Internationally acclaimed medal winning wrestlers have been continuing their movement for around 6 months seeking justice. Brij Bhushan Singh, President of Wrestlers’ Federation of India (WFI), a BJP MP as well as an immensely powerful strongman having lot of political clout, is accused of sexually assaulting the women wrestlers for years. So, they want that Brij Bhushan be arrested and meted out stringent punishment for his dastardly offence. For over one month, braving scorching sun, the victim wrestlers and their fellow athletes were sitting at Jantar Mantar, Delhi, to draw the attention of the government. But it was of no avail. Despite every attempt on the part of the ruling dispensation to suppress the incident, people of the country have come to know about this wanton abuse of power by a BJP leader to outrage modesty of the athletes who brightened the face of the country in the global sports arena. And obviously, enraged countrymen including many well-known sports personalities have come forward in support of the protesting wrestlers and their just demand. But the BJP government apparently seemed to be unfazed. As if, nothing has happened. Even the police had not agreed to lodge an FIR against the accused. However, behind this apparent indifference and inexplicable silence, the government was killing time to tire the wrestlers. But when they found the defiance and stubbornness that the wrestlers had shown throughout their career were writ large on their face even at the site of demonstration, the government started to silently work out a stratagem to frustrate the movement either by covert intimidation of finishing their career or with a veiled death threat. At last, after the wrestlers knocked at the door of the Judiciary and the Supreme Court directed the police to register FIR against the accused, the BJP top brass feigned as if they had climbed down from their earlier stand and were prepared to sit with the wrestlers on the negotiation table. But while the government was pretending to be concerned about the ongoing agitation, the Delhi Police under Union Home Ministry removed tents and other installations set up by wrestlers at Jantar Mantar. The Delhi Police justified their action by saying that they were forced to remove the protesting wrestlers from Jantar Mantar—the officially designated protest site—after the protesters violated law ‘‘in a frenzy’’ despite repeated requests. But no one knows what kind of frenzy the wrestlers showed. This bore eloquent testimony of the coercive approach of the government towards the movement while making a gesture to settle the dispute through talks.
No action taken against the accused BJP leader
But not a single time, the BJP leadership indicated any intention of taking action against the accused. Even after the police filed an FIR followed by a chargesheet against him, obviously under public pressure and Court order, citing at least 15 instances of sexual harassment including inappropriate touching, running hands over breasts and touching the navel, and alleged instances of terrorization and stalking, Yet, Brij Bhushan was not taken into custody. Even the police investigation in this case is glaringly mala fide as the testimonies of the seven women wrestlers are enough evidence to arrest the accused. Clearly, the state is in breach of law, and the government is using all its power to give law a slip. When Brij Bhushan’s custodial interrogation is needed, he is allowed to roam freely. What would one call it? A caricature of law or open indulgence to crime and criminal?
In fact, assured of the backing of the government and the ruling party, Brij Bhushan Singh has begun flaunting his arrogance and despotism by openly declaring his candidature for next year’s Lok Sabha elections on a BJP ticket. He is also holding public meetings as well wearing garlands. In a rally in his Lok Sabha constituency of Kaisarganj in UP, organized to celebrate the completion of nine years of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, he skipped any direct reference to the wrestlers’ protest. When asked by the reporters why he was not commenting on the wrestlers’ protest, he said nonchalantly that he was waiting for the Court’s verdict. In fact, he was also planning to take out a ‘grand rally’ in Ayodhya. However, he reportedly postponed that rally a day after representatives of around 50 khap panchayets or clan-based outfits met in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar in support of the wrestlers amid growing demand to arrest him. However, it was obvious that the rally was called off under instruction of the BJP top leadership who apprehended public wrath in case he was given a go ahead.
Victims are receiving veiled threat
There is a clear indication of the intimidation of the victims as well. One of the victims is a minor. She, in her two statements, one to the police and another before a magistrate, had alleged sexual harassment and stalking by the WFI president. As per law, the Brij Bhushan was liable for prosecution under ‘Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act’ (POSCO). However, in a complete u-turn, the father of that 17-year-old wrestler, said after a few days that they levelled such serious charges against the BJP MP in a ‘‘state of anger’’ after the young grappler allegedly faced ‘‘discrimination’’ by the WFI. One can easily make out that how flimsy is this pretext. There cannot be such a serious allegation for such a frivolous reason. Wrestler Sakshi Malik, a leading face of the protest, has alleged an atmosphere of fear and threat is created to exert ‘‘huge pressure’’ on the wrestlers to ‘‘compromise’’. Later, a newspaper quoted the father of the minor victim as saying that he had been threatened by people whose names he could not reveal, and his family was ‘‘living in intense fear’’.
