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Hindutva seems to have got new vigour now. The Advisory Board constituted to examine Varun Gandhi’s hate speech and booking under the National Security Act has recommended the withdrawal of the said Act against Vaun Gandhi. (news item here)

The three member panel comprising two retired HC judges Justices S N Sahai and P K Sareen, was understood to have stated in no uncertain terms that the inflammatory speeches made by Varun were not enough to attract the deterrent provisions of the NSA and the action takes was disproportionate to the nature of the alleged crime committed by Varun Gandhi.

But what exactly is this Advisory Board? Who constitutes it ?

Under the National Security Act, Sections 9, 10 and 11 govern the formation of the Advisory Board. Once a person is booked under the NSA, the appropriate government forms the Advisory Board and transfers the case to it. The main function of the Board is to look into the alleged acts and opine if there was sufficient cause for the person to be detained and booked under the NSA. If the Advisory Board opines that there wasn’t any sufficient cause for the detention of such person, the Appropriate government must revoke the order of detention.

The National Security Act governs the arrest and detention of persons acting in any manner prejudicial to the defence of India, relations of India with foreign powers, or the security of India.In Kartar Singh v. State of Punjab, the phrase ‘defence of India’ was construed to mean not only external sovereignty but also internal sovereignty. This, added to the phrase ‘security of India’ might have seemed appropriate to book Varun Gandhi to say that his hate speech might have instigated a riot or harmed the security of the state. The hate speech of Varun can be viewed below,

 

Well, he might want to cut the hands of people from another religion, But surely Varun Gandhi has had the laugh now. The question remained as to whether this speech was sufficient to harm the security of the state or ‘defence of India’. The Advisory Board found otherwise and thus the booking against him under the Act has been revoked against him. He may however, still be booked under the Indian Penal Code for incitement to violence and religious hatred. 

Readers might also want to read earlier news items and posts on this here;

– Varun Gandhi’s Hate Speech and the Law 

– Frame by Frame

– V is for Varun Gandhi…

– Beyond the Law 

 

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Law and Other things and the Indian Express have a series of posts and articles on Mayawati and her understanding of the constitution; the latest being Vinay Sitapati’s article in the Indian Express available here.

In a gist, Vinay argues that while most legal commentators view individual rights as being the core of the Constitution, group identities as mere political concessions, Mayawati subscribes to the inverse idea — of the Constitution being a power-sharing agreement between groups. He also adds that in Mayawati’s view, the provisions for weaker sections were the result of a political compromise.

Perhaps the only politician who is so vocal about the constitution during the times of elections has been Mayawati and we must give the devil her due for that. She also has raised some serious questions that Vinay brings forth but doesn’t go further into. For instance, would we have specific provisions for the minorities if there hadn’t been a political compromise as he puts it ?

Most of the provisions today in the Constitution talk of group rights and identities within the paradigm of individual rights; Articles 15, 16 (reservations), prohibition of untouchability (Article 17), rights to administer minority institutions (Article 30) etc…. They make you think as to whether they would’ve existed even if there wasn’t an Ambedkar in the 1950s being a part of drafting the Constitution. I wasn’t alive back in the 1950’s but the recent examples of South Africa and its struggle for the inclusion for group rights makes me understand that it surely wasn’t an easy thing to attain and incorporate. Readers may read Barbara Oomen’s article here to get an idea of the same.

In the Constitution, we do talk of the individuality of rights. That part III incorporates the civil and political rights that are primarily individual in nature and part IV is to have social and economic rights that are group rights. But having a lot of these group rights in part III for the benefit of minorities is not such a bad thing either. India and now South Africa mark a shift in this traditionalist thinking and perhaps maybe for the better. If the Constitution is a power sharing agreement between groups, then the rights are surely the result of a political compromise. It took 300 odd people sitting for more than 2 years to debate and frame our constitution, in exchange for the discrimination that the dalits had faced and their rights (may be not for a separate state as mayawati argues though) some provisions in Part III may be considered as a compromise to them.

With close to 70 lakh crores ( 70,000,00,00,00,000 ) of unaccounted public money stashed by politicians, bureaucrats and the rich in swiss banks and the like abroad, how does one get hold of that money ? The answer probably could be the latest writ petition in the Supreme Court wherein the petitioners have asked the Court to interfere in compelling the government to take actions to get the money back to India. While it is a noble cause, I opine that the Supreme Court interfering in this may not work.

