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A historic verdict

Editorial (The Hindu) Feb. 14, 1996

MR. MULAYAM SINGH YADAV, former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, was as good as his word when he tendered a public apology in terms of the promise he had made that if the High Court held his Government guilty of human rights violation of Uttarkhand agitationists, particularly women, he would not hesitate to express his regrets over what had happened during his regime. It may be recalled that on October 2, 1994 which incidentally happens to be the birthday of the world’s greatest apostle of peace and non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi, the Uttar Pradesh police and the Provincial Armed Constabulary opened fire in Muzaffarnagar on about 8,000 Uttarkhand activists wanting to go to Delhi for a rally killing at least eight persons even as the leaders of the movement strongly condemned the police action as totally unprovoked and deliberate. There had been allegations that policemen gangraped women left in a bus after the police firing on the highway. And not until violence spread to the other areas in the hills did the Government care to order an inquiry into the sordid happenings.

The question whether there was a case for the creation of a separate State comprising the hill districts was relegated to the background after the police had tried to suppress the movement by resorting to high handed behaviour subjecting the people to violence and misery. An all-party parliamentary delegation that visited Muzaffarnagar soon after the tragic incidents arrived at a consensus that the Uttar Pradesh police and the civil administration were definitely guilty of committing excesses on the Uttarkhand agitationists, especially on women, on the fateful day of October 2, 1994. When the matter was taken up by the Allahabad High Court as a case of violation of human rights filed on behalf of different groups, including the Uttarkhand Sangharsh Samiti, the Division Bench observed that politics was moving away from health into a state in which politicians lost their perspective and regard for cardinal principles. The Court while ordering payment of compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs each to the dependents of those killed during the agitation held that the crime of rape was parallel to that of causing death and the rape victims were also awarded a similar amount. Those subjected to sexual harassment were awarded Rs. 5 lakhs each.

The judgment makes clear the gravity of the offenses committed by the Government agencies and the observation that unusual belligerence was shown towards the demonstrating public was a severe indictment of the law and order enforcing functionaries. Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav was obviously convinced at that point of time that the allegations of police atrocities were exaggerated and his ordering of a judicial inquiry was not a spontaneous decision although it was apparent that the police went berserk possibly at the instigation of some higher-ups. It is in this context that the High Court’s direction to the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the cases of human rights violation committed by the police officials assumes special significance. The Court also held there was no need to go through the process of seeking Government sanction to proceed against any guilty official as -it could be no part of the official duties of Government servants to shoot, molest or rape unprotected citizens. Mr. Mulayam Singh did not see the writing on the wall and if he thought that by merely ordering a judicial inquiry his responsibility for the crimes committed by his Government was all over, he was sadly mistaken. There is a lesson here for those in power. Riding roughshod by those in authority over political opponents and those who do not fall in line with the government s policy is not going to be an easy affair anymore. Even the officials who obey palpably wrong orders of the Government should think twice before plunging into action that could be questioned in courts of law which in recent months have emerged as the guardians of peoples rights and liberties.