The police have also asked the complainants to provide photos as well as audio and video evidence to corroborate their allegations. Also, in an utter travesty of laid down procedure about criminal investigation, the police took one of the seven wrestlers to the WFI office to recreate the crime. When she was taken to the residence of Brij Bhushan for the purpose of recreation, he was present there. ‘‘When I asked the police, they said nobody was there. But when I came home, I learned that Brij Bhushan was there (at this home). Later, I saw that Brij Bhushan spoke to the media and said he was sleeping inside. I was very uncomfortable because he is an accused and there is an FIR against him. Just going to the spot and repeating what happened to the police was tough’’, she said. Obvious question is why was Brij Bhushan doing at home when the victim was taken there. Why did police suppressed the fact to the victim? Is it not a proof of the police being in league with the accused? If this is the state of affairs with the renowned athletes, one wonders what is the condition of the common oppressed people.
Criminals belonging to RSS-BJP are all proverbial ‘Caesar’s wife’
What had happened with the Lakhimpur Kheri violence? On 3 October 2021, eight people were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri district’s Tikunia in UP after violence erupted when farmers were protesting against the then BJP state Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya’s visit to the area. Then the historic peasants’ movement was going on in Delhi and the fervour of that was strongly felt in the adjacent states. According to the Uttar Pradesh Police FIR, four farmers were mowed down by an SUV in which Ashish Mishra Teni, son of Union minister Ajay Mishra Teni, was seated. Before the incident, Teni had warned the protesting farmer union members in his speech saying, ‘‘You better mend your ways, or we will teach you a lesson, it will only take a couple of minutes’’. Following the incident, the driver of the SUV and two BJP workers were allegedly lynched by angry farmers. Ashish is among those facing prosecution. But so far, only three out of around 200 prosecution witnesses have been examined. Over one year and a half has rolled by, but both Ashish and his father are unscathed. The Supreme Court had said that the interim direction in January 2022 granting eight-week interim bail to Ashish Mishra, would continue to operate. The Apex Court also observed though it was not monitoring the trial centered on the incident, it was having ‘‘indirect supervision’’ on it. To date, nothing has happened in the case nor has Supreme Court taken any suo motu cognizance of the abnormal delay and sought to ascertain the reasons therefor.
Let us turn to another instance of complete miscarriage of justice. Blikis Bano, a young pregnant housewife, was gang-raped by identified miscreants during the horrific anti-minority pogrom in Gujarat in 2002. Her mother and sister were also raped. Virtually her entire family, including her three-year-old daughter, were killed in front of her eyes by the fanatic armed Hindutva criminals. This bestial incident created a row and under public pressure, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in 2008, sentenced the 11 accused to life imprisonment. The same verdict was subsequently upheld by the Bombay high court in 2017. The 11 accused were hauled up and put in jail. But in May 2022, a Supreme Court bench led by Justices Ajay Rastogi and Vikram Nath had allowed the Gujarat government to take a call on the remission requests made by the convicts. On 15 August 2022, the Gujarat government, based on the recommendation of a Jail Advisory Committee, remitted the life sentences of all the 11 convicts. This remission was allowed as per the 1992 remission policy which was in effect at the time of their conviction. Over 6,000 citizens have urged the Supreme Court to revoke the release of the remission order and said that it would have a chilling effect on every rape victim who is told to ‘trust the system’, ‘seek justice’, and ‘have faith’. There was a huge backlash against the decision. It was held by many including jurists that the remission order might not stand the scrutiny of established legal standards for determining the ‘‘appropriate government’’ for remission under Section 432(7) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (‘CrPC’) since the conviction was in Bombay High Court. Also, it was evident that her Muslim identity was the reason for the hate crime that was perpetrated upon her by known criminals belonging to the arch communal Hindutva groups. The move sparked massive nationwide outrage, which was amplified by images of the rapists being garlanded and welcomed like heroes on their release by Hindutva organizations. A BJP leader who was involved in the decision to release the rapists and had described them as ‘‘Sanskari Brahmins’’. And the ruling dispensation remained an indulgent onlooker to such a brazen parody of law and canons of democracy. Days after 11 convicts were granted an early release under the Gujarat government’s remission policy, Justice U.D. Salvi, the former Bombay high court judge, who had convicted them condemned the move, saying: ‘‘A very bad precedent has been set. This is wrong, I would say. Now, convicts in other gang rape cases would seek similar reliefs.’’ In fact, all the accused of Gujarat pogrom are acquitted ‘‘in absence of evidence’’. Whose responsibility is it other than police-administration to collect evidence and produce before Court? If police has no evidence, who then had engineered such a large scale massacre of the targeted community? Some invisible formless entities or aliens from other planet? On the contrary, R B Sreekumar, former Director General of Police, Gujarat, who was the ADGP in charge of the armed unit in Gujarat during the pogrom and testified against the BJP led Gujarat government before the Nanavati Commission which looked into the 2002 riots, had fallen out of favour of Narendra Modi, then Gujarat Chief Minister. He was subsequently arrested on the charge of conspiring to falsely implicate innocent persons. Days after that, IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt had been arrested in the Gujarat riots case. Both the police officers alleged that it was the decision of Chief Minister Narendra Modi to allow the killings to continue. But a Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted by the government held the allegations as ‘false’. Similarly, no action has been taken against the frenzied foot soldiers of RSS-BJP-Sangh Parivar who recklessly lynched Muslim and Dalit people in the name of cow vigilantism. Four rationalists who criticized the communal politics of the RSS-BJP were simply annihilated by armed assailants. None of the killers has been punished.
Another instance of acquiescing in flagrant violation of law by the government is the case with monopolist barons like Adani, fugitive diamond merchants like Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi and liquor baron Vijay Malay. All of them are accused of embezzlement of huge amount of public money (running into over few lakh crores of rupees) deposited in banks. But they are merrily eluding punitive action because of their proximity to the BJP, particularly PM Modi. All these only exemplify that with regard to the people belonging to the ruling dispensation. there is no rule, no judiciary, no police, no CBI, no ED, no NIA, no Economic Offence Wing, no Income Tax raid, no police intelligence or not even roping in of Interpol.
They all are accredited as ‘‘above board’’ and hence licensed to kill, steal, commit atrocities on women, openly air hate speeches against minority community, do all sorts of crime and yet remain insulated from punitive action. In proverbial term, they are all ‘‘Caesar’s wife’’—who can do no wrong. They can thump around with alacrity and get away by committing any offence as they are protected by a culture of impunity.
Those opposed to RSS-BJP are at the receiving end
Conversely, all laws, black acts, police action, prolonged detention in jail for years after years without trial, raids by investigating agencies are all meant for those opposed to the ruling dispensation. In grisly Hathras incident in 2020, a 19 year old dalit girl was gang-raped by four men, allegedly belonging to upper caste in her village in the wee hours of night. Before daybreak, in an inexplicable hurry, the family said it did not understand, the body of the victim was cremated by the police. Her family said they had never consented to this, and the police did so keeping them in complete darkness. Compelled in view of public row, the CBI filed chargesheet accusing the four upper caste men of rape and murder. Hathras police arrested the four. But three of the four accused were set free by an Uttar Pradesh court, again on the same cause of ‘‘absence of evidence’’—a questionable action on the part of the police. The fourth was found guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and under sections of the SC/ST Act but not of rape, reports indicated.
But when journalist Siddique Kappan who was on his way to cover the brutal case was prevented from going to the spot, arrested and retained in jail for two years. He has just been released on bail. Likewise, when riot broke out in Delhi after open provocative and hate speeches by the BJP ministers immediately after the anti-NRC anti-CAA movement in September 2020, the police let the BJP instigators go scot-free. But Umer Khalid, a former student of JNU, was taken into custody allegedly for making ‘‘provocative statements’’ when the then US President Donald Trump was on a visit to India. Khalid was held under black UAPA which means he was accused of undertaking anti-national activities. Similarly, those saffron-robed arch communal speakers who spewed venom against the minority community and called for safai abhiyan (cleanliness drive), apparently implying ethnic cleansing of Muslim minorities, from the rostrum of a dharma sansad (religious assembly) of Hindu ascetics in December 2021, are now free on bail after token arrest for public consumption.
