The handbook is an important tool for negotiating the criminal justice system and gives a clear account of the rights of citizens and non-citizens in all relevant situations.
Handbook of Human Rights and Criminal Justice in India – by South Asia Human Right Documentation Centre, Published by Oxford University Press, Price Rs 595.
Is legal literacy relevant when the basic literacy rate in India is appaling compared to many developing countries Maybe yes, when people are harassed with warrants, police-custody, detention, court-summons and long lasting trails.
Are we not helpless when a policeman tells us that he is in no mood to register a complaint or is unwilling to hand over a copy of First Information Report? Or when you fret and fume at your well-connected neighbour who has filed a false FIR against you? And many more shocking violations of human rights which we tend to ignore as we flip through daily newspapers.
Keeping these in mind, the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC) has come forward and tried to help the citizen by compiling the Handbook of Human Rights and Criminal Justice in India.
Introducing the book to the readers, the compiling team says: “This is designed to assist in the protection of the civil and political rights of those people who are confronted with the criminal justice system. Civil and political rights are fundamental rights that provide for fair and equal treatment under the law, and protection against harm by the state.”
But it is only when we know our rights that we are in a position to demand them.
Asked about the book, Ravi Nair who is a leading human rights activist and founder of SAHDRC told Deccan Herald: "An enlightened public is perhaps the first line of defence for civil liberties” and added, “It’s only when we know our rights, we will know what is being denied to us.
“In India we know our rights. But we do not demand it. Consciousness does not get translated into accruals,” Nair said observing that “people know about the Right to Information but don’t come forward to exercise it.”
Two decades of human rights activism practiced by Nair and valuable suggestions from Dr S Krishnamurthy former Additional DGP (Crime and Technical Services) Karnataka, well known advocates Ashok Aggarwal, Rajesh Talawat and Nitya Ramakrishnan and former interns at SAHDRC helped shape the book.
During the 1950’s, S G Vaze published a Civil Liberties Bulletin from Pune and pegged it at Rs three as annual subscription. Several attempts were made in later years but nothing has come out as exhaustive and simple as the one brought out by SAHDRC.
The book is written in simple language as against legalese and gives the latest review of the criminal procedure code, which is often considered complex and cumbersome and goes on to explain the provisions and rules that the police and courts must follow while dealing with criminal complaints.
A complete guide
This is a complete guide giving a clear account of the rights of citizens and non citizens, in all relevant situations– including arrest, police investigation of an offence, detention before trial, seeking bail, search, interrogation and trial. The handbook is an important tool for negotiating the criminal justice system; It not only attempts to familiarise readers with the criminal process but assist them in recognising and asserting their rights.
Take for instance, compensation for serving time in jail for an offence not committed is not mandatory in India. The book mentions the case of Rudal Sah, who was acquitted by a sessions court in Bihar on June 3, 1968. However he was not released for 14 years. He petitioned the Supreme Court for his release and for compensation for the illegal incarceration. The Apex Court held: “The right to compensation is some palliative for the unlawful acts of instrumentalities which act in the name of public interest. Therefore, the State must repair the damage done by its officers to the petitioner’s rights.”
It awarded him a compensation of Rs 35,000.
Nair says that the high level of immunity given to Indian police personnel makes it difficult for citizens to proceed against them. Even to initiate a case against an erring constable, permission has to be sought from higher officials.
This is the reason why the book should be a compulsory read not only for lawyers, human rights activists and journos, but also for citizens who get brushed hard by those donning Khaki uniforms.
K S Narayanan, Deccan Heralad