Justice Markandey Katju: My letter to Speaker Om Birla on the Parliament security breach

Justice Markandey Katju

By Justice Markandey Katju–

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

This is my letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on pardoning the young people involved in the security breach in Parliament on December 13.

To Hon’ble Om Birla
Speaker, Lok Sabha
New Delhi
December 14, 2023

Respected Om Birlaji,

I write to you with a plea for mercy to the young folks (probably all students or unemployed youth) who entered the Lok Sabha on December 13, 2023 and created pandemonium.

I learned from online media reports that four of them have been arrested and charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) which carries a punishment of up to seven years in prison, vide section 13. During police interrogation, they said they were protesting against unemployment, Manipur incidents, farmers’ distress, etc.

They did not have any weapons on them, and the gas they used was not harmful. It is evident that they were not terrorists or ordinary criminals, but were only protesting for social causes (though their manner of protest was certainly not correct).

Lord Denning’s book ‘The Due Process of Law’

In this connection I may narrate to you an incident which happened in England, and has been referred to by Lord Denning, the celebrated British judge, in his book ‘The Due Process of Law’.

It appears that some Welsh students were enthusiastic about their language, and they were upset that radio programs broadcast to Wales were in English, not Welsh. They came to London and invaded the High Court.

They were found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to prison for three months by the High Court judge. They filed an appeal before the Court of Appeals.

Allowing the appeal, Lord Denning observed:

“I come now to Mr. Watkin Powell’s third point. He says that the sentences were excessive. I do not think they were excessive at the time they were given and in the circumstances then existing. Here was a deliberate interference with the course of justice in a case which was no concern of theirs. It was necessary for the judge to show — and to show to all students everywhere — that this kind of thing cannot be tolerated.

“Let students demonstrate, if they please, for the causes in which they believe. Let them make their protests as they will. But they must do it by lawful means and not by unlawful. If they strike at the course of justice in this land — and I speak both for England and Wales — they strike at the roots of society itself, and they bring down that which protects them.

“It is only by the maintenance of law and order that they are privileged to be students and to study and live in peace. So let them support the law and not strike it down.

“But now what is to be done? The law has been vindicated by the sentences which the judge passed on Wednesday of last week. He has shown that law and order must be maintained, and will be maintained. But on this appeal, things are changed. These students here no longer defy the law. They have appealed to this court and shown respect for it. They have already served a week in prison. I do not think it necessary to keep them inside it any longer.

“These young people are no ordinary criminals. There is no violence, dishonesty or vice in them. On the contrary, there was much that we should applaud. They wish to do all they can to preserve the Welsh language. Well may they be proud of it. It is the language of the bards — of the poets and the singers — more melodious by far than our rough English tongue. On high authority, it should be equal in Wales with English.

“They have done wrong, very wrong, in going to the extreme they did. But, that having been shown, I think we can, and should, show mercy on them. We should permit them to go back to their studies, to their parents and continue the good course which they have so wrongly disturbed.”
[Vide : Morris Vs. Crown Office, (1970) 2 Q.B.]

In my opinion, Mr Speaker, you should display the same wisdom as displayed by Lord Denning. Youth sometimes commit indiscretions, which are often condoned by elders. After all, youth will be youth. What these youth did was not such a serious offense like murder, dacoity or rape, and hence a lenient view should be taken by you in the matter.

These youth have been charged under the harsh UAPA which carries a punishment of up to seven years jail for unlawful activities, vide section 13. Section 2(o) of the UAPA defines an ‘unlawful activity’ as follows:

“Unlawful activity, in relation to an individual or association, means any action taken by such individual or association (whether by committing an act or by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representation or otherwise),— (i) which is intended, or supports any claim, to bring about, on any ground whatsoever, the cession of a part of the territory of India or the secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union, or which incites any individual or group of individuals to bring about such cession or secession; or (ii) which disclaims, questions, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India; or (iii) which causes or is intended to cause disaffection against India.”

These youth have clearly not committed any ‘unlawful activity’ as defined in the UAPA. They have not done anything to bring about cession of any part of the territory of India, or done anything to disrupt the territorial integrity of India. or cause disaffection for India. They have only advocated some social causes, for which in fact they may be applauded.

I therefore respectfully submit that you should call them to your office, offer them a cup of tea and some snacks, and tell them that while one can understand their motivation, their method of expressing it was not acceptable.

You should then let them off, withdraw the charges against them, but with a stern warning that while they can hold lawful protests, a repetition of what they did will not be condoned.

Justice Markandey Katju

Former Judge, Supreme Court of India

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