Justice Markandey Katju-
Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.
The outrageous and illegal arrest of Disha Ravi, Dr Kafeel Khan, Safoora Zargar, and many others, including Indian media persons, who legitimately exercised their Constitutional democratic right of freedom of speech and expression and criticized the government, makes it incumbent on the people of the country to set up People’s Courts.
These dastardly, fascist acts are done shamelessly by the police, on instructions of their political masters, with impunity, and with the Indian judiciary, the much flaunted ’Custodians of the Constitution’ and ‘Guardians of the Rights of the People’ usually turning Nelson’s eye on them, and behaving like Bheeshma Pitamah who saw the disgraceful, public disrobing of Draupadi, but did nothing ( see my article ‘All the times the Supreme Court turned Nelson’s eye to injustice’ published in thewire.in ).
These People’s Courts will not be set up by Parliament or the state legislatures, but by the people themselves, using their creativity. They must try the policemen who authorize and carry out these illegal arrests and detentions, as well as their political masters who gave them such orders, and then award them harsh punishment, to be executed in the manner the people themselves decide.
There is no other way to stop these brazen official atrocities and illegalities.
India professes to be a democracy, and its Constitution declares it to be so, with freedom of speech, individual liberty, equality, religious freedom, and secularism all ‘guaranteed’ by Part III, the chapter relating to fundamental rights of the people.
But what is the ground reality today? In my article ‘Why celebrate Republic Day when the Constitution has become a scarecrow’ published in theweek.in I have stated that the Indian Constitution now exists only on paper, and all rights of the people are now non-existent.
In Romesh Thapar vs State of Madras, 1950, a decision given by the Supreme Court a few months after the promulgation of the Constitution, it was held that in a democracy people had the right to criticize the government. But what is the situation in India today? Today even the slightest criticism of the government is dangerous and may lead to arrest and incarceration in jail for long periods on trumped-up charges of sedition, etc, ( with the judiciary doing nothing about it ), as explained in my articles ‘The litmus test for free speech’ published in thehindu.com, ‘Bhima Koregaon–A 1925 US case has some lessons for the Supreme Court’ published in thewire.in, ‘Sharjeel Imam’s speech is not a crime’ published in theweek.in, ‘The right to criticize–the sedition judgment on Kishorechandra Wangkhem’ published in thehindu.com, ‘Kafeel Khan’s detention under NSA is illegal’ published in the wire.in, ‘An odd pitch to curb freedom of speech’ published in thehindu.com, etc.
What was Disha Ravi’s ‘crime’? That she used a toolkit in support of the present ongoing Indian farmers’ agitation. But such toolkits are commonplace in social media during agitations and protests all over the world, and surely can be used in a democracy.
The question, however, is whether India is still a democracy, as it professes to be, or whether it has descended to the Dark Ages, as happened to Germany in 1933 when Hitler and the Nazis came to power. The answer is before us all to see.