Minister Praises Gujarat Public Flogging But Where is the Rule of Law, Ask Legal Experts

Lamenting the "sad state of affairs", the experts noted that it is incumbent upon the state machinery to uphold the rule of law and ensure the officers responsible for the incident are held to account.

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New Delhi: The Gujarat police may have ordered an inquiry into the plain-clothes policemen in Kheda district seen publicly flogging Muslim men accused of stone-pelting but the cops in question have been praised by Gujarat’s minister of state for home, Harsh Sanghavi, for doing “a nice job”.

Since a video showing at least four men being held against an electricity pole and flogged amidst cheers by the village locals went viral, multiple reports have identified that police officials involved in the incident as being from the Local Crime Branch (LCB).

While the state’s director general of police (DGP) Ashish Bhatia informed the media that an inquiry had been ordered into the incident, activist Mujahid Nafees from rights organisation, the Minority Co-ordination Committee (MCC), sent legal notices to the chief secretary, DGP and other state authorities through his lawyer Anand Yagnik.

Nafees, on behalf of his organisation, demanded that an independent inquiry be conducted, citing reasons of fairness and impartiality.

Speaking to The Wire, Yagnik said, “The Supreme Court itself has observed, ‘Who will police the police?’ We demanded a judicial inquiry by a retired high court judge who will not be chosen by the government but chosen by the Chief Justice of the Gujarat high court.”

“We don’t trust the police because without their permission, this incident wouldn’t have happened in the first place,” Yagnik continued. “The video also shows a large crowd of locals gathered there, cheering on the incident. What was the police doing?”

While Yagnik and his client push for an inquiry by a retired high court judge, “selected by the high court’s Chief Justice, not by the state’s home minister or chief minister”, state home minister Harsh Sanghavi “thanked” the police for their actions, and “expressed gratitude” for their purportedly keeping people ‘safe’ during Navratri.

Also read: Gujarat: 7 Hurt After Fight Over Location of Garba Event; Cops Thrash Suspects In Full Public View

Meanwhile, legal experts have also expressed shock and dismay over the incident. Former Bombay high court judge, Justice Abhay Thipsay rued, “Where is the rule of law in all this? It is a direct affront to the rule of law.”

Noting that it was incumbent upon the government and state machinery to “do the needful and ensure that the rule of law prevails,” he pointed out that the State Human Rights Commission could take suo-motu action if it wanted to.

“Law enforcement agencies seem to hardly care for the rule of law, that is evident from such incidents,” Justice Thipsay added. “It’s a very sad state of affairs. These are not new incidents anymore; I’ve seen many such incidents where initially there is some public uproar and then an inquiry is ordered. But ultimately, by the time the result of this inquiry are made public, most people have forgotten about the matter.”

“Initially, one used to get shocked, like in the case of police extra-judicial encounters. Now there is an acceptance that an encounter is an illegal thing, but even then there is no public outrage. In fact, on the contrary, many still believe that is the right way to deal with offenders,” Justice Thipsay lamented. “There is a necessity of educating people about what the rule of law is, why there is due process, why one cannot simply punish someone like this.”

“Forget about common people actually, first the police and agencies need to be made aware of why ideas like the rule of law exist,” Justice Thipsay added.

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde concurred. Lamenting the absence of the rule of law, he said, “Publicly administered violence by state or non-state actors, in the presence and with the approval of uniformed policemen, is proof that the rule of law has ceased to work in the state concerned.”

Retired Delhi high court judge, Justice Jaspal Singh expressed his “shock” at how “citizens being attacked and flogged brutally by not only fellow citizens, but also by men in uniform whose duty is to maintain law and order.”

Emphasising that this was not “the solitary instance of brutal physical attacks on Muslims”, he rued that “they have not been spared even within the police stations.”

Although the men were accused of pelting stones at a garba event, NDTV reported that so far, police had found no video-evidence of the stone-pelting incident.

“Such violent physical attacks and open-hatred towards Muslims may lead to disastrous social consequences,” Justice Singh added. “Not just this video, the truth is that the state, its law and order machinery, and quite often even the judiciary, is failing to protect them. The future appears to be bleak, barren and ominous.”