Recently, a video of a man confronting a group of policemen for alleged moral policing at a park went viral on Facebook. The video shows the man claiming to be a Delhi High Court lawyer confronting the men in khaki who were questioning a couple for strolling in the park. The policemen’s ‘sanskari act’ was blunted by questions from the lawyer who also shot the video. A lady officer who was part of the ‘raiding party’ had this in defence – “hum isliye pooch rahe hai kyuki aawara nahi hai ye” (we are asking this because they are not waywards).
This is not the first time that incidents like this has come to the fore. In 2000, in the name of “disorderly behaviour”, the Mumbai police had banned kissing in the Marine Drive area asserting the State Act, 1951.
In 2011, the Ghaziabad police had launched “Operation Majnu” to catch hold of young boys and girls in public places. The police officers made them do sit-ups and filmed the ‘punishment’. The operation was apparently meant to ensure safety of women from harassment.
In cases such as these, young adults find themselves in a sticky situation due to lack of understanding of the basic rights the constitution provides to every citizen of the country.
Is it illegal for young adults to sit in a public place?
Nowhere does the Constitution or any statute restrict two people sitting in a public place. In fact, the often-debated, Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) is the soul of the Constitution document.
The Indian Penal Code mentions obscenity under Section 294. Although the law states any “obscene act” in public places will be punished by three months imprisonment but a lack of definition of “obscene acts” exposes young adults to excessive harassment.
Restricting movement of individuals, police often make arrests and detain young adults for ‘not following’ the law. Under such circumstances, one should know what powers do police officers have to act against individuals.
What powers does a police officer have?
A police officer can interpose situations to prevent a cognizable offence and can make an arrest without warrant, only if no other form of preventing the offence is available. These powers of police officers are listed under Section 149 to Section 153 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The law is sometimes misused by police officers due to the vague language used in statues. Section 165 of the Criminal Code states, “Whenever an officer in charge of a police station or a police officer making an investigation has reasonable grounds…”
What are the rights if an illegal arrest is made?
Article 21 of the Constitution says, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”
Article 19 (freedom of expression), Article 20 (protection in respect of conviction of offences) and Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) are the three provisions of the Constitution which come to rescue in case of an illegal arrest.
In case of unlawful detention, the writ of “Habeas Corpus” comes to play. A writ is a written command or order given by a court directing to perform an act or to injunct an act. An individual can file a writ petition in either a high court (Article 226) or the Supreme Court (Article 32).
Out of the four writs provided in our Constitution, “Habeas Corpus” specifically speaks about illegal detention in jail. The Latin words ‘habeas corpus subi di cendum’ literally mean “to have the body”. In other words the writ petition when filed, specifically demands order of release.
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