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Sidetracking Constitution, officials 'throw' procedure established by law to winds

By Rosamma Thomas* 

Academic Rukmini Sen, a member of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies and a close friend of activist Teesta Setalvad, witnessed the arrest on June 25, just a day after the Supreme Court verdict in the Zakia Jafri case. Offering an account of the day’s events, she noted something peculiar – she had travelled with Setalvad to Ahmedabad, and was with her when she was produced before the magistrate. Even before the magistrate’s order was passed, there were news reports about it. And she received links to them on her phone while still at hospital with Setalvad.
According to Sen, when the magistrate asked if Setalvad would like to go through medical examination again, after that initial Covid test and examination at the Siddhi Vinayak Hospital, Ahmedabad, she responded that she would indeed like that – she was taken by evening to the Civil Hospital, where x-ray confirmed that there was no fracture. She had earlier said that she had been pushed to the wall in her Mumbai home, and been held and hurt by police personnel who barged into her bedroom. She was left with a big bruise on one arm.
Rukmini Sen mentions that the police attempted to take possession of Setalvad’s phones, without panchmama. She only got them back when she agreed not to use them. Police personnel then asked why she needed her phone at all, if she was not going to use it. Setalvad explained that it was a matter of protecting her privacy; besides, if the police were not going to use her phones, why would they need them?
One peculiarity that Rukmini Sen noted was the timing of the first news reports of the setting up of the Special Investigation Team to probe the conspiracy case against Setalvad and former police officers Sanjiv Bhatt and RB Sreekumar. “The Hindu’s” Mahesh Langa tweeted this information at 5.39 pm on June 26. ZeeNews website had a report even earlier, at 4.50 pm. Sen received links to these while she was still with Setalvad at hospital – the magistrate had not yet passed his order!
Poet Javed Akhtar (@Javedakhtarjadu) in a tweet on June 27 noted the unusually prompt action on the part of Gujarat Police: “Efficiency thy name is Gujarat police. The ink had not dried on the paper on which the verdict was written and they were at Teesta’s house with a long list of charges in perfect legal language. As if their sixth sense had told them the verdict much before it was given.”
Rukmini Sen
A trend of news reports and documents being made available to the media before the lawyers of the accused have access to them was noticed in the case of AltNews co-founder Mohammad Zubair, who was arrested two days later, on June 27, in Delhi, on charges of promoting enmity between religious groups. Republic TV was among the first to report that it had “accessed” Zubair’s remand copy – even his lawyer Vrinda Grover had not seen it until then, and mentioned in court that junior lawyers active on social media had downloaded it for her.
Officials who owe their allegiance to the Constitution, not the government of the day, are clearly throwing the procedure established by law to the winds.
Sociologist and scholar of human rights Kalpana Kannabiran, in a comment in “The Hindu” on June 30, 2022 remarks about the “struggle against impunity”: “The question that is foregrounded in Zakia Jafri’s case is not about the state — that is already in the realm of established facts. It is about the recovery of lost ground by constitutional courts. For the Constitution belongs equally, if not more, to the people. It is a shared commons. And “we the people” shall not be dispossessed of our Constitution so easily.”
But if the legislature, executive and judiciary are now all seriously compromised; if the professionalism of the armed forces is eroded; if the bureaucracy and the media have succumbed, where can victims of state violence turn for help?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
---
*Freelance journalist

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