at Ansal Plaza - Police must learn the law of life
-- By Rajindar Sachar
The mystery of the
Ansal Plaza shooting encounter continues to intrigue, despite the NDA
government's attempts to paper it over.
But the real mischief lies in the government's attempt to whip up a campaign
of calumny against human rights activists. The attempt here is to tar
them as sympathisers of terrorists just because relevant though uncomfortable
questions have been raised about the police version of the case. Not just
this, dangerous suggestions are being made that in dealing with terrorists
no rule of law is applicable.
Now no human rights activist has even remotely suggested that in real
encounters with terrorists, the police are not entitled to use arms and
even shoot to kill. It is even possible that innocent by-standers may
suffer casualties as a result. Regrettable though this may be, such exceptions
are understandable if the country is to counter the evil of terrorism.
But what is not permitted in any civilised state governed by the rule
of law is to kill a person in police custody, even if he is a terrorist.
Since neither the RSS nor government ideologues can call the Supreme Court
the "overground face of the underground", let them at least
heed what the apex court has said in the Basu case: "State terrorism
is no answer to combat terrorism. State terrorism would only provide legitimacy
to 'terrorism'. That would be bad for the State, the community, and above
all, for the Rule of Law. That the terrorist has violated human rights
of innocent citizens may render him liable for punishment but it cannot
justify the violation of his human rights except in the manner permitted
In another case brought by the PUCL against the State of Manipur, wherein
the police had killed two persons in its custody but falsely claimed it
an encounter killing, the Court warned that "this type of activity
cannot certainly be countenanced by the courts even in the case of disturbed
areas. If the police had information that terrorists were gathering at
a particular place and if they had surprised them and arrested them, the
proper course for them was to deal with them according to law. 'Administrative
liquidation' was certainly not a course open to them."
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, says "Everyone
has the right to life, liberty, security of person". Article 21 of
our Constitution guarantees the right to life and, according to the Supreme
Court, it has to be interpreted in conformity with the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights to which India is a signatory. Article 4
of the covenant permits in time of public emergency which threatens the
life of the nation, state parties to derogate from their obligations under
the covenant, but no derogation even in these circumstances is permitted
for Article 6, says, "every human being has the inherent right to
life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily
deprived of his life" (emphasis supplied).
The argument that in times of terrorism, human rights must take a second
place is answered graphically, by Malcolm Muggeridge, a former editor
of Punch, when he warned "the choice for us is between security and
freedom. And if we ever ceased to prefer the later, we should soon find
that we had nothing of any worth left to secure anyway". The Washington
Post in the aftermath of 9/11 wrote: "the country cannot allow terrorists
to alter the fundamental openness of US society or the Government's respect
for civil liberties".
The apprehension of fake encounter is not imaginary but a brutal reality.
Justice Pandian found that the alleged militants who were killed by the
local police and the security forces following the Chattisinghpora massacre
were in fact innocent civilians. The killing of businessmen in Delhi's
Connaught Place was sought to be explained as a case of mistaken identity,
Sikh pilgrims from Punjab were killed by the UP police, which had claimed
that they were terrorists. The CBI later found it to be a fake encounter.
To keep silent on such an issue is a sin.
Commitment to democracy and human rights is not a matter of convenience.
It is the very life blood of civilised nation like ours. It must never
be allowed to be violated by the state with impunity