Tavleen Singh writes: Bulldozing justice in Khargone

Let me start with a question. Would it be fair that the homes of police officers and law and order officials in khargon have their houses bulldozed? I ask the question because when violence breaks out in a public place, it is because the local administration is failing and must be held accountable. But instead of the torturous process of commissions of inquiry that take decades to deliver their verdict, wouldn’t it be better to punish officials without due process?

It is with this question in mind that we must look at the demolition of the homes and properties of those accused of rioting in Khargone. What happened was outrageous because it was a violation of the fundamental principles that govern the rule of law, but public outrage has been subdued by the voices of those who believe it serves the law of Muslims.

On social media, I heard jubilant “new” Indians celebrating what happened in Khargone. I engaged with them to emphasize that without the rule of law, democratic countries become autocracies and what prevails is the law of the jungle. And the response was that if the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh had waited to punish the rioters through due legal process, they would have gone unpunished for years. It’s true. And there’s a solution that’s so obvious that I feel silly repeating it here, but it clearly needs repeating.

The reason the justice system moves so slowly is that it is broken and badly in need of fixing. There are obvious reforms that can be made without effort. The most necessary of these, in my opinion, is to remove the ridiculous procedures that have existed since colonial times. An example that immediately comes to mind is that of Aryan Khan. The day he was released on bail, he could have been released from court in another country immediately. But not in India. Here he was taken back to the cell in which he was locked up for a month and had to wait another two days for the procedures for his release to be completed. Why do these procedures exist?

Why does it take the courts 20 years of deliberation before punishing those responsible for the bombings that killed nearly 300 people in Mumbai in 1993? Why do judges need to write short novels to render their judgements? Why do the police need thousands of words to lay charges that could be made in a few paragraphs? Why do lawyers succeed in delaying trials? Why is there no deadline for the end of trials? These are just some of the questions that need urgent answers, but the answer cannot be to establish the law of the jungle instead of the rule of law.

What we saw in Khargone was the law of the jungle. Madhya Pradesh’s home minister has defended what happened on the grounds that those who throw stones will have their homes reduced to stone. Well, what would he say to the old lady whose picture made the front page of this newspaper last week? Hasina Fakhroo is in her 60s and clearly too old to be a riot, but her house was reduced to rubble before she could prove it was built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.

The list of cases in which people have been punished without due process is long, and the list does not begin with the coming to power of Narendra Modi as the Congress Party would have us believe. An example of the supposedly benign era of Congress is that of Lalit Modi. All the cases that have been brought against him have been dismissed by the courts, but he was kicked out of India following a disgraceful media trial in which those responsible for upholding the rule of law played a villain role. Most recently, this happened in the Sushant Singh Rajput case where the media was manipulated by calculated leaks to turn his suicide into a murder case. A young woman’s life was destroyed by TV presenters who found her guilty on prime time. Should these anchors have their homes bulldozed? When should we stop using bulldozers?

Once we give the authorities the right to bulldoze the homes of suspected rioters and the right to seize the properties of suspected perpetrators, we establish the rule of the jungle. Once we allow income tax inspectors to search the homes of suspected tax evaders without proof that they evaded taxes, so do we. This is a practice that has gone on for too long.

What has changed since Narendra Modi took office is that one way or another, it is still Muslims who end up spending months in jail in bailable cases. It’s shameful that this happened to a comedian for a joke he hadn’t deciphered. It is shameful that student leaders and journalists, almost always Muslims, spend months in prison on generally dubious charges. Let us ask ourselves, then, what happens to a country in which senior political leaders and senior civil servants show utter disregard for the rule of law on the fallacious grounds that the justice process takes too long. The answer is that they are in flagrant violation of the Constitution of India, and the consequences are dire. When the rule of law is weakened, it weakens democracy because the rule of law must be sacrosanct in democratic countries.

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