The Failing Spree
By Seema Mustafa
It was a sad day for the nation when India's elected law makers rushed to push through two draconian legislations, giving the government sweeping powers and seriously curtailing civil liberties, in just a little over six hours. The amendment to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention)Act and the legislation to set up the National Investigation Agency were passed with just a few members pointing to the need for sending these to a parliamentary standing committee to ensure that effective checks and balances preventing governments from misusing this authority were brought into the bills.
Union Home Minister P.Chidambaram, never known for his commitment to civil liberties, shrugged off the few objections by saying that the legislations could be "improved" upon when Parliament met again in February. The blatant misuse of power by investigating agencies when evidence has been planted on suspects to justify illegal arrests reported from all parts of the country has actually been given full support in the new legislations with the police being given the powers now to detain innocent persons for 180 days, that is six months at a time. Currently, stringent laws allow the police to detain a person without filing a chargesheet for 90 days that according to legal experts, is more than enough to determine his or her guilt or innocence.
The minorities, in particular, are extremely worried as in the past years the community has been targeted by the administration in several states, including Congress controlled Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. In Hyderabad, for instance, the Mecca-Mumbai blasts led to large scale arrests of Muslim youth who were kept in custody by the police without being produced before a magistrate, beaten for days and nights on end, tortured with electric shocks and while some still languish in jail, others were released for want of evidence. Their lives have been ruined, they live in constant fear, and the state has done nothing to intervene and compensate them for its merciless intervention in their lives.
The government, as always, has not addressed the basic issues that led to the Mumbai terror attack. These were a complete failure of the intelligence apparatus, with RAW in particular being in a mess, ridden with factionalism and inefficiency. The inefficiency of its chief is now an acknowledged fact but for reasons best known to it, the government is unable or should one say, unwilling, to act against him. The corruption and politicization of the police force all over the state is now legendary, with the long recommended police reforms being ignored by every successive government. The poor become the victims of this corrupt, inept force that, under pressure, attacks those who are unable to defend themselves. The legislations give more power to the same instruments, with the Home Minister, his government and the Parliamentarians endorsing the laws in complete denial of the need to shake the system into becoming more sensitive and responsive to its citizens.
Indian laws are stringent, and what is required is a more coordinated approach. Instead of this, the turf battles between agencies that were evident for the world to see during and after the Mumbai terror attack have crippled functioning. The result is that the poor are further oppressed by the police and the security forces, as they have little intelligence and even lesser expertise to either predict terror attacks, or investigate the trail efficiently. It is no secret that the approach of the Indian police, whether it be a crime or a terror attack, has always been to arrest all it can lay its hands on, beat and torture, and then hope that the confessions will throw up some clues that they can follow. If this does not happen, then often the innocents are thrown into the jails as the prime accused, the masterminds, who then wait for years for the judiciary to catch up with them.
The point being made here is that Parliament should have demanded more time to analyse and discuss the new legislations, and a standing committee should have been given the responsibility to ensure that much needed checks and balances were factored into the final versions. Union Minorities Minister A.A.Antulay did raise the controversy surrounding the death of ATS chief Hemant Karkare and the other officers asking the question that has still not been answered by the authorities: why did Karkare and the other senior officers go to the railway station when they should have been heading towards the hotels and Nariman House. And how did the terrorists have prior information of their movements? Important questions that need a categorical response, starting from the time that the officers got the information, where they were, why did they travel together, why did they go on this particular route etc. It is no secret that Karkare was the target of a virulent hate campaign for uncovering the Hindutva complicity in several terror attacks in this country, and it is thus the job of any government in power to ensure that all possible doubts are ruled out by ordering a thorough and transparent probe into the incident.
The media, taking its cue from the establishment, has been strident in making comparisons between what it terms 26/11 and 9/11. Inherent in this comparison is a certain legitimacy given to the action following 9/11 and a message that India should do the same. The same what? Like the US invade Afghanistan, Iraq, kill thousands of civilians, arrest and torture on whims, and place itself in a situation where the leader---in this case George W.Bush---becomes the most reviled man in the world and has shoes thrown at him during what should have been a famous last visit to Baghdad. Is this what India wants to become?
Governments of secular, democratic and pluralistic India have the added job of ensuring that all sections of citizens feel protected and secure. This is certainly not the case insofar as the security apparatus is concerned, as the levels of corruption and inefficiency have been established over the years. It is also imperative for governments here to ensure that legislations particularly of the kind passed by the lawmakers on Wednesday have sufficient checks and balances to that the poor, the minorities, and all the smaller communities have full access to the law, and do not become its victims. This has not happened and once again Parliament has failed India.