In India and the US, a tale of two rights movements, writes Salman Khurshid
Even as protesters in the US find solidarity, anti-CAA protesters in India continue to be targetedUpdated: Jun 09, 2020, 20:47 IST
For people who admire the world’s oldest democracy, the developments in the United States (US) have caused considerable concern. If President Donald Trump’s politics remains perplexing, the latest public outburst on the merciless killing of a black man, George Floyd, came as a frightening validation of the thesis that democracy is in deep trouble. To think that four years after President Barack Obama’s comforting tenure, to quote from William Butler Yeats’ Second Coming, “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”.
But there is a bright light yet in the spontaneous kneeling gesture of the Miami police to apologise for the inhuman conduct of a killer in uniform. Nations do not have unexceptional goodness. But if they know how to swiftly contain moral aberrations and encourage acts of forgiveness and reconciliation, such as the Miami police exhibited, one’s faith and confidence in democracy is preserved. What happened in Minneapolis is wrong, and even in a divided society, white supremacists have been silenced, and liberals across colour and communities have been openly arguing that “black lives matter”. Curiously, some Bollywood stars, who seem unmoved by recent events in India, have joined the US chorus for justice.
As protests over Floyd’s death intensified in the US, social media was flooded with posts on police brutality. However, amid the news of rioting, tear-gas and baton charge, there were also reports of police personnel in Miami joining the protesters’ cause and apologising for the brutality. Police forces at several places laid down their shields and helmets to express solidarity with those speaking out against racism and for human rights, while some knelt before the demonstrators.
But here, at home, some courts have not found the time to seek an explanation for the police brutality writ large, but heartlessly shrouded in the exigencies of the Covid-19 lockdown. Jamia Millia Islamia awaits justice for brutal assaults on protesting students on two separate occasions in the wake of anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests, despite the university management having publicly complained of the unwarranted conduct of the police. Far from reaching out to the aggrieved student body, the police have issued notices to dozens of them and arrested several under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) or Indian Penal Code to begin with, and immediately, if granted bail, under UAPA a period of incarceration without bail.
The State might well be able to inflict unnecessary pain upon these young persons, even derail their career prospects, but hopefully will not crush their spirit and commitment to democracy and freedom. The State has a solemn duty to intervene wherever there is even a hint of suspicion about any person working to undermine national integrity. There can be no cavil with that proposition. But there is a difference between the State and the government of the day. Vigorous opposition of the latter cannot remotely be an anti-State posture. Much evil has been done in history in the name of State security. We see the same happening today in India. If people and institutions fail to step in to expose this, this will amount to a situation when history is retold.
Unable to support wild charges of sedition, the investigation officers are reportedly browbeating innocent political activists to surrender to their will and give evidence against their colleagues. This is a gross violation of human rights under the very nose of the top courts in the capital. Similar infractions of the law in Uttar Pradesh (UP) were brought to the notice of the National Human Rights Commission by the Congress’ general secretary, Priyanka Gandhi, several weeks ago, but there has been no forward movement. The pain is now, but the panacea will come at some distant moment, and that too if the truth prevails.
Although the ostensible object of the investigation launched by the special cell of Delhi Police is to get to the bottom of what they claim is a “larger conspiracy” to create civil unrest at the time of Trump’s New Delhi visit, the focus seems to be on Jamia and Shaheen Bagh. People are being asked why they participated or organised the anti-CAA protests and how they were connected. The Northeast riots are used to conveniently blame the violence on innocent persons.
Despite attempts to create a misleading narrative that includes the home minister telling Parliament how proud he was of the Delhi Police bringing the violence under control within 48 hours, the fact remains that former Supreme Court judges took public transport to visit the affected areas and pointed out clear dereliction of duty by the police. The harsh comments made by Justice S Muralidhar of the Delhi High Court before he was suddenly transferred to Chandigarh, the unequivocal concern expressed by a trial court in remand proceedings that the “investigation was targeted to one end”, and another high court judge granting bail to an accused by stating that jail was for convicted prisoners and not under-trials, all point to a serious disquiet in the judiciary. But we are also a witness to government law officers speaking of high courts running a parallel government even as the government rewards them with engagements such as special public prosecutors. The months ahead will be a serious contest between the rule of law and the ruse of law.