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Whither pride in India being mature democracy? Cases against Arundhati Roy, Medha Patkar

By Bharat Dogra* 

In a recent article, ‘When the Process is The Punishment’, former judge of the Supreme Court of India Justice Madan B Lokur has made some comments on the cases against the renowned writer Arundhati Roy and reputed social activist Medha Patkar which deserve wide attention.
Justice Lokur starts his article by quoting a statement made by the Chief Justice of India in 2022, “In our criminal justice system, the process is the punishment.” He then describes the case against Arundhati Roy in the following words:
“Arundhati Roy gave a speech in 2010, perhaps objectionable, according to some. In June this year, that is 14 years after her speech, the Lt. Governor of Delhi gave sanction for her prosecution under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. All these years, the prosecutor’s sword was hanging over her head. Consider this in the context of time. Life imprisonment is 20 years of prison in some states and 14 years in others.
"In a sense Roy has undergone the equivalent of life imprisonment under the prosecutor’s sword. This is nothing but the process being the punishment, as the CJI tells us. But the tragic reality is that her troubles are just beginning. Her trial hasn’t begun; in fact even the charge-sheet does not appear to have been filed (at the time of writing). Knowing how our justice system functions, if she is arrested now under the draconian law, it’s curtains as far as her personal liberty is concerned.”

Keeping in view what this learned former judge has stated and the statement of the CJI he has quoted, isn’t there a strong case for withdrawing the case against the famous author, also considering that a very healthy convention of all mature democracies has been to avoid initiating legal proceedings against writers unless extremely serious violations of law or harm to public interest are involved.
Justice Lokur
Even very senior leaders of countries like the USA, UK and Germany generally simply ignore when some very angry, even clearly unjustified statements against them are made by renowned authors, as it is not considered democratically correct to send an author to prison just because of a statement or two.
Coming next to the case involving Medha Patkar, Justice Lokur has stated that this is even worse. He writes:
“Worst still is the case of Medha Patkar. She has recently been convicted of criminal defamation for something she said against some gentleman in 2001 -- that is 23 years ago (equivalent to more than one-and-a-half life sentences).”
There is likely to be an appeal against this, so the case appears like to continue.
The learned judge has further raised the question that should not her sufferings over a very long period of the legal battle be an important matter of consideration?
These questions and issues raised by such a senior and highly learned former judge of the Supreme Court deserve attention. Many people including those in leadership roles take pride in India being a mature democracy and so this should also be reflected in decisions regarding renowned writers and social activists who have been honoured at national and international levels.
Any mature democracy may find several people disagreeing with its most famous writers and activists but they would never like to see them in prison even if they have made the mistake of saying something unjustified once in a while. Showing all the maturity of leaders of mature democracies, complainants in such cases should withdraw these cases.
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now, has received several prestigious journalism awards

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