PUCL Bulletin, September 2002

Do we really adhere to the rule of law?

-- By Sudha Ramalingam

We as a nation are proud of being a great Democratic nation, guided by a Constitution, which declares India to be a Secular, Socialistic Republic. We are governed by the rule of law. Law is supreme and the most fundamental of the rights conferred is 'equality before law' and 'equal protection of law'. On paper, theoretically, we have wonderful laws, the civil society seem to be ruled by a democratically elected body of politicians, functioning with the able guidance of highly qualified bureaucrats and an independent judiciary, with of course the fourth estate acting being an agency to check and balance the three wings of legislature, bureaucracy and judiciary with the freedom of press being a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution.

In reality do we really adhere to the rule of law? We are a nation with hypocrites at the helm of affairs and innocent gullible as its subjects. When the Supreme Court comes out with suggestions for election reforms giving the electorate the freedom to know the criminal antecedents of the candidates contesting for elections, the politicians, of all shades including the dogmatic Communists join hands to see that such reforms are not accepted. With hundreds of members of legislatures and parliament facing criminal prosecutions at various stages of investigation or trial it is a farce to talk of a nation ruled by committed men of excellence. When the PUCL-TN & Pondy led a major campaign called 'Citizens Campaign for Clean Elections' during the assembly elections in 1996 and called upon voters to not to waste their vote and to vote for the right candidate in their respective constituency, the constant question asked by average voters was, "whom do we vote for? We do not find a single good candidate among the contestants." Such is the state of affairs in our country that as on date no right thinking person is willing to risk his life to plunge into politics. Politics has become the refuge of scoundrels, black marketers, corrupt and the mean to wield influence and for personal aggrandizement.

While in the western countries there is an emphasis on personal purity of life for their leaders, in India it is conspicuous by its absence. In a relatively free and promiscuous society such as the United States, the President was hounded by the press and taken seriously by the judiciary when he was found to have had an extra marital affair. Whereas in India, our leaders are law unto themselves. In Tamil Nadu, our Tamil God Lord Muruga has two wives, so do almost all our political leaders. Our ex-chief ministers openly flouted with more than a wife, taking one wife to one function and another to yet another function. The State police provided security and spent on the two establishments of our ministers including the Chief Minister. Police officers are not merely bigamous but subject the women police constabulary (which has grown in size thanks to Jayalalithaa's zeal to have more women police) as their chattel. The judiciary is not above board, there have been abundant rumours about the adulterous and extravagant lives led by the judges from the lower to the highest judicial officers.

The lack of respect for rule of law is seen in all walks of life. For want of space and time only a few are dealt with herein. Day in and day out we read reports of the police not registering complaints for various reasons. Though it is mandatory that the police has to register complaints where ever it is preferred and then transfer it to the concerned police station which has jurisdiction to receive the same, it is not done. The complainant is made to run form one station to another or one officer to another to just register a complaint. In a case of rape by an I.A.S. officer the victim went to the Superintendent of Police (SP) within whose jurisdiction she lived to prefer a complaint. She was asked to go and prefer the complaint to his superior Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) by the SP. The DIG in turn asked her to go to Chennai about 400 k.m. away and prefer the complaint to the Commissioner of Police (CoP) as the offence was committed in Chennai. The CoP in turn after reading the complaint and hearing the complainant's plight, sends her to the Additional CoP, he in turn tossed her to the Asst. CoP, she in turn sends her to the All Woman's Police Station to report before the Inspector therein. On 12th July 2002 the New Indian Express reported two different cases of cheating and kidnapping. Cheating was a case wherein a jewellery shop owner of Coimbatore was cheated in Chennai to the tune of rupees four lakhs by his employee and others who came in uniform posing as police men after the deal was over and informed the jeweller to come to Triplicane police station wherein the others were being taken along with the money and the jewels seized.

When the jeweler went to the said police station he knew that he was cheated. He was asked to prefer a complaint in the Vepery police station within which limits the said crime was said to be committed. In the incident of kidnapping a junior lawyer was kidnapped in Vellore, when his senior preferred a complaint in a Vellore police station, they have refused to register the case. These are the tip of the ice berg. Almost all police refuse to register crimes many times even grave cognizable offences are only taken up without registering it and conduct an informal search, seizure and distribution depending on the benefit they would get. Victims of chain snatching and robbery in Tamil Nadu, are compensated by the police by distributing portions of gold ingots (got from various accused at different scenes of occurrence) in proportion to the clout the victim wields within their officialdom and asked to make some chain or other jewellery said to be lost and then shown as articles recovered from the accused and in turn returned through Court - i.e. under due process of law!
D.K. Basu or Section 160 Criminal Procedure Code or any other judgment or laws are nothing for the police. Powers of arrest are abused to the maximum by the police. Almost every day the police violate the above and arrests persons without adhering to norms set out by the Supreme Court in the D.K. Basu case. Women are being taken to police stations contravening the provisions of Section 160 Cr.P.C. which says that no woman and child below 14 years should be taken to police station to gather evidence as witnesses. Torture in any form is prohibited in law. But the police wields lathis with impunity. The custodial violence has gone beyond description, rape, molestation, murder are all becoming common occurrences in police custody.

Medical profession has become worse. No government hospital entertains patients with injuries with out being accompanied by a police memo and escorted by a police officer classifying injured to be 'medico-legal cases'. The private doctors are even worse they blindly refuse to take such patients. Injured victims of any brutal assault or even a motor accident has to be shunted from doctor to doctor or hospital to hospital even for emergency treatments just as the complainant is tossed from one police station to another. The injuries are not noted down scrupulously and valuable evidence is lost because of the neglect and lethargy of the medical profession. We have case of gang rape in which the vaginal swab was not sent for forensic examination and the victims were acquitted by the trial court for want of medical evidence.

With the uniform civil code available only in the Constitution, religion has been one of the major players in subjugating women and pegging them down as second class citizens and perpetuating inequalities. Female infanticide and feticide have become common phenomenon in many parts of India. The Tamil Nadu State Women's Commission conducted a 'Public Hearing' into this problem on 11th July 2002. 32 women came and deposed before the said hearing about having lost their female issue due to the prevalent practice of female infanticide and feticide. The said hearing also showed how the dowry prohibition law, the Pre Natal Diagnostic (Regulation and Prevention of Abuse) Act, has been obeyed only in the breach.

Courts have become places where we get anything but justice. Justice delayed is justice denied is only on paper. It is common knowledge that it takes years before getting any adjudication on litigations. The rampant corruption at all levels of judiciary is mind boggling. The judiciary is also very intolerant towards criticism. Aruntathi Roy's case of punishment for contempt is a classical example for such intolerance. There is no attempt to cleanse the judiciary. The background lobbying which is going on for elevating the most corrupt elements in the bar and the district judiciary are nauseating.

From the ordinary traffic constable to the man driving a bicycle on the road, the pedestrian to the richest all of us as Indian have one psyche to bend the law, cross the barricades, whether it be on the road or in any other walk of life to carve out short cuts for them to pass through and a psyche to justify their wrongs with a expectation only for others to follow the law and wait for the day when all other subject themselves to the rule of law so that they could follow suit. Thus we will constantly be waiting for the dawn when we would really be ruled by LAW!

It is only in this context that the civil society has to wake up and as an organization committed to the rule of law by promoting civil liberties and democratic notions organizations like PUCL has an important and inevitable role to play to garner together the honest, good and non-corrupt and give them the courage, forum and encouragement to really establish the Rule of Law.

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