Criminal Justice System

Battini Rao

A functional, accessible and fair criminal justice system is essential for any civilised social life. It is necessary for the basic safety and security of citizens, and also for creating conditions under which citizens can live a life of freedom. The criminal justice system in India has long been corrupted by the dominant majoritarian, class and caste interests; and rather than protecting the weak, is often seen to be working for the powerful and the rich. The victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the last Lok Sabha elections is a sign of a new phase in Indian politics which can be best described as staggered fascism. Its components include corporate takeover of media, communalisation of education, ideological infiltration of state institutions, intimidation of officials as well as civil society, and deliberate instigation of communal violence. All these are leading to a deeper, and a specifically communal degradation of institutions of criminal justice system. No less than a public prosecutor in Ms Rohini Saliyan has gone public alleging pressure to go soft on the members of Hindutwa terror groups accused in the Malegon blast. Retired Justice Jyotsana Yagnik, who gave judgment against Gujarat minister Ms Maya Kodnani in Naroda Patiya massacre case, has been receiving threatening calls and letters. These are the proverbial tip of the iceberg, which is a sign of a systematic infiltration of police, investigating agencies, offices of public prosecutor, and judiciary.

Even though the post-independence India continued with the structure and many practices of the colonial criminal justice system, the Constitution tried to give it a democratic orientation and accountability. The Constitution formulated a fine system of checks and balances to contain authoritarianism. It created a body of equal citizens with legally enforceable fundamental rights. Special laws were promulgated for the protection of the oppressed and marginalised sections like Dalits and adivasis. Later developments have tried to ensure citizens the right to information and local self-governance. The ideology of the Sangh parivar, which determines the programme of the current government, is fundamentally opposed to the liberal democratic values guiding the Indian Constitution. Big corporates behind the Modi regime are against existing legal rights of working people and farmers. The upper caste core block, which forms the bulwark of BJP's electoral success, has long been riling against legal provisions that ameliorate caste inequities. This coming together of political, economic and social forces against democracy means that the subversion of existing laws and due processes, and the consequent degradation of the criminal justice system under the current government is not incidental or opportunistic. It is systematically incremental and strategic, and would lead to the disintegration of institutional structures necessary to protect and advance values of the Indian Constitution. That would be a serious setback to all democratic struggles in the country. However, this specific danger to democracy in India is little recognised by the people at large. It is urgent that democratic forces in the country help create popular awareness about this threat and devise practical strategies to counter it. In particular, today's youth, some of whom will be the work force of the institutions of criminal justice in future, must be made aware of their responsibilities and rights as citizens of a democracy.

Vol. 48, No. 24, Dec 20 - 26, 2015