tragedy for they returned from their experience to a different world: Businesses were destroyed; family members were broken having suffered the humiliation and trauma of being associated with “terrorists”; children had to abandon their studies and the normality of everyday life, while parents passed away in grief and despair,” the report said.

Almost without exception, it continued, the media had acted as “faithful stenographers” of the police; not only presuming the guilty to be innocent but also failing to follow cases where innocence was established.

It’s a damning indictment by a group that has taken up the task of exposing the method and manner in which innocents are linked to Islamist groups and then arrested.

On August 29, judge Jyotsna Yagnik held 32 persons, including a former minister in Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s government, Mayaben Kodnani, guilty of massacring 97 Muslims in Naroda Patiya, Ahmedabad.

In her long judgement, she talks about the role of the police. “The police has rather witnessed inflammatory speeches by the leaders and has witnessed the rioters running rampage,” Yagnik held.

Referring to the Gujarat police’s investigation before the Supreme Court put in place a special investigation mechanism, she said this was done in the “anxiety to see to it that certain bigwigs should not be involved in the crime”

But for the judiciary, many police forces, operating in an oppressive climate of prejudice, would have gotten away with their games. A vigilant judiciary has ensured that in many cases the innocent have finally, finally been acquitted.

Should it have come to such a pass in the first place? Why are there no internal checks and balances in the police force to ensure that investigations are fair and proper? It’s a question to which India has been awaiting answers for quite some time.

No longer can one believe police press conferences about fanciful terror plots; often they are a figment of a cop’s fertile imagination. In fact, earlier you could get away with disbelieving a little, now one must have a healthy distrust of what might be said by the police at the outset.

One can’t wish away the reality of terrorists in this day and age. These groups thrive in an environment of polarisation and prejudice; they seek new and more recruits to their cause by pointing to the response of the “other side” – in most cases the national state.

When societies and systems allow innocents to be targeted, they facilitate the creation and recruitment of more militants to the ranks.

Suspicion and fear of an individual’s dress, name and appearance cannot be a ground for detention and arrest. It cannot even be ground for prejudice and hate.

Yes, robust policing is called for. We need to catch those responsible for heinous crimes, but not at the cost of setting the stage for greater distrust in our societies.

The rule of law, if civilised societies are to thrive, must always prevail.

Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.

Source :  Dawn

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