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Guru Nanak’s Concept of Justice – Article discusses concept of justice according to Guru Nanak Dev Ji

 

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A detailed biography of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji is added under the Sikh Gurus section.

 

March 10, 2014

 

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Black Laws

Assault on Darbar Sahib was preceded and followed by the enactment of black laws, reminiscent of the repressive enactments which during the British rule used to be condemned as charters of slavery by the Indian leaders. The draconian laws passed by the Indian Government in relation to Punjab in many ways are far more oppressive than the brutal piece of the British Rowlatt Act of 1919, so violative of the fundamental principles of liberty, justice and human rights.

The Government of free India passed the National Security Act, 1980; the Punjab Disturbed Areas Ordinance, 1983; the Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act, 1983 and the Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1984. These Acts give sweeping powers to the Government and the police to curtail even the right to life. Under the National Security Act, a person is liable to be jailed without charge and without trial for two years in Punjab. His detention can be extended from time to time for an indefinite period. After the army action, more draconian amendments were made to the NSA. Further the procedure for submission of the case of a detenu was amended in such a way that he could be kept in jail for a period of six months without his detention being recommended for approval by the Advisory Board. Thus a person was liable to be in jail for two years simply because the executive believed he was likely to act in a prejudicial manner. Another important amendment brought about by an Ordinance, Section 14 (2) of the National Security Act, laid down that on the revocation or expiry of a detention order, a fresh detention order can be made even if no fresh facts have arisen. The amendment had very serious implications. It provided in effect that if a detention order was held invalid by a court of law the detaining authority could revoke the said order and could make another detention order.

The Terrorist Affected Areas Act (TADA), also known as the Special Courts Act (1984), was passed in the form of Presidential Ordinance on 14th July, 1984. Trials under the Act are held in camera. The identities of the prosecution witnesses are not dis­closed to the accused. Even the special court cannot disclose the identity of a prosecution witness in its judgement. Hence the antecedents or veracity of the witness could hardly be questioned or examined. Anyone who discloses the identity of a prosecution witness is liable to be punished under the Act. The prosecution witness can be examined in the absence of the accused. The accused supposedly has the right to recall him for cross-examination, but as he does not know who he is, this “right” becomes meaning­less. Appeals from the decisions and orders of the Special Court could be only to the Supreme Court and not to the High Court even though the punishing court is normally of the status of a dis­trict judge. The Special Court may hold its proceedings at any place other than the ordinary place of its sitting. Usually such courts hold their sittings inside the jails or outside the state of Punjab, even in a distant state or linguistic area, where the accused could hardly conduct his defence meaningfully. How is he to defend himself in such a far-off place without access to friends and relatives? In the absence of contacts and the handicap of being able to employ a lawyer from Punjab in distant states, it virtually means almost a denial of the right of defence. It is as good as telling him: “Plead guilty and be done with it!160 In violation of the entire history of British jurisprudence in India, confession before a police officer became admissible. Such a law becomes more in­human with the addition of the clause that the need for disclosing the identity of the witness is not there. Justice Krishna Iyer, a retired Judge of the Supreme Court, has stated: “Prima facie the anatomy of the Special Courts Act is incredibly terrorist in operation. The trial is by summary procedure.”161 He stated at another place:

“Our judicial process itself is on trial in Punjab. Justice in Punjab has been crucified on the cross of law and if the nation does not demand resurrection of the right to justice, con­stitutional guarantees may degenerate into printed rhetoric and human rights die a natural death.”162

The most drastic change which the Act (TADA) brought about in the Criminal law was the amendment of the Evidence Act. The cardinal principle of Criminal law that an accused is innocent unless proved guilty has been done away with. According to the amended version, the onus to prove his or her innocence is on the accused. The right of anticipatory bail has also been denied to him. Commenting on the administration of justice under this Act, Soli Sorabjee, a leading jurist of India says that “this law completely deprives an accused person of any semblance of a fair and a just trial.”163 Justice V. M. Tarkunde former President of the People’s Union For Civil liberties describes the law as a ‘savage law which no civilised country would tolerate.’164

