For decades, some people have defended the rights of those who had no resources to stand against the might of the society and the state. We assume that we live in a country which is ruled by law and that human beings have certain inalienable rights. But, we also see these rights violated by different organs of the state. It is then that we seek these defenders who know the language of the law. We have come to believe that as long as they are present, we have some breathing space — but that time seems to be over. The defenders need to be defended now.
The CBI wants the Supreme Court to remove the shield of protection that the Bombay High Court had given to Indira Jaising and Anand Grover. A special leave petition challenging the Bombay High Court order restraining any coercive action against the lawyers has been filed by the CBI in the SC and may come up for hearing any day.
On July 25, the Bombay High Court gave interim relief to Jaising and Grover after a plea was filed to quash the FIR lodged by the CBI against them, alleging violation of the FCRA and other offences under the IPC. The turn of events leading up to this FIR is worrying: An unknown entity called Lawyer’s Voice filed a petition in the SC stating that the Centre should have registered cases against Jaising, Grover and the Lawyer’s Collective for offences under the IPC, Prevention of Money Laundering Act, Prevention of Corruption Act and the Income Tax Act.
The alacrity with which the petition was listed for hearing was noted by people aware of the normal ways of functioning of the court registry. It was heard by a bench which included CJI Ranjan Gogoi. The court issued notices to all parties, making clear that the government was free to initiate proceedings against the two. The question of propriety was raised again as Jaising had then taken up the case of the woman who had alleged sexual misconduct against her by the CJI.
After this order, things moved at an extraordinary pace. In less than a week’s time, an FIR was lodged against them by the CBI and, thereafter, their Delhi house and various offices in Delhi and Mumbai were raided for evidence in the case of misuse of foreign funds. Recall that in 2016, the ministry of home affairs, Union of India, had cancelled the FCRA of the Lawyer’s Collective — this was after it charged the organisation with misuse of foreign funds, and rejected the response of the organisation.
After this, Jaising and Grover, and Lawyer’s Collective, moved the Bombay High Court in 2016 which de-freezed their domestic accounts. Why the hurry by the CBI then, to arrest them now? Since 2016, have they even shown an inclination to evade the law? Have they tried to flee the country? On the contrary, we know that both Jaising and Grover have been declining invitations from other countries, which include speaking assignments and also academic ones simply because there is a case pending against them.
Grover took up the cause of gay rights and fought to win for them a life of dignity. Numerous cancer patients may have never heard about the Novartis case, which he argued successfully, and which drastically reduced treatment cost. People with HIV need to know that he, along with others, fought legally to end discrimination against them in public employment. Overnight, he was labelled “anti-national”, however, for taking up the case of Yakub Memon.
Jaising won for all women of India, irrespective of religion, the rights of equal inheritance and guardianship of children, which neither their communities nor the state was willing to give. It was the work of the Lawyer’s Collective, under her leadership, for more than a decade, which resulted in the legislation of a civil law on domestic violence. She took up the Gujarat genocide cases, along with those related to the Sohrabuddin encounter case and the case of the mysterious death of Judge Loya. Even crèches in the apex courts were a result of her efforts.
Our case is not one where Jaising and Grover’s good deeds become the argument against the CBI taking away their protection. Similarly, the anti-people policies under the Chidambaram regime should not make us rejoice that his arrest is an answer to his misdeeds. Mohan Gopal rightly reminds us that in all such cases a basic constitutional principle is involved — we have a right against self incrimination. Citing the Selvi judgement, he recalls the words of the Supreme Court that “a core rationale of the right against self-incrimination is the protection of voluntariness. As coercion and voluntariness cannot coexist, it follows that custodial interrogation in Indian prisons necessarily violates the right against self-incrimination and is therefore unconstitutional and illegal.”
We need not guess why Jaising and Grover are being targeted. One must remember what the PM said in 2015 against getting hoodwinked by “five-star activists”. Since then we have seen a concerted campaign against the concept of human rights in India: One must remember that without any questioning and human rights, democracy would turn hollow.
The Jharkhand police has now sealed and attached the property of Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest in his eighties, in a sedition case lodged in Khunti district. Over decades now, Jharkhand has been his home, where he has been working for tribals and human rights — he is now being criminalised by the state, which wants him jailed. Can we not see the link between the actions playing out in Delhi and Ranchi?
This article first appeared in the print edition on October 24, 2019, under the title ‘Defenders need defending’. The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University.
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