State lawlessness in India

Justice Markandey Katju-

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.

One of the most important functions of the state is to maintain law and order and uphold the rule of law. However, what is being witnessed in India is lawlessness, and violation of the rule of law, not so much by ordinary people but by the state authorities, or state-backed and inspired vigilante groups. This is reminiscent of what happened in much of Europe during Nazi rule when there was no rule of law but the arbitrary rule of the Gestapo.
In my article ‘Matsya Nyaya is coming in India’ published in I have explained the concept of Matsya Nyaya ( literally law of the fishes ) or the law of the jungle, developed by our ancient thinkers, who were of the view that it is the worst state of affairs possible in society.
Consider the following :
1. The Indian Constitution declared India to be a democracy. In a democracy, people have a right to criticize the government or laws which they feel are unjust. But in India criticism of the government or the laws often results in being arrested on charges of sedition or the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and being kept in jail for long periods.
 For instance, Dr. Khafeel Khan, Safoora Zargar, etc were arrested and kept in jail for a long period only for criticizing the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Recently, in Manipur the journalist Kishorechand Wangkhem and an activist were arrested for saying that cow dung and cow urine do not cure corona.
Many more such examples can be given.
2. Fake police ‘encounters’ are a total violation of the rule of law, for what happens in them is that the police arrests someone and just bumps him off by a bullet. The law requires that before punishing an alleged criminal a trial must be held, giving the accused an opportunity of hearing according to the Criminal Procedure Code. Also, the punishment must be awarded only by the court, not by the police or any executive authority.
All these legal requirements are simply brushed aside in a fake encounter, and such ‘encounters’ often happen nowadays, e.g. in the state of UP where they appear to have become state policy ( as they were in Punjab in the 1980s ).
An example of this is the bumping off of Vikas Dubey.
3. Atrocities on minorities are of common occurrence, though India professes to be a secular state. Lynching of Muslims are frequent, e.g. of Ikhlaque, Tabrez Ansari, Pehlu Khan, etc.
4. The handling of the case of the alleged rape of a Dalit girl by several upper caste youths in Hathras by the state authorities shows the extent of the deep rot which has set in, and the total collapse of the rule of law, in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh. Even the body of the victim was not handed over to her relatives but was allegedly cremated by the police.
5. Poor people like the adivasis ( tribals ) in Chattisgarh who raise their voice against oppression and exploitation are often branded as ‘maoists and arrested for sedition and other crimes.
In these dark times, therefore, it was heartening to hear the speech of the present Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramanna, in his recent Justice P.D.Desai Memorial lecture, in which he emphasized on the rule of law, and added that the polls are no guarantee against the tyranny of the elected.
But these were only words. What matters are deeds. Will the Indian judiciary rise to the occasion and order the release of the large number of people who have been wrongly arrested and jailed? Will it check the executive which of late have been behaving like autocrats? Will it enforce the fundamental rights of the people in our Constitution, particularly the right to life and liberty in Article 21, the most precious of all rights? Only time will tell.