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Those who care for nobody’s rights but their own

Once again, the ‘human rights’ lobby has launched a virulent and unsubstantiated campaign against the police in the case of the at...

Written by K P S Gill |
February 21, 2005

Once again, the ‘human rights’ lobby has launched a virulent and unsubstantiated campaign against the police in the case of the attempt on the life of S A R Geelani, who had been acquitted in the December 13, 2001, attack on India’s Parliament. While there is invariably great concern for the fundamental ‘human rights’ of terrorists and other criminals to be ‘presumed innocent unless proven guilty’, no such concern exists even in the case of the wildest allegations against the police or security forces. It is far too early to pronounce judgement about who the guilty are for the murderous attack on Geelani. At this stage, with little by way of concrete evidence, nothing specific can be said. What is required is a fair and impartial investigation into the incident, and an effort to arrive at the truth, not the presumption of guilt that is being bandied about.

Regrettably, this rather obvious truth has been missed out in most of the news reports and passionate commentaries that have aired wild allegations as gospel truth over the past few days. Geelani himself gives no specific pointers to the identity of the assailant beyond a generalised descriptive and his conviction that the Special Branch (SB) of the Delhi Police is ‘behind the attack’. Even before he had recovered consciousness and made this statement, his lawyer and a number of friends — at least one of whom claimed on TV that Geelani had been attacked by SB personnel on several earlier occasions, though he was unable to recall a single specific instance — had already trotted out this line. ‘Human rights activists’ have argued, in their inimitable and practised rhetoric, that the SB was ‘‘in the grip of communal-fascist forces’’ and the ‘‘needle of suspicion’’ was thus directed at the Delhi Police ‘‘until they are able to exonerate themselves by truthful investigation.’’

The police, in other words, are always presumed guilty until proven innocent. These are not particularly innovative positions, and there is a pattern here, which has been repeated ad nauseam on every occasion when charges are made against the police. This pattern has been fine-tuned by terrorist groups, their organisations and a number of ‘human rights organisations’ — only a small minority of whom are actually and innocently concerned about anybody’s rights — and an established modus operandi has been evolved for the manipulation of the media and the systematic abuse of the processes of law to denigrate the police and to protect criminals and terrorists.

And yet, the media, the public and the country’s political leadership continues to remain altogether unaware of, and vulnerable to, this skilful manipulation. Thus, whenever such allegations are made, they are immediately and uncritically published in broad headlines, creating a belief in their veracity in the minds of at least some readers. They are also, then, picked up, without an iota of corroboration or investigation, by various ‘human rights’ organisations, and are reproduced in their reports and records. These records, once published, are seldom reviewed or amended in the light of subsequent investigations, and all such allegations, consequently, become part of the fictional ‘truth’ of the human rights discourse. Regrettably, the media furore that is generated tends to intimidate people in authority, and there are few who display the courage of convictions or the capacity to confront such propaganda squarely. There have been many blatant cases in which the falsehood of allegations against the police has been established, and where the judiciary has been embarrassed by its own incontinent rhetoric in the absence of evidence.

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In a much-sensationalised but actually trivial case in 1993, relying on Press reports, the CJI berated police officials in Court for having illegally detained or ‘kidnapped’ a young boy and girl in Hoshiarpur and made totally uncalled-for remarks declaring there was the ‘‘law of the jungle in Punjab.’’ Shortly thereafter, it was found that the couple had actually eloped and faked their own ‘kidnapping’, and the police had nothing to do with their ‘disappearance’.

The CJI then called the police officers to the privacy of his chambers, and sought to ‘settle’ the issue. But the damage had already been done, and the image of the police had another indelible blemish on it. It is amazing that certain writers patronised by a section of the Press have sought to make media darlings out of terrorists, their organisations and their associates, and every word they speak is taken by them as the unvarnished truth. Every policeman, on the other hand, has become the stereotype of all that is corrupt, brutalised and wrong with the Indian state, and nothing he may say can every be attributed any credibility. Nearly a thousand policemen lay down their lives in the line of duty each year, protecting the lives and property of other citizens, but a judge of the Supreme Court has held that no policeman should ever be a member of the National Human Rights Commission.

It is difficult to understand — leave alone overcome — such prejudices, but every man who wears a police uniform, lives with them on a daily basis. These prejudices have, on occasion, gone beyond all limits of judicial propriety, and have, in at least one case, verged on the conspiratorial, when a judge of the Supreme Court became a willing party to an orchestrated campaign against the Punjab Police and, in the absence of any prima facie evidence, launched proceedings. That judge was subsequently employed by the jathedar of the Akal Takht — a man who had been convicted and served a sentence for murder. Yet, nothing was done to review the integrity of the various orders and judgements this individual had passed. Such an unabashed commitment to the terrorist cause at the highest levels, which went unchecked and unpunished, hits at the very basis of democracy, as well as at the integrity of the judiciary and the media.

On rare occasion, where particular investigations have provoked great public agitation, the response has been to set up a Commission of Inquiry. But the record of such Commissions is abysmal, and they have ordinarily displayed little sagacity or judicial wisdom. I have long argued that there is an urgent need to set up a Constitutional Commission comprising a group of individuals who enjoy an unblemished record in the judicial system, and to have them inquire into the disastrous record of the judiciary with regard to cases of terrorism. The degree to which judicial processes have been ignored, or to which they have been subverted and abused by terrorist groups and their organisations, must be documented, mechanisms must be devised to protect against future abuse, and action must be taken against defaulting judges and judicial officers.

It is our duty to ensure that the truth comes out, and that the propaganda campaigns and concocted scenarios built up by interested parties do not override the interests of justice.

The writer is former Punjab DGP

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