By Mohd. Naushad Khan
In legal corridor, it is generally said that “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied,” and “Justice hurried is Justice Buried.” The culture of instant justice has not only bulldozed the due process of law but also the rule of law and is likely to erode people’s faith in judicial system. It is not only dangerous for people, but also likely to set a dangerous precedent before our judiciary and justice delivery mechanism.
Bulldozer culture is a clear manifestation of open hostility to the rule of law. It is also an act that puts the judiciary in jeopardy. In this sense, bulldozer is a democratic representation of authoritarianism. It has evolved into a new form of instant justice, but can it meet the fundamental modalities of natural justice?
Bulldozer culture nowadays looks to be an outgrowth of a deep-seated hatred for minorities. The big concern is whether fast bulldozer justice will jeopardise a victim’s constitutional rights. Also, why are victims, and in some cases innocents, treated as suspects in the bulldozer judicial system? What does this mean for our democracy, democratic institutions, and the rule of law? Bulldozing selectively and prejudicially is likely to erode and destroy the diversity of our cultural identities. It has the potential to destroy our faith in the justice system, the rule of law, and due process of law.
According to Sanjay Hegde, a senior Supreme Court lawyer, “Demolition of property for violations of municipal building rules, only happens after a long judicial process. There is currently no provision in law, where a suspect’s property can be demolished, without a trial finding him guilty. In fact, there is no provision of demolition, even after a finding of guilt.”
On the recent extra-judicial demolition, John Dayal, a noted social and human rights activist, said, “The demolition of the home of activist Afreen Fatima, owned by her homemaker mother, and indeed the use of the bulldozer by the governments of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and the threats by other BJP-run state administrations is an act against the concept of constitutional democracy and rule of law. In its brutality, severity and targeting of essentially Muslim protestors and civil society leaders, it is far more vicious than actions by Mr Sanjay Gandhi and others during the state of Emergency declared by the then prime minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi in 1975.”
He added, “The extra constitutional centres of authority in the Emergency cleared slums and areas with minority populations they thought were coming in the way of their beautification programmes for the national capital and other metropolitan areas. While there was a sub text of targeting of Muslims in the Old City of Delhi, the administration of the time housed every resident of a bulldozed slum in resettlement colonies that were set up in various parts of the city. Forty years later, these colonies are busy mini townships in their own right.”
“The use of the bulldozer by UP chief minister Ajay Bisht and MP chief ministers, and the Mayor of the now dissolved South Delhi Municipal Corporation and its threat by others introduced is yet another element of tyranny and coercion in the current wave of what can only be called punishing the Muslim community,” said Dayal.
On the motive behind bulldozer culture, he said, “It fulfils multiple agenda. It intimidates the Muslim community, criminalises its protests and political activity effectively disenfranchising them, and it neutralizes its leadership, especially its educated youth and students. Secondly it sends out a message to other religious and ethnic minorities such as Christians that this fare can also befall them.
“And thirdly but as important is the message it sends to the majority community that it is well on its way to a Hindu Rashtra where political and economic power and social action will be strictly in the hands of the Sangh Parivar and those who follow it dictates. It therefore also seeks to attack and confine a civil society which is largely composed of Hindu sane elements, students, teachers and intellectuals.
“It has bid goodbye to the rule of law, to due process, and to the rights of the people. Even ordinary municipal law, much less a politically biased UAPA or such like, demands that notices be served, replies accepted, and there be a space to settle the matter through fines instead of demolitions.”
Dayal further opined, “Right from Delhi to any metropolitan town, we have seen how political forces usurp public land for religious activity, temples, and even larger institutional structures. Politicians expand their homes far beyond their boundaries. Most public places in Delhi, for instance, are taken over by Sangh connected persons or groups. Personally I think the greatest tragedy in this entire process is what can be called the helplessness of the Supreme Court and the high courts, or their acceptance of the political reality. There has been no suo motu action by the judiciary so far against this police-judge-jury-executioner role that chief ministers have assumed.”
Govind Mathur, former Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, in an interview with Arfa Khanum Sherwani told The Wire, “Even if we were to be believe that Javed Mohammad was a part of any protest, even if there could be participation in any criminal activity, a crackdown of this sort cannot be done under the rule of law.”
According to Justice Mathur, “If Mohammad was a suspect, a case would need to be lodged and evidence collected. And only if he was found guilty could the question of punishment arise. In any case, punishment as envisaged by the Indian Penal Code takes only two forms – imprisonment and a monetary fine, he said, adding that there was no scope for the family’s home to be demolished. “If this sort of thing goes on [in Uttar Pradesh], there will be no need for law, or police. This is entirely arbitrary.”
Justice Mathur also said, “Any demolition could only take place once proper procedures have been followed. “Even if there is to be a demolition, first the encroachment needs to be identified. If it is about construction that has not followed the proposed plan, municipal laws are in place to ensure illegality, if any, can be compounded [by the payment of a penalty].”