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This article was first published 5 years ago  » News » 'Nobody is a terrorist until you prove it'

'Nobody is a terrorist until you prove it'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
August 30, 2018 08:51 IST
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'My only interest is that the law is upheld for each and every citizen.'
'Whenever this case is decided, it will be protection for you and every Indian.'
'I just want the rule of law of to be followed.'

IMAGE: A protest against the police raids on the homes of activists and their subsequent arrests in New Delhi, August 29, 2018. Photograph: Ravi Choudhary/PTI Photo

'Dissent is the safety valve of democracy and if you don't allow these safety valves, it will burst,' said a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, on the arrests of five civil rights activists -- Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bhardwaj and Gautam Navalakha.

On August 29, the apex court ordered that Rao, Gonsalves, Ferreira, Bharadwaj and Navlakha be kept under house arrest till September 6.

The action comes after historian Romila Thapar, economist Prabhat Patnaik, social actvist Devaki Jain, sociologist Satish Deshpande and lawyer Maja Daruwala filed a plea against the arrests that were made across the nation on August 28.

Maja Daruwala, Advocate for Civil Liberties, explains to's Syed Firdaus Ashraf why she and the other eminent petitioners approached the Supreme Court.


What is your reaction to the Supreme Court order in regard to the arrests of the five activists?

What I and the other petitioners are doing is a very simple thing. We are only asking the court to make sure that the police and the State follow the Constitutional safeguards that are required for arrest.

The main thing is that we shouldn't have to go to the Supreme Court. We should be able to have these rights, just as an ordinary babu (person); be it you or me. That is all what we want.

This petition was not for some great action against the State or for some ideology. This is just us asking for our Constitutional rights that have been given to us against arbitrary arrest and against what amounts to abuse of power.

This should not happen to anybody. Today it has happened to these people across the country, tomorrow it can be you or me.

Be it a poor person, rich person, disabled person, dishonest person, it does not matter. Let's have this as ordinary routine.

Why did you take this matter to the Supreme Court?

My only interest is that the law is upheld for each and every citizen.

Whenever this case is decided, it will be protection for you and every Indian.

I have no axe to grind. I have no ideology on these matters. I don't want to prove anything, whether they are terrorists or not.

I just want the rule of law of to be followed.

These five people are purportedly linked to the Naxalites.

I know nothing about all that. Nobody is a terrorist until you prove it. Nobody is a good person until you prove it. I know nothing about all these things.

I just know that the Constitution gives everybody safeguards whether they are Hindu, Muslim, Tamil, Jesuit or anybody.

And that is what this country is based on and that is the rule of law. You cannot break that, not even God Almighty can break that.

The charge against them is that of planning to assassinate Prime Minister Modi.

I don't know that charge. Where are you getting this (information) from?

IMAGE: Human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj after she was arrested by the Pune police in Faridabad. Photograph: PTI Photo

That is what the police is claiming.

The police are claiming and they must prove according to the processes of law.

That is why we have a court and that is why we have the police and that is why we have a prosecution and that is why we have legal aid and that is why we have an appeal system so that everything goes on in the way it should go.

You cannot come and do something which is against the process of law. Whatever be the charges, be it theft or anything.

What should the police have done in this case rather than arresting them?

I can't say what the police should have done, but clearly they have not done what they should have.

There are procedures for arrest and arrest must be reasonable and there must be reasonable provision for arrest.

What if I come to you tomorrow by entering your house and say, for example, a lady called Maya says you are a crook, corrupt and bad and I am taking you in (for arrest). There must be some reason to take you in.

Police powers are not to walk into your house and take you in on unreasonable ground. There must be some prima facie proof. That prima facie proof must be in the public.

There are procedures. If it is less than seven years (sentence), they must give you notice.

If it is more than seven years, then they can take you in and ask you questions.

You have a right to bail, you have a right to a lawyer.

You have a right to be treated properly. You have a right not to be hurt, harmed and tortured.

You have a right not to have your property trespassed on or your family and friends threatened.

Those are all rights of law.

But the police do arrest people on doubt and detain people.

It is not on doubt that the police can arrest you, but it is on proper use of discretion.

If 25 things are stacked up against you, then they will arrest you.

And even if the police arrest you, they have to arrest you openly and not secretly.

The police is the law and the last thing any policemen can do is break the law.

Journalists talk of national and anti-national. What you all think I do not understand. Anti-national are only those people who do not obey the Constitution.

There are many who compare the current situation to the Emergency. Do you believe so?

I just feel the police must follow the law.

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