2 lockdown violations that reveal the weak spot of Indian State | Opinion
The law should be applied equally. And those who view the health issue on communal lines are obstructing the national cause
Article 14 of the Indian Constitution promises equality under the law and that everyone must be dealt with equally. Our Constitution provides protection to religions, classes and categories in education, reservation, the criminal law is agnostic in the matter of determining guilt. If you break the law, the penal code and other statutes treat all persons equally, though sentences awarded may vary.
The recent controversy in Delhi regarding the Tablighi Jamaat continuing to house thousands of people in its premises or a few hundred found at Gurdwara Majnu ka Tila, despite the impending threat of Covid-19 and the closedown of religious institutions, are issues of public safety, health and consequential criminal sanctions.
Even after the curfew (under Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code) and directions under the Disaster Management Act were in place, the continued presence of large numbers at such religious places has posed a health hazard not only to those present, but to each individual who came in touch with these potential carriers of the Sars-CoV-2 pathogen. As per reports over 21,200 people have been placed under quarantine on this account alone, and the human cost that these follies will bring are yet to be discovered in the weeks and months ahead.
What this tragedy exposes is the Indian state’s unstated inability to act with speed and effectively against religious communities and institutions, even where there is a blatant breach of law. A thought process, which instead of enforcing the law, effectively looks at the collateral issues and possible repercussions of action against those who profess or propagate religion is the weak spot of the Indian state in its application of law.
Whether it is the Tablighi Jamaat gathering or the Majnu Ka Tilla Gurdwara crowd, (both in Delhi), such gathering of persons for religious functions was clearly in breach of the law and FIRs have been registered. But the investigation is only a reactive, and not preventive approach to the breach of the law which will take its course if a chargesheet is eventually filed with prosecution.
What is a matter of further anguish is that while the provisions of the Disaster Management Act and of Section 144 Cr.PC were in force, its breach, punishable also under penal provisions for the spread of disease under Sections 269, 270 and 271 (Indian Penal Code) is being questioned in some quarters.
Others err no less while portraying it as a communal issue, which it neither was nor is. Such angularities have to be discarded because our purpose must only be to ensure that every resource, legal or otherwise, be applied effectively to contain this dreaded disease. To term this health and public safety issue as a communal issue, or alternatively castigate a community, is a breach of the law and may invite criminal action.
The pan-India effort to enforce our laws while dealing with Covid-19 is an issue of health, enforcement of criminal law, public safety and order. Whether preventive action is sought to be taken by state authorities or prosecution launched, we, as Indians and as members of the human race occupying this planet must realize, that it is time for us to act as one world and one people, and in India as one nation. It is time to step beyond our differences and focus on the larger good – that the protection of 130 crore people in India is ensured by effective and equal enforcement of the law.
There are brave men and women in the field - doctors, paramedics, government employees, police officers all of whom are risking their lives, and those of their families, to ensure that we tide over this crisis with minimal loss of human lives. Doctors who treat their patients do not examine or consider the caste, creed or religion while saving lives. Nor do police and government officers enforcing the lockdown.
And while the law must be equally applied irrespective of caste, creed and religion, those who question the application of the law or alternatively seek to focus on this exclusively health and safety issue on communal lines are, in fact, obstructing the national cause.
(Sidharth Luthra is former Additional Solicitor General of India, and Ketaki Goswami is a lawyer)