The repressive legislation, unprecedented in its ferocity, was fraught with danger because it could treat as terrorists all those who would normally come under the category of dissenters. The law could be easily misused by the ruling party for narrow political ends. The definition of the term ‘terrorist’ was vague and wide and could easily be applied to various forms of dissent, of which it made a mockery. Any kind of protest or demonstration could be easily construed as an act of terrorism and could land one in the authori­ties’ net and then in the Special Court. The police could present a challan in a period up to one year. Thus as an under trial one remained without the possibility of bail. All forms of democratic protests were crushed. A number of Special Courts came up and more than 3/4 the work of the regular courts was transferred to these Special Courts. These came to be over worked as even ordinary offences without any element of terrorism began to be tried by them. A report of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) wrote: “19,286 persons were accused under TADA, including 7,969 in Punjab alone... The Government introduced TADA by citing the transistor bomb blasts in May, 1985, in Delhi and the five accused under the act—K.S. Narang, Mohinder Singh Khalsa, Mohinderpal Singh, Jagdish Singh Narela and Daljit Singh—were tortured to death. In Delhi, during elections to the Delhi Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the Act was used to detain Akali Dal Secretary Bir Bahadur Singh in order to force the 69 year old leader to support the then Congress (I)—backed Barnala group in the DGPC elections. Soon after when President’s rule was imposed in Punjab in May, 1987, Prem Singh Chandumajra, a Cabinet Minister in the Barnala Government, became a victim of the Act.”165

After acquiring arbitrary powers, the army swept through the Punjab countryside throwing over eighteen thousand “suspected terrorists” into jails, without the right of bail.166 For the first three months no one was put up for trial. A group of 39 children, between the ages of two and twelve were picked from Darbar Sahib complex and lodged in Ludhiana jail and graded under three categories of ‘terrorists’: very dangerous, dangerous and potentially dangerous.167 All this was being done in the name of wiping out terrorism. The children faced the charge of breach of peace and violating of prohibitory orders under Section 144. They were subjected to long intimidating sessions of interrogations by the C.B.L and the I.B.168 The children cried and begged to be sent home but the authorities did not show any regard to any civil liber­ties or laws protecting kids and babies. Under the Children Act 1960 or the East Punjab Children Act 1976, boys younger than sixteen years old and girls below the age of eighteen cannot be detained either at a police station or in a regular jail but the authorities paid no heed to these laws. A C.B.I. officer confessed, “These are all fine ideas for newspapers and preachers. We had on our hand suspected terrorists and would be terrorists.”169 Human rights organisations brought these acts of inhumanity to the notice of senior most Administrators, including the Governor and yet no relief was granted till Kamladevi Chattopadhya, the well-known social worker, finally approached the Supreme Court, which ordered their release.170 However, there were more children in the Ludhiana jail than Kamladevi knew about and got released. To avoid knowledge about their illegal detention, the Superintendent jail transferred them to the Nabha Jail, where already a few such children had been kept, thereby increasing their number to eight. They remained unrescued.171

Hundreds of detainees languished in the Jodhpur Jail for several years, without trial and without any charge against them. They were almost all either pilgrims or employees of the S.G.P.C. and were picked up from the Golden Temple after the army action. When they were released, some of them had become physical and mental wrecks.172

Brahma Challaney of the Associated Press (AP) pf America was charged with sedition under the Special Courts Act. He was a journalist who had the boldness to report about the Blue Star atrocities. But the case against him was dropped because it reopened the debate about what exactly had happened during the bloody army action at the Darbar Sahib.173 It also raised issues fundamental to the freedom of the press and brought into question the controversial Act, which had been passed specifically to deal with “terrorists” in the Punjab situation.174

