Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde wrote to chief ministers of all states on Monday,asking them to ensure that innocent minority youth are not wrongfully detained in the name of terror. He said he was writing since the government had been receiving representations about alleged harassment of innocent Muslim youth by law enforcement agencies.
In writing such a letter,especially in view of its timing,Shinde has left himself open to the charge of trying to exploit the minorities for votes,what with the coming Assembly and general elections. He doesnt even have the defence of this being an attempt at affirmative action on the part of the UPA government.
However,what is more worrisome is the fact that the countrys Home Minister forgot or chose to ignore that Article 15 of the Constitution forbids the State to discriminate against any individual or community on the basis of religion,race,caste,sex,and place of birth or any of them. All citizens,irrespective of their caste,religion etc,are equal before law. A youth,or for that matter an old man,of the majority community,who is wrongfully detained,must draw the same amount of compassion and assistance from his government that a member of the minority community,faced with a similar situation,should.
If the Home Minister was so perturbed with the wrongful detention of youths from minorities by security agencies for alleged involvement in terror cases,he could have easily written to the states asking them to careful while arresting anybody in terror cases. There is no doubt that the reputation and social standing of anybody whether Hindu or Muslim or Sikh arrested in a terror-related case is tarred forever. There is also no doubt that perhaps more Muslims are behind bars on terror allegations than people from any other community.
However,what is expected of Shinde is ensuring that security agencies do their work well,and that officials strive to build a water-tight case in all cases,not just terror ones. After all,somebody wrongfully arrested for a common crime like robbery also has much to lose. The low rate of conviction below 20 per cent in all types of crimes,terror and otherwise,tells its own story.
Chhibber is Senior Editor (Legal Affairs),based in Delhi