To understand, let’s take the case of Germany and LGT Bank of Liechtenstein. In January 2006, the German Government offered 5 million Euros to a bank officer of LGT bank asking him to give out confidential data of the clients and accounts of LGT bank. After a successful transaction in this regard, the German Government then went on to catch of the tax evasionists responsible and started prosecuting them. The amount of fraud is said to have exceeded 5 billion Euros now.
In its aftermath, the bank officer has been offered asylum in Germany and the German Government is now putting pressure over the European Union and the OECD to take measures into compelling these banks to be more transparent. In times of recession, this may be fruitful, but nevertheless, none of these banks can be compelled to give up the money that they own. (See timeline and EU Actions here)

Coming back to India, if we are to create a parallel to the German situation, the following issues would arise;

– Can the Indian Government pay somebody to do an illegal act in another country ?
– Going further, can the Court issue a writ of Mandamus to ask the Government to do such an illegal act?
– Even if the above can take place, there is no way of recovering the money but only to use the data to prosecute those for tax evasion. Neither the executive or the judiciary can do otherwise.

While one possible solution could be that while prosecuting these tax evasionists/ those holding up the money in these accounts, we offer them an immunity as an incentive if they get back the money; this could possibly lead to litigation and a replay of the Bearer Bonds case (RK Garg v. Union of India , 1979 SC). In the sense that, Indians charged for evasion in India would allege that this is arbitrary, unfair and against the mandate of Article 14 and is creating a difference between those stashing money abroad and evading income tax and those being prosecuting for evading income tax in India.
This is a complicated issue and I don’t think the Court’s can and should interfere. In the debates conducted, the speakers did come together on the fact that the Constitution does authorize the Court to interfere and ‘make law’ but they still agreed that it must keep out of policy matters and things it expressly cannot do and implement. It would then be interesting to see the way the Court handles this PIL.

“In a rule of law society operating under a constitutional order, either deterrent or preemptive executive action against prohibited human conduct including terrorist acts must be pursued only within the matrix of legislatively spelt out substantive and procedural rules of engagement and sanction. The executive, whether political or the professional has no legitimate authority to act in derogation, independent of or beyond the sanction of law. This is the price civil society and all institutions of government willingly pay for a constitutional way of life.”

 

Perhaps one of the most interesting and profound judgments off late has been that of Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee v. Govt. of AP, where the Andhra Pradesh High Court was deciding whether it is obligatory to file a First Information Report against the police officers who may have committed ‘crimes’ while taking part in an encounter. The judgment has come at a time when the country is grappling under terrorism, naxal ‘disorder’ and acts allegedly threatening the sovereignty of the state.

To elucidate the issue; when the police forces take part in an encounter that lead to the killing of persons, it was not possible to lodge or move ahead on filing an FIR by the victim. The apparent reason being because such acts were committed in exercise of the right of private defense and the executive then, in its discretion had the authority to dismiss the complaint. Furthermore, the state claimed immunity from disclosing the name of the police officers involved in the encounter operation thus making it difficult for an investigation to move ahead. These were the issues that the five judge bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court was called upon to decide.  

 

“In this case, the Court [was] called upon to identify the balance between the right to life of presumptive serious offenders of law and order and of the equilibrium of civil society; and the sovereign obligation of the State to maintain such law and order equilibrium, within the context of constitutional injunctions and legislative authority.”

In its ruling the Court held that it is obligatory on the police officer in charge of a police station to record an FIR under Section 154 even if it be committed against a police officer. In recording the FIR, the police officer cannot exercise any discretion in terms of the whether the offence had been committed or the complaint has any merit. This shall be the job of the judiciary and the existence of the claim of self defense is an extremely legal question that has to be determined only by a judicial process.

The judgment also delves upon certain essential principles of criminal law theory that would be useful for any law student.

In effect then, the Court negated an idea of immunity that could have been given to police officers that may have committed crimes in the guise of encounter deaths. Fake encounter killings are not inane to the Indian situation. Places like Kashmir, Gujarat, Punjab, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh was witnessed numerous instances where such encounters have occurred and this judgment of the Court re-iterates on the preservation of the rule of law and not giving a free hand to the police to kill.