Honest jurists taken umbrage at sordid state of affairs
The BJP government in avid pursuit of fascist autocratic policies has long been trying to prevail upon the Judiciary and make it subservient to the Executive. It is true that many judges and jurists even of the top court have tamely surrendered to the government for post-retirement favours and other petty considerations. But a few honest and steadfast jurists with integrity have raised their voice against travesty of justice and bias noticed in delivering verdicts. Just a few days back, Justice Madan B. Lokur, the former Supreme Court judge, said the objective of Delhi police’s probe into the sexual harassment charges against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh seemed to be to establish that he was innocent, and his accusers were wrong. ‘‘What is going on in the name of investigation is a clear case of re-victimization of the seven wrestlers who have complained of serious, aggravated sexual assault against the accused,’’ Justice Lokur said at a webinar. ‘‘What we are witnessing is a strange situation. The alleged predator is a very powerful political and well-connected person and is facing such serious charges. He should have been arrested long back but he is going around and making speeches and witnesses are being threatened by persons close to him…. The seven wrestlers are saying they are under pressure and the father of the minor wrestler has already said she has changed her statement. It is very obvious and a clear indication that the witnesses are being threatened…. The probe should be fair and unbiased. What is the reason that police (are) not taking action against Singh (although) every detail of the sexual harassment is mentioned in the FIR? What more do they need to proceed further? …The SC (Supreme Court) should have monitored the investigation to ensure it did not get derailed keeping in mind the delay in lodging the FIRs and the threat perception,’’ Justice Lokur added. He is absolutely right in his observation.
Last year, delivering the 19th DP Kohli Memorial Lecture on CBI foundation Day on ‘Democracy: Role and Responsibilities of Investigative Agencies’, Justice N V Ramana, former CJI, called for creating an ‘‘independent umbrella institution’’ to bring various investigating agencies under one roof, saying that the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) actions and inactions have raised questions in some cases’’. ‘‘It is essential that all institutions, including the police and the investigative bodies, uphold and strengthen democratic values and not allow any authoritarian tendencies to creep in’’, he observed. Current CJI Chandrachur had remarked two years back that public intellectuals have ‘‘a duty to expose the lies of the state’’. He also stressed that in a democratic country it is important to hold governments in check and guard against falsehoods. ‘‘One cannot rely only on the State for truth’’, he added.
Vinod Yadav, an Additional Sessions Judge, Delhi pulled up the Delhi Police over lack of proper investigation into the 2020 northeast Delhi riots, In his order, he mentioned that the police ‘‘made no effort’’ to investigate the case, and were ‘‘merely filing chargesheets without any real effort being made to trace out the eye witnesses, real accused persons and technical evidence….I am not able to restrain myself from observing that when history looks back at the worst communal riots since partition in Delhi, it is the failure of the investigating agency to conduct proper investigation by using the latest scientific methods, that will surely torment the sentinels of democracy,’’ he said. He also criticized the police for discharging three men accused of rioting, arson and various offences.
So, it is clear that the RSS-BJP- Sangh Parivar are arrogating to themselves unbridled power to run amuck flouting all laws, all democratic norms, all civilized practices. While espousing for democracy, they are eschewing even the barest percepts of democratic code. They are bent upon weakening the juridical process and concentrate all power in the hands of the Executive i.e., the government and its pliant bureaucrats, which is a nefarious class design of the imperialist-capitalist rulers to wipe off even the last vestiges of democracy and firm up fascist autocracy. More capitalism is becoming crisis-ridden at its decadent moribund stage because of its inherent laws, the more oppressive face of the ruling bourgeoisie is surfacing with horridness and people’s rights and freedom are curtailed systematically. Despotism, authoritarianism, brag and bluster, self-subservience, muscle-flexing and uncouth power-mongering are on naked display. The lofty ideals of bourgeois democracy and its operative principles are being given a decent burial by the trusted political managers of the ruling monopolists like the RSS-BJP.
Naturally, democratic-minded jurists like Justice Lokur is visibly infuriated at the way the RSS-BJP are going berserk, boasting of being above law, and hence seizing impunity with elan. The need of the hour is to ensure that whatever little of democratic practices, codes and norms are still existing do not get eroded. It is also time for the honest jurists and socially-conscious intellectuals to burst forth in anger against subversion of law, manipulative practices of the punitive system, bias in justice delivery process and shielding the arch criminals by the power that be.