Guilty until proven innocent? It doesn’t end there for some
Derided by the media and under pressure to show results following the series of terror attacks in the country, the security establishment recently announced a number of arrests relating to the explosions in Ahmedabad and Bangalore and the earlier ones in Jaipur.
While it is praiseworthy that the police acted comparatively quickly this time in tracing the culprits, it later turned out that some of those arrested, whose names the media had readily released, had no involvement in the dastardly acts.
But the damage had already been done, as a ‘suspect’ told a newspaper after his release: “I will have to live with a ‘terrorist’ tag for the rest of my life.” Anwar Hussein, a doctor, said his family now faces abuses from neighbours and customers are avoiding his family’s business of iron work in his native village.
Rashid Hussain, an IT professional, said he was sacked by his employers following his arrest, even though he was released after eight days in detention.
Muslim organizations and rights groups have cried foul over the arrests, complaining that the detentions were ‘illegal’ and a violation of human rights. Indian law requires detainees to be provided a legal counsel and brought before a magistrate within 24 hours, which did not happen in this case, like many others before.
While special laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) allows authorities to detain suspects for longer periods, the detainees in this case were not charged with anything. But while many say the authorities acted ‘illegally’, experts say it is a grey area, as there is a provision in the law book which allows the police to arrest someone on suspicion alone.
“Article 41 in the CrPC empowers the police to arrest anyone on the basis of suspicion even if there is no proof. If the investigating officer later comes to the conclusion that there is no evidence, under article 157, he can say that he has stopped the probe and release the person,” Supreme Court criminal lawyer D B Goswami says.
With India losing the maximum number of lives in terrorist attacks in the world after Iraq (according to a Times of India report), many would argue that the unfortunate incidents are unavoidable in the fight against terror – collateral damage, if you may.
But what about the old adage, “Better 100 guilty men at liberty than one innocent man in prison.”
Law enforcement agencies should by all means investigate and question anyone they think is involved, or know anything about the perpetrators of such mindless violence, but there ought to be a more discreet way of carrying out the investigations, like not releasing the identity of the person until the police are sure of his/her involvement in a crime.
And the role of the media can never be overstated, with the enormous influence it has over public perception. A reputation, not least a life, can be destroyed by one incorrect report by an overzealous media.
And what can be said of the charge by Muslims and civil rights groups that Muslims are targeted by authorities every time an explosion takes place? And the trend of officials naming Islamic groups as suspects immediately after any terror strike when it is obvious that facts have not been ascertained yet.
Has “M” become the new scarlet letter, a metaphorical ‘guilty’ tag on persons by association to a particular religion?