Two top journalists of Malayalam channel Mangalam who are facing criminal charges in connection with a sting operation were in handcuffs when the police took them to a Thiruvanthapuram court on Friday, according to media reports.
The Malayala Manorama reported that Mangalam TV CEO R. Ajithkumar and bureau chief R Jayachandran were brought to the court in handcuffs and that following objections by their counsel the handcuffs were removed.
K.M. Shahjahan, a former private secretary of V.S. Achuthanandan, and M. Shajar Khan, leader of the Socialist Unity Centre of India, who were arrested for joining a protest outside the office of the Director-General of Police were also taken to court handcuffed. Neither of them has a criminal record that could lead to the suspicion that they might try to escape from custody.
There were probably two motives for the handcuffing. One was to publicly humiliate them. The other was to bolster the police attempt to portray them as subversive elements who had joined the protest by a family, which was seeking justice for their deceased son, with a view to fomenting violence.
It is nobody’s case that the channel journalists are persons prone to violence. Apart from public humiliation, their handcuffing may have been motivated by a desire to send a warning to the media whose reports have caused acute embarrassment to the state government in general and the police in particular in the lst few days.
The underplaying of the police’s high-handed and patently illegal conduct by most media institutions suggests that the strategy is succeeding.
Way back in 1980, V. R. Krishna Iyer, condemning the practice of handcuffing, wrote in a celebrated judgment: “It is superstitious to practise the barbarous bigotry of handcuffs as a routine regimen – an imperial heritage, well preserved. The problem is to get rid of mind-cuffs which make us callous to handcuffing a prisoner...”
Krishna Iyer was not the first Supreme Court judge to frown upon the feudal-colonial practice of handcuffing. Two years earlier a bench had said, “Handcuffing is prima facie inhuman and, therefore, unreasonable, over-harsh and at the first flush arbitrary.”
In 1995, Justices Kuldip Singh and N. Venkatachala, pronouncing judgment on an appeal filed by Citizens for Democracy, laid down procedures to be followed by officials and lower courts to prevent arbitrary handcuffing.
They stipulated that if the authorities have well-grounded basis to infer that a prisoner was likely to break out of custody, he should be produced before a magistrate with a prayer to permit them to handcuff him. If there was concrete proof regarding the prisoner’s proneness to violence and tendency to escape, “finding that no other practical way of forbidding escape is available, the magistrate may grant permission to handcuff the prisoner.”
They also said that a person arrested by the police “shall not be handcuffed unless special orders in that respect are obtained from the magistrate at the time of the grant of the remand”.
The court directed all ranks of police and the prison authorities to meticulously obey the rules it had laid down. It added, “Any violation of any of the directions issued by us by any rank of the police in the country or member of the jail establishment shall be summarily punishable under the Contempt of Court Act apart from other penal consequences under the law.”
As persons affected directly by the police’s questionable conduct, the activists and the journalists who were handcuffed can initiate contempt action. But it is not quite practical to expect them to do so while in custody. IN any case, the issue is one which has ramifications which extend to civil society and media. It is for civil society groups and media groups to take it up in the interests of their fraternities. .
If the state government does not quickly make emends for the illegal acts of the police and and make a public commitment to desist from attempts to intimidate the media snd civil society into submission, national organizations must step in.