By Johan Sequeira
"It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer", - Blackstone’ s Principle
The Supreme Court of India in the matter of Dr Subash Kashinath Mahajan versus State of Maharashtra held inter-alia that "Thus, there is no dilution of any provision of the SC/ST Act relating to compensation, trial, punishment or otherwise. The order only safeguards abuse of power of arrest or of false implication of an innocent without in any manner affecting the rights of the members of the SC/ST, as rightly submitted by learned amicus." This was in reply to the urgent review petition filed by the centre in the same matter. That the Centre filed the review on extraneous reasons is a theorem that is not too far fetched. This was quite evident in the course of proceedings in the matter.
"The judgment has mentioned a specific period of one week for the preliminary inquiry in respect of offences under the Atrocities Act. In other cases (cases under the IPC), it may even be 15 minutes or 1 hour," the bench remarked. "We are not against any complainant or the Act (of 1989), the judgment only ensures that no one is deprived of their rights and that there is no terror for the innocent, under the Act of 1989, there is no forum or provision of any pre-arrest scrutiny, if there is an apprehension, there should be no difficulty in verifying before putting a person behind the bars."
The Act of 1989 does not say that innocent persons may be implicated falsely, the judgment also does not say this, there is no conflict between the two, the fundamental right of an innocent individual cannot be taken away without reasonable proof and valid proceedings. Also the bench was prudent enough to clarify the government’s misplaced carping that "Some filter was needed, and when we said ‘abuse’, we did not mean abuse by the persons belonging to the SC/ST classes; we meant abuse by the police or some private individual for some vested interest". Finally, the bench reiterated, "The string of directions issued in the impugned judgment would not adversely affect the payment of compensation under the existing statutory framework. Further, in case of offences under substantive laws other than the Act of 1989, such as murder, there may be no preliminary enquiry."
Now why is it that subsequent to what can be termed as a prudent, constitutionally sound 'Landmark judgement' there were widespread riots which led to the death of many people across India? The blame can be largely attributed to the habitual offenders, the pack of people who still follow the time tested archaic colonial maxim of 'Divide and Rule'.
This is evident going by some of the tweets of the political leaders of today. "To keep the Dalits at the lowest level of the Indian society is in the DNA of BJP/RSS. Whosoever tries to raise his voice is violently suppressed. Thousands of Dalit brothers and sisters have taken to the streets against the Modi government demanding the protection of their rights. We salute them," the Congress party president tweeted in Hindi encouraging widespread riots while fallaciously asserting that the central government had some kind of say in a ruling of the courts of law. Another upcoming stalwart of the maxim mentioned above the AAP party president tweeted, "Under the situation resulting due to Supreme Court's decision on SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, AAP is with the movement of SC/ST community. Central government should deploy top lawyers for the petition in the Supreme Court and the need and fundamental intent of the Act should be preserved," making it clear that he had not read a single page of the impugned judgement before he decided to share his often apologetic illusions and it is all but obvious that the ruling party not to be left far behind in this simmering pot of 'Much Ado about Nothing' filed this misplaced review petition making it clear that the potential to get votes from a particular community was far more important to them than to protect a citizen's constitutionally enshrined right of life and liberty.
That the hypocrisy and fear mongering of the government was prima facie evident in the submissions of the amicus curae Amarendra Sharan who said, "A review is to be allowed when there is a patent error apparent on the face of a judgment, it was the submission of the Union itself that there has been abuse of the power of arrest and that advisories had been issued in that regards. Hence, the expression ‘acknowledged abuse of law of arrest’ in the judgment. Now the government is itself challenging the directions." A stinging consolidation of this fact was that two directive circulars were issued in May 2007 to the UP police to exercise caution and restraint in complaints pertaining to the SC/ST Act by the then newly elected government of a lady SC/ST Chief Minister who has habitually proclaimed herself as a messiah of sorts for these communities. Thus it was quite apparent that their Lordships in all their wisdom dictated a judgement that would consolidate societal realities and reaffirm the solemnity of the fundamental right of life and liberty of a citizen of India. It is worth a mention here that this was the same Bench that upheld a similar ratio in cases of 498a (matrimonial cruelty) to protect innocent husbands and their family members.
In wrapping up this article it is incumbent upon me that I reiterate the concept of Blackstones principle so that readers understand the solemnity of the maxim of averring on the side of caution so that an innocent man is not punished. To do so I fallback on the wise observations of the tome [Jami'] of at-Tirmidhi, quotes Prophet Muhammad as saying, "Avoid legal punishments as far as possible, and if there are any doubts in the case then use them, for it is better for a judge to err towards leniency than towards punishment" and the book of Genesis which observes "Abraham drew near, and said, 'Will you consume the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous within the city? Will you consume and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it? What if ten are found there?' He [The Lord] said, "I will not destroy it for the ten's sake".
About the Author
Johan Sequeira is an engineer by vocation and a men's rights activist by avocation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.