ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Stamping Out a 'Bad' Habit

Ask no questions and you'll be told no lies on the Bhopal encounter killings.

Following queries about the police “encounter” killings of eight undertrials of the Central Jail in Bhopal, on the city’s outskirts on 31 October, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju made a rather telling statement: “First of all, we should stop this habit of raising doubts, questioning the authorities and the police. This is not a good culture.” The minister’s confidence in defining what constitutes “good culture” is breathtaking enough but his admonition to stop the “habit” of questioning the police and the state goes against the grain of everything that is held sacred in a democracy. Many of our tallest leaders have stressed the necessity of the principle of dissent in a democracy and, in a series of oft-quoted judgments, the Supreme Court has interpreted the constitutional freedom of speech and expression to cover public criticism as essential to the functioning of a democracy.

Rijiju’s statement was telling as were the remarks made by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and various Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders who expressed loud and clear a trend that has emerged over the past few years: questioning the government’s version is akin to being unpatriotic and anti-nationalist. The remarks also dovetailed neatly into the much fostered belief that where Muslims are concerned, it does not matter whether the court has convicted them or not. So, the chief minister repeatedly referred to the eight dead men, reported to be members of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India, as “terrorists” and not as undertrials. The responses were anorchestrated unleashing of a chorus of sarcastic and totallyirrelevant criticism of perfectly relevant questions about the glaring discrepancies in the police version of the “encounter.”

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