Of Animals & Animal Rights.

Indian express on 29th January attributed following remarks to Supreme Court judge, Mr. Arijit Pasayat, made when speaking at a seminar hosted at Indian law institute, Delhi, on “Investigation and Prosecution of Offences relating to Terrorism” : He deplored “how human rights activists carry out protests and hold dharnas, if rights of Terror suspects are violated.”. “We speak of upholding human rights. What we are worried is violation of the rights of terrorists, the people who kill innocent people with AK-47 and AK-56 on streets, He (a terrorist) is not fit to be called a human. He’s an animal so what is required is animal rights”. News story attempted to show a rift in the Supreme Court with following opening remarks, ” In a clear departure from the view taken by Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan on the checks and balances needed to tackle terrorism, a senior judge of the Supreme Court today……….” I tried to search the website of Indian law institute for full text of the speech since I am wary of spins given by the media even to just sell the story. I found no references there. Assuming that above remarks have been at least faithfully reported even if out of context, then some serious questions do arise. A criminal is described as convict only when so proved in the law court, until then he remains a suspect. Distinction between a ‘terror-suspect’ & a person ‘convicted of terrorism’ should never be lost sight of. Police & other investigative agencies have often proved incompetent in successfully prosecuting criminals including terror accused. Ham handed & brutal ways they go about collecting ‘confessions’ & ‘evidence’ is legendary. Verdicts of superior judiciary on numerous occasions have castigated police on these issues & a division bench of Supreme Court felt compelled to lay down procedure police have to adopt while making arrests. Yet change on ground is at best laggard. Once this point is understood, it would not be hard to be persuaded to accept that ‘terror-suspect’ should be subject to same due process of law as accorded to other suspects. Otherwise thousands of more innocents will suffer more torture & injustice than before. There seems unending confusion over tough terror laws. If giving more powers to police to hold suspects in detention for longer duration without production before magistrate, accepting confessions extracted in police custody as evidence without corroboration, extended time for filing charge sheet, etc. means tough terror laws, then they seem designed to mollify public anger rather than to meet the ends of justice. More powers in the hands of the police would simply mean more of same callousness, brutality & inhuman treatment of suspected detainees. On the other hand if it means awarding exemplary punishment on conviction including death penalty, then it would find ready acceptance across all sections. Why police behave the way they do is a matter of separate scrutiny. Suffice it is to say that they too are in part victims of the system. If the aforesaid remarks were made only in the context of sole terrorist caught alive in Mumbai terror attacks, Ajmal Kasab, then different aspects need to be addressed. Many would feel that there is overwhelming evidence against him in the form of live TV footage from separate independent TV channels including some from abroad & therefore he should be held as a convict even before his trial begins. Others would say why even a trial is needed. Constitution we adopted & the various laws enacted under it provide the structure for governance & judicial process. No person shall be convicted & punished without following due process of law prescribed. Such niceties appear ludicrously inconvenient in the present case, but they are there to protect the freedom, rights & civil liberties of you & I when confronted with humungous powers of the state. So it is prudent to bear with this inconvenience rather than abridge the safeguard. It is a small price to pay. Once a fair trial is accepted for Kasab, then he has to be treated as terror suspect, nothing less nothing more. Trial would & should bring out conspiracy angle, modus operandi of planning – training – logistics & execution, local support network if any, financing & technical support, and so on. Punishing Kasab, who is only a small cog in the entire terror network & its promoters, though important to mete out justice, is still a tiny part of the whole picture on which peoples’ attention should remain focused. Should Kasab get a lawyer to defend him? Well, the criminal justice process mandates that he should have a lawyer to defend him unless he decides on self-defense. Some organizations have threatened ‘terror’ action against any lawyer who decides to accept Kasab’s brief unwittingly in the process resembling the terrorists they despise. Coming to the answer, I would unequivocally recommend a well argued article by Vishnu Shankar in IE of 13th January. Calling Kasab an animal is I feel casting an undeserved slur on the animal world. Rarely one would find ‘terrorists’ among animals save of course homo sapiens. By calling Kasab an animal may get reprieve from the ‘dreaded’ human rights activist, but then ‘deadlier’ animal rights activists will join the fracas.


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