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The persecution of Arnab Goswami: Judicial intervention is the only recourse available to a citizen when he is the victim of the state

The current case is not only about Arnab Goswami, it is about the right of every private citizen to criticize those in power. It is about the famed dissent that justices have called the safety valve of Democracy.

The state-sanctioned persecution of Arnab Goswami appears to cross new limits with every passing day. His prolonged harassment and persecution for his journalism by the Maha Vikas Aghadi government only reveals the extent of the depravity the state machinery in India is capable of. And the fact that the whole charade is being allowed to continue unabated is further indictment of governance in India.

On Sunday, Arnab Goswami was transferred to the Taloja jail by the Mumbai Police from the quarantine center where he was held in judicial custody. It is apparently a prison where hardened criminals are kept. The Republic Editor-in-Chief revealed that he was yet again assaulted by the police and said that his life was under threat.

Previously, Arnab Goswami revealed that he was force-fed a liquid that made him choke, he was hit by a police officer’s boot, he suffered injuries to his spinal cord and veins and he was not even allowed access to drinking water. The political class of this country will share much of the blame for the brutality that is being inflicted on him but it is certain that the reputation of every single institution of this country, including the Judiciary, would be hurt in the process.

What is happening to Arnab Goswami is state-sanctioned persecution. On Saturday, the Bombay HC decided to reserve its order on the plea challenging Arnab Goswami’s arrest. After almost 6 hours of hearing, on Saturday, the Bombay High Court asserted that it could not pass an order it was already 6 p.m.

Thus far, the judiciary has failed to protect the life and liberty of a citizen of India. There is sufficient evidence that indicates that the actions against Arnab Goswami are politically motivated to deter him from pursuing his journalism. The campaign against Arnab Goswami began with the TRP scandal where Republic TV was not even under the scanner initially.

The initial FIR that was filed in the matter did not mention Republic TV as one of the errant parties. It did mention other channels but those appear to have escaped unhurt as of now. Since then, Hansa Research has asserted that its employees are being harassed for not offering a false statement against Republic TV.

Subsequently, the Mumbai Police reached Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami’s residence on Wednesday and physically manhandled him as they tried to detain him in a 2018 abetment to suicide case that was already closed. In May 2018, an FIR was filed against Arnab Goswami after an interior designer had committed suicide in Mumbai. In a suicide note, Anvay Naik claimed Goswami owed him a total of Rs 5.4 crore. However, Goswami was investigated and case was closed by court after a closure report was filed by the Police.

The Chief Judicial Magistrate of the Alibaug Court observed while refusing to grant Mumbai Police his custody that there is no justifiable ground to ask for police custody in the case. The court observed that there is no chain showing nexus between the suicide and the role of Arnab Goswami. Most importantly, the judge also observed that the closed case was re-opened by police without consent from court. In such a scenario, it falls upon the Judiciary to ensure that his safety and security is not compromised.

Justice Chandrachud once famously remarked, “Dissent is the safety valve of Democracy.” It was an excellent observation that elucidates clearly that in Maharashra, Democracy has certainly been compromised beyond all measure. On another occasion, he opined, “The constitution represents the charter of power granted by liberty and not the charter of liberty granted by power.”

It was, again, another excellent observation but hardly anyone could look at what is happening to Arnab Goswami and believe that the Constitution has any relevance at all when a political party in power decides to unleash the might of the state against a private citizen. When the state comes for you, you are on your own. That is the message currently being sent by the Shiv Sena, Congress party and the NCP from Maharashtra.

When the government decides to persecute a citizen due to ideological motivations or simply to silence a critic, then judicial intervention is the only recourse that is available to him. When the state decides to go after a citizen, it is only the Court that could ever hope to protect his life and liberty. There is no other recourse that is available to him. Thus, if the Courts are somehow unable to protect a critic of the government, then right of the citizenry to dissent suffers gravely as a consequence.

If the Judiciary does not step in now to put an end to the madness, people’s faith in the democracy of the country will be lost for good. There are great paeans that are often sung to shower adulation on Democracy. Democracy is better than any other form of governance because it apparently prevents tyrants from taking over. Those in power can be effectively criticised by the masses and without fear, we are told. China is evil because its masses do not have political freedom.

All of that appears to be a joke as of now. We have political parties that will not hesitate to persecute journalists for the crime of journalism when in power. We have a judiciary that will not protect the rights of private citizens when the ruling party decides to go after them. Under such circumstances, it is very easy to lose faith in Indian democracy itself.

If the Judiciary wishes to save people’s faith in Indian democracy, then it is well past time that it steps in to put an end to this. If it is unable to do so, then the faith of the people in the Judiciary will suffer as a consequence. As Justice Chandrachud said, “When we jail a cartoonist for sedition, or when jail instead of bail is given to a blogger who is critical of our religious architecture, when a mob lynches a person for the food when she or he eats, the constitution is lynched. When we deny to human beings the power of love for reasons of religion and caste, it is the constitution which is made to weep.”

The Constitution is indeed weeping today and it is now up to the Courts to wipe away its tears. The current case is not only about Arnab Goswami, it is about the right of every private citizen to criticize those in power. It is about the famed dissent that justices have called the safety valve of Democracy. If it can happen to Arnab Goswami, it can happen to anyone.

And if the Courts are not able to help even Arnab Goswami, what hope does an ordinary citizen have? The state-sanctioned persecution of the Editor-in-Chief of Republic is a matter of concern for every citizen of India. The Court must come out strongly and ensure that he is treated fairly by the system. It is about sending a message and the only message that is being heard right now is that Democracy in India is a spectacular sham.

If the Courts wish for people to continue to have faith in Indian democracy, then it is incumbent upon them to even cross its ostensible boundaries in order to protect the life of an individual. There was an occasion when a midnight hearing was organised to ensure that a terrorist on his way to the gallows had exhausted every legal recourse available to him.

As justified as his execution was, the midnight hearing was organised for Yakub Memon as a matter of principle. It was important for the Court to demonstrate that its doors will always be open for every human being in order to protect his life and liberty. Yakub Memon was a dreaded terrorist responsible for the death of hundreds but even so, it was the principle that was important.

The current scenario is as important, if not infinitely more, than the case of Yakub Memon. It is important that our Judiciary demonstrates that it will always protect the life and liberty of citizens against the excesses of the state. If the Judiciary, for any reason, is unable to stop politically motivated state-sanctioned persecution of a private citizen, then we do not have a democracy. We have a system where we elect our own tyrants. And that is a blot Indian democracy may never recover from.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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