//INDIA: Attack on the lawyer shows the extent of lawlessness

INDIA: Attack on the lawyer shows the extent of lawlessness

18 0ct 2011

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemns the assault upon lawyer and activist Mr. Prashant Bhushan. The incident happened yesterday, October 12, 2011 in the lawyer’s chamber. The assailants claimed to belong to an allegedly fundamentalist group named Bhaghat Singh Kranti Sena. Soon after the incident however, another similarly fundamentalist group named Sri Ram Sene claimed responsibility for the attack.

Prashant Bhushan, aged 55, suffered minor injuries from the assault, which happened in his chamber, Room 301, of the Supreme Court Lawyers’ Chambers adjacent to the Supreme Court of India. Persons present in and near Bhushan’s chamber, including lawyers, apprehended one of the assailants while the rest fled the scene. The assailants reportedly showed no remorse upon arrest, and justified their act by accusing Prashant of being a traitor for his remarks advocating a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Indian media and civil society have claimed that the attack upon the reputed lawyer and social activist is an indicator of the increasing intolerance of democratic rights in the country, particularly free speech. This however, is an understatement.

Public space in India is strewn with similar attacks on democratic rights, most of them sponsored by religious groups. Mainstream political parties have only thus far tried to capitalise on this blinkered mindset. The resultant environment of mutual suspicion has inevitably reduced the space for open debates. Statutes like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 is the translation of this intolerance into legal implementation; a law that violates the basic tenets of equality and justice, and provides impunity to those protected by the law. Such legislation–and the environment they generate–is in effect, the statutory sanction for lawlessness.

The incident witnessed in Prashant Bhushan’s chamber, aired across the country for hours, is also an act of lawlessness, committed in the immediate vicinity of the country’s Apex Court. Today the attack was upon a lawyer widely respected in the country, one who values human rights and fundamental freedoms, who is also an officer of the court. Tomorrow it could be upon the judges. To term this act as simple ‘intolerance’ is gravely inaccurate, and suggests tones of hypocrisy.

This relative inability of certain factions of Indian civil society, including the media, to see lawlessness as lawlessness is being exploited by extremist factions operating in the country. Any organisation that advocates and resorts to such acts of lawlessness must be watched with suspicion. Their activities must be investigated as required, and they must be prosecuted for the crimes they have committed.

Any entity that decides it has the right to punish people with whom it has differences in opinion, and uses violence to meet its ends is a proponent of terror. Such entities have no place in a democratic framework. Their beliefs cannot be based on the principles of justice and rule of law. This proposition applies equally to governments that use violence to silence dissent.

Lawlessness, whether sponsored by narrow religious or nationalist interests or sanctioned by statutes like the AFSPA, where anyone could be attacked, freedoms curtailed or even murdered at will and arbitrarily, negates the very essence of India and its constitutional premises. The AHRC urges the Indian government to end this lawlessness, beginning with the prosecution and punishment of Prashant’s attackers.

*Picture courtesy: IBN Live

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.