Union home minister Rajnath Singh’s directive to top police officers that no one should be arrested or harassed on the basis of radicalisation in the absence of solid proof is welcome but the message should trickle right down to the local police stations. Alongside, he also said that genuine NGOs were free to carry out development work but warned that those indulging in anti-national activities would not be spared. We have seen numerous instances of young men being picked up at random after terror attacks — the Hyderabad blasts come to mind — on mere suspicion of involvement in terror. The definitions of radicalisation, as also that of genuine NGOs, are very subjective. In the case of radicalisation, it is difficult to tell whether a person poses a threat to security or public peace merely on the basis of his or her radicalised views. Of course, the police have to keep an eye on any speech or action which could result in encouraging subversive activity. But the issue is larger than this.
There are many instances of people suspected of radical views being imprisoned as undertrials for years thanks to a painfully slow criminal justice system. The home minister should also ensure that the sort of encounter deaths we have seen of terror suspects should end. There can be no room for extra-judicial action by the police in a democracy. In the Bhopal case, there are more questions than answers as to why a trained police force was not able to apprehend the suspects who had escaped from jail and needed to kill them. The police must be held accountable for their actions and not be allowed carte blanche simply because of a perceived threat to national security, again a loose term which is used to describe various types of speech and actions.
In the case of NGOs, the government’s definition of good work is often at variance with what activists consider appropriate work. In the past, NGOs which have criticised the government’s record on human rights have been termed anti-national, a case in point being that of Amnesty International. Many NGOs working in Maoist areas have been branded anti-nationals for speaking up about atrocities by the police. But, clearly, the home minister felt the need to ask the police to be more circumspect, given that their track record has not been exemplary in this regard. If indeed, they were to gather proper proof before arresting people or harassing them, there would be a drastic decrease in the number of undertrials and also greater confidence among communities which are routinely targeted.