By Sushil Kutty

Harassment is the name of the game, pure and unalloyed harassment. It is a dangerous game, driven by a vindictive streak. Arrest a person and slap charges on him/her, from the nasty to the draconian, and let life behind bars teach him/her a harsh lesson. Doesn’t matter how humiliating, only the odd prisoner will get a megaphone. And if it’s a woman, it’s hardly likely.

It is generally believed that “police custody” is the pits. Wrong! Behind bars in judicial custody is where torture reigns. When it is mental, serious damage is done to sanity. The prison environment is highly toxic. But if the system outside conspires with the system inside, the horrors can be endless even if only in the head.

In any system, the government holds the power, especially knowing that the police are more or less owned by governments. But, and this is a reality, with great power comes great responsibility, which the courts will educate with the student, always the citizen, not the government!

These days there is mounting evidence that certain state governments are using the police and harsh sections of the law, especially those related to sedition (124-A) and causing enmity between religious communities (153-A), to arrest and jail political rivals, and those others who were foolhardy to challenge governments with acts of defiance.

It doesn’t matter if the target is a common citizen, MP or MLA. It doesn’t matter if the rival is male or female. It doesn’t matter if the charges are trumped up. The police with chameleons like felicity will play along with the government. With power goes police loyalty. The police invariably is always the handmaiden of the party/alliance in power.

Take the sedition charge. The over 169 years old Section 124A is the favourite of governments in India to harass and teach a lesson to political rivals who are brash enough to challenge the might of the central or state government. In Uddhav Thackeray’s Maharashtra, for example, Section 124A is the tried and tested method; some might even say, the standard operating procedure.

As MLA Ravi Rana and his MP wife Navneet Rana are learning to their expense in two separate jails separated by 42 kilometres, the Byculla women’s jail in Mumbai and the Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai. Both were charged under Section 153 A and sent to 14 days’ judicial remand. But Section 124-A hangs over their heads. They face re-arrest the day they get bail in the 153-A case. And 124-A is non-bailable.

Even more laughable is the case of Gujarat’s Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani who tweeted his way into jail in far off Assam after being picked from Banaskanta in Gujarat and bundled off to Kokrajhar in Assam, all in a day’s work for the Assam Police.

Mevani was charged under a section of the IT Act. He was arrested for alleged defamatory tweets naming Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for which he was arrested and taken all the way to Assam. Incidentally, Mevani got bail, but was rearrested within minutes of his release, this time for allegedly molesting a woman police officer!

Surprisingly, Assam Chief Minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma said he was not aware of Mevani’s arrests and release and re-arrest. Unlike Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray who said MLA Ravi and MP Navneet Rana are in jail because the Shiv Sena knew how to deal with “dadagiri”.

The moot question whether “dadagiri’ or chanting the Hanuman Chalisa were tantamount to sedition remains unanswered. Governments in India appear to be in love with the Section 124-A, a law which should have been buried 20 feet under long ago, but remains to this day because governments in India are perpetually insecure, incapable of defending themselves without the bogey of sedition.

Mevani, who too is an independent MLA like Ravi Rana, has been arrested under Section 294 (obscene acts and songs in public place), Section 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), Section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), and Section 323 (voluntarily causing hurt).

The case looks and sounds “completely false and fabricated” but what can be done when the police forces are powers unto themselves. Mevani would have to go through the process till perhaps the courts take notice or the Assam police tires of playing the game.

The Barpeta court while granting bail to Mevani said, “I do not find reasonable ground to hold the accused in detention for the offence under Section 120 B/153 A. of IPC R/W Section 66 of the IT Act only for the sentence that Mr Narendra Modi worships and considers ‘Godse as God’,” the order said. “The IO (investigating officer) can proceed with this investigation even if the accused is released on bail.” But at the end of the day, brute power of the police prevailed. Obviously, with great power comes great responsibility, but not for any government. (IPA Service)

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