More than three-fourth of people languishing in Indian jails are undertrials; several of them are people who cannot fight a failed system
The discharge of 11 people, including students, in the 2019 Delhi Jamia Nagar violence case related to protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, and the scathing comments the court made against the police reflects how the State grossly abused the process of law to stifle voices of dissent. It also called the urgent attention of and immediate action by the higher judiciary to put a stop to such practices.
The court made two pertinent points while setting the accused free: One, the police made them scapegoats, for there was no evidence against them, and two; dissent must be encouraged, not stifled. As for the first, most of the accused spent years in jail before getting bail in a case which the court has now found to have no merit at all. Instead of apprehending those who were responsible for the crime, the police made the protesters pay the price for having been there at the site. While the innocent were made to suffer, two sets of culpable people went scot free: those who committed the crime and those who threw innocents in jail. This makes the administration of criminal justice a joke in our country.
The more important point is about the inalienable right to dissent in a democracy. The court has insisted that it is an extension of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, subject to reasonable restrictions. The police must be able to discern the difference between dissent and insurrection, the court noted. One cannot agree more when the court says the police acting arbitrarily and cherry-picking are detrimental to the precept of fairness.
More than three-fourth of the people who are languishing in Indian jails are undertrials; and several of them are people who cannot fight a failed and corrupt system. It works well for an authoritarian regime, and not for a democracy. It is time the courts wake up to “this daily abuse of the law”, as former home minister P. Chidambaram put it.