Millennium Post

Of civil liberties

In an important judgment that will have far-reaching implications, the Supreme Court of India has declared that detention without trial curtails liberty and civil rights of citizens. Continuous detention without interim assessment amounts to state cruelty and the apex court is absolutely right to point out that vital but neglected aspect of Indian law. Even though the verdict has come in the wake of the unfair detention of a person under the Andhra Pradesh Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Dacoits, Drug Offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders and Land Grabbers Act , 1986, it might have enormous impact on the expansion of civil liberties for those held under Preventive Detention Act (1950), Prevention of Terrorism Act (2002), Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (1999), Armed Forces Special Powers Act (1958), among other draconian legal provisions. Detention without trial is malaise of our ineffectual and incompetent peno-legal system, a symptom of the military-industrial complex and a travesty of the slow-moving behemoth that is the judicial apparatus. In violence-affected territories like Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand, detention without trial has been wielded as an instrument of blind state power, second only to ruthless and often staged encounters by security forces. Amounting to blatant violation of human rights, detention without trial always works along existing axes of discrimination, subjecting people belonging to minority communities and religions to the harsh glare of state ire. Notwithstanding the fact that India has one of the lowest post-trial imprisonment rates in the world, with a bulging convict population and jails creaking under the growing pressure of inmates awaiting trial, our governments, both at central and state levels, have done little to curb the extensive powers of detention without trial. Although the number of detenus peaked during the Emergency years between 1975 and 1977, there are thousands of people, mostly poor Muslims and tribals, who are stuck in police custody on allegations of terrorism, whether Islamic or Naxal. It is imperative, therefore, to take wider cognisance of the Supreme Court judgment and see its ambit expanded to include graver and more oppressive laws.
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