It would be interesting to compare the tactics employed by the Government of India in Punjab and Kashmir with the complete equanimity and pacifism displayed by it towards the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). The ULFA even professed secession from the Union. The Government of India is also well aware of the fact that ULFA’s secessionism is there only to hoodwink oppressed ethnic groups in Assam which have lost all confidence in the Government and that ULFA is only the repre­sentative of the upper caste elite that under another name, the AGP (Assam Gana Prashid), is their ally. This group has already killed hundreds of people who have politically opposed it and also many others on a communal basis. According to the ULFA, it is necessary to “liquidate colonisers and exploiters” and liberate Assam from the clutches of the Indian state. The ULFA has, in fact, been preaching Assamese nationalism quite openly. One of its recurring statements is that Assam was never a part of the Indian mainstream.15 It has extorted billions of rupees and it has kid­napped for ransom hundreds of people, including high Central Government functionaries. And yet, there is no TADA, no NSA. no NSG, no curfews, no blasting of villages, no torture - not a single extra-ordinary step from our Central Government. When upper caste Hindus do it against the Muslims, it seems things are quite different. The same attitude is reflected by the other all India parties, whether right or left. D.R. Goyal summed up this policy in a leading article in the Tribune. He wrote, “It is only the political Hinduism of the RSS that discriminates between religions on geographical basis which tantamounts to cultural imperialism, a sure prescription for separatism. And here too they have a hierarchy. Kashmir, with a Muslim majority, is to be tackled differently from Punjab with a Sikh majority. In the former, people have to be fought with the help of armed “RSS workers” whereas in the latter case it is enough to prevent “outside inter­ference” by handing over the State to the Army. None of these suggestions have been mooted in regard to Assam where ULFA and AASU have been indulging in identical rhetorical and military extremism. Is it because the Assam militants are Hindus and are trying to drive away Muslims?”175

Satyapal Dang, an important communist leader of Punjab, wrote a series of articles suggesting to abandon the political approach and instead introduce draconian laws followed by iron fisted methods. He even went to the extent of asking the Government for the suspension of the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India. He wrote,

“The security forces require special powers to deal with the situation. A terrorist is caught. He has killed ten people. The law requires the police to produce him before a magistrate within twenty four hours of his arrest. The courts are so afraid of these terrorists that they immediately let them out on bail. No one comes forward to give evidence against them. All are afraid. Now, one answer in such a situation would be to just bump them off. That would be, no doubt, illegal. So I suggest instead of doing illegal things, amend the law.”176

The attitude of ambivalence on the question of tackling the Sikhs and other communities shows that secularism in the country is a myth. Scratch a communist or a Congressite in the country, you will find that his commitment to secularism is just skin deep. He comes out in his true colours, when it is a question of dealing with the Sikhs or other minorities.

Here it is significant to note the discriminatory attitude of the Government in applying these draconian laws to different communities with narrow communal considerations. In one of its issues, the Spokesman, Delhi wrote,

“If T.A.D.A. arrests are examined throughout the country it will probably be found that most of the detainees belong to what we like to euphemistically call ‘minority communities’. If this is not a good enough reason for a review of this very dangerous law it is hard to think what it is. To come back, however, to 1984, why is it so difficult for a few of our Delhi killers to be detained under TADA? At least then we would know that our government’s secular little heart is in the right place.”177

To prove the point of view, it gave more evidence of the application of TADA in other States:

“There are 228 TADA detainees in Rajasthan. But, what is very interesting is the religious composition of these people. Out of these, 119 are Muslims, 96 Sikhs and a mere 13 Hindus. The Muslims and the Hindus were arrested after communal violence in Jaipur and Kota but the administration—and it is important to remember that we then had a secular Congress—I government-seemed to feel that the Muslims were guiltier than the Hindus. As is usual with our communal riots it was the Muslims who lost more property and it was more Muslims who got killed but nevertheless it was more Muslims (many, many more) whom the police seemed to think were guilty. Among the 119 Muslims detained in Rajasthan, three are boys under the age of 16 and some are old men over eighty years of age.”178

Similarly, there are more than 13,500 persons at present detaineo in Punjab under the TADA179 and similar draconian laws. They are amongst the “luckier” ones, who have not been “dealt” with so far. It is ironical that a state which claims to be the votary of peace, professes to abide by the Gandhian ideal of non-violence and calls Gandhi the Father of the Nation, should enact laws as repressive as those of South Africa against which Gandhi had started his non-cooperation movement. Through these enactments, the ruling elite is acquiring more and more arbitrary powers to crush the fundamental rights and liberties of the people enshrined in the Constitution of India.