Illegal use of state power to rob a person of her liberty is an assault on the citizen’s identity and constitutional right to dignity, the Supreme Court held in a judgment delivered on Friday.
In a scathing verdict against police excesses, the apex court details the conduct of a Madhya Pradesh police team which went from Bhopal to Pune to arrest a woman lawyer in her seventies and her doctor daughter.
Accused of fraud
The 27-page judgment details how the mother-daughter duo, accused of fraud and offences under the now extinct Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, were cruelly ill-treated by the police team and later allegedly enticed to pay a bribe of Rs. 5 lakh to a senior police officer to buy back their freedom.
A Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and S.K. Singh narrated the women’s story, in which they were denied food and water, medical help for the mother, who was made to sleep on the “cold floor” of an unreserved train compartment during their transit from Pune to Bhopal.
Quashes criminal case
Quashing the criminal case against the women, Justice Misra, who authored the judgment for the Bench, ordered Madhya Pradesh to pay Rs. 5 lakh each as compensation to the mother, an advocate of 36 years standing, and her daughter, who is now pursuing her studies in the U.S. and runs an NGO in that country for abused South Asian women.
“We are inclined to think that the dignity of the petitioners, a doctor and a practising advocate has been seriously jeopardised. Dignity is the quintessential quality of a personality for, it is a highly cherished value. It is also clear that liberty of the petitioner was curtailed in violation of law,” the judgment observed.
‘Assault on identity’
The court explained how an illegal curtailment of an individual’s liberty leads to disillusionment, and how her faith in the rule of law is shaken. “It is an assault on his/her identity. The said identity is sacrosanct under the Constitution,” Justice Misra wrote.
The police team’s conduct towards the women showed that it had put its “sense of accountability to law on the ventilator.”
‘Procedure not followed’
“The two ladies have been arrested without following the procedure and put in the compartment of a train without being produced before the local magistrate from Pune to Bhopal. One need not be Argus-eyed to perceive the same. Its visibility is as clear as the cloudless noon day. It would not be erroneous to say that the enthusiastic investigating agency had totally forgotten the golden words of Benjamin Disraeli that all power is a trust,” Justice Misra observed.
The judgment came on a plea made by Dr. Rini Johar and her mother Gulshan Johar, highlighting the “humiliation” they faced at the hands of the police team during and after their arrest in November 2012 until they were released on bail.