This landmark judgment then came as a blow to the state government and the Centre who wanted some powers to check actions threatening the sovereignty of the state. When the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, the Court ordered a stay on the operation of the judgment and has scheduled a hearing soon.

Lord Cooke of Thorndon stated that his admiration for the Indian Courts (mainly the Supreme Court) in its ordinary work, particularly in the field of human rights, is no whit abated. He cited the judgment of Anand J. in DK Basu v. State of West Bengal to justify his statement. It takes a lot of courage for a Court of law to rule against a state policy and stand up for the protection of human rights. Though at times I have expressed by disgust for the way our judicial system works, these are solitary times when I wish I could retract my statement. Landmark decisions indeed !

 

Readers may also read Law and Other Things  on the case and developments therein. 

 

 

Subhadra sent me an email article about the recent spate of attacks on women wearing ‘western clothes’ in Bangalore. It’s disheartening to read them and ponder on the state of things in this Country.

In this earlier post, I have talked about morality and the Dworkinian conception of harm and the enjoyment of rights. I shall talk about it briefly here and go about an extension of it.

The Dworkinian concept of harm, also called the ‘harm prinicple’ rests on the idea that one should be allowed to enjoy his/ her rights as long as they do not affect the rights of others. First, conceptualized in his article “Do we have a right to Pornography”, it now lays the foundation of any debate on morality. This idea also does away with any role the State may claim to play as the upholder of morality and leaves the choice to the people itself as long as it does not affect others. Reading pornographic magazines and open sexual acts are a few of the examples that Dworkin gives to explain the ‘harm principle’.

More importantly, I saw this principle being applied completely in the context of anti-smoking legislation. It must be noted that the reasoning against smoking in public places is not that it is bad to the smoker itself, but that it harms the passive smoker and thus to discontinue the violation of his rights, the laws have been made. (See Murali Deora v. Union of India, AIR 2002 SC 40). This has also been explained in this previous post of mine here.

On the State being the ‘upholder of morality’ notion; it is sad that the Constitution contains various references [Article 19 (2) and Article 25 ] to morality being a ground for a restriction and it being used in the same manner even though the harm to others may not be evident.  

If this be so, then perhaps Mr Muthalik and the State should lay no claim as regards deciding on what people should wear or Drink.

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Below is Manav’s post on the Pink Chaddi campaing. Interesting read. May not be that legal though.

Where are they, those advocates of human dignity? 

While I am ensconced in Santa Clara, the internet serves me well in providing me with information on what is going on in our motherland. About a week back, all that I heard from home was on the Pink Chaddi campaign.

Initially, it amused me, made me laugh, was interesting. I thought it would be a good cock-a-snook at Those-Who-Are-The-Sole-Custodians-Of-Indian-Culture. Later, I thought more about it. It didn’t seem so funny then.

A few girls were beaten. Beaten badly. At least two of them were hospitalised. For being in a pub. The Hindu right evidently thinks that these women have strayed from the path of Indian Culture and Morality (“Women?” “Drinking?” “India?” Horror!). In fact, it was suggested that these women deserved the beating because they were “getting too close to Muslim men”.

And how did we- the liberal, the elite, the English-speaking (partly) convent-educated react? We, who speak for rights? We, who believe in equality, in human dignity, in the freedom of choice? What did this group of people do?

Decided to send pink underwear to the Sri Ram Sene. That’s all. Pink, because it was “a frivolous colour”.

Well, pardon me for my ignorance. Just what is so frivolous about being beaten up for choosing to go to a pub? What is frivolous about people making your decisions for you? Where you should be, what you should do, who you should “be close to”? Instead of making a rational point, instead of sending a message out saying such harassment is unacceptable, all we chose to do was send undergarments- the equivalent of saying “Nyah-Nyah, losers, you suck. Kiss my ass”.

Indian culture, morality, our notions of religion, are all fast becoming the domain of a set of right-wing reactionaries. Instead of ensuring that such interference ceases immediately, or even engaging them in debate, of trying to get them to see our side of the picture, of asking them what gives them the authority to interfere with our lifestyle, all we do is send them chaddis- thus suggesting that we, the liberals, don’t think their viewpoint befits more than insults, not even when it manifests itself in ways so entirely unacceptable to us.

No one I’ve been able to speak to has given me an answer to this one, let’s hope the comments do.