When the Jammu and Kashmir High Court celebrated its diamond jubilee last week, it was virtually a two day jashan. From President APJ Kalam, to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and senior judges, a number of legal luminaries attended the gala function. It was encomium time, with nothing but praise showered on J&K judiciary. Everyone, from President Kalam to the deputy chief minister Muzfar Hussin Baigh, applauded the role of the judiciary in strengthening the roots of democracy and fair play in the state. Rightly so.
The very presence of the President, Chief Justice of India and all those who have earned a name for themselves in legal and judicial fields speaks volumes about the importance of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in the Indian judicial system. The President made special mention of the efforts of the state judiciary in ensuring that justice reaches the ordinary person without any delay. Chief Justice of India, besides other things, reminded the audience, mostly the judges and judicial officers, of the importance assigned to liberty of the citizens in the constitution. He took great pains to emphasise that any person, charged under criminal provisions, howsoever serious those might be, has to be treated as innocent until the charges are proved against him.
It would seem, however, that the Chief Justice is not properly briefed about the 'distinct' situation that is prevailing in the state, especially Kashmir valley as far as the concepts of liberty and fair play is concerned. Kashmir, right from the day Dogra rule ended, has a different dictionary for such phrases. Here, the mighty executive, with the help of ever-obliging police and other security agencies, has all along ensured that justice is denied to all those from whom the executive or for that matter the political establishment faces even a very small threat. There are hundreds and thousand of examples of this strong arm policy of the state in which it seems has even hoodwinked the entire judicial process.
Surely, the Chief Justice of India should have been informed about at least some of the high-profile cases? Say, how the dreaded Public Safety Act, law which we were told had been enacted to curb timber smuggling, was invoked against the then president of Kashmir Motor Drivers Association (KMDA), Ghulam Nabi and few others? For the crime that they dared to challenge the might of Shiekh Abdullah in 1977 elections. Or that Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami was detained under the same Act, just because National Conference got afraid of his growing popularity in the Kulgam belt of south Kashmir?
Of the recent times, there are far too many cases which, if one starts counting, can produce a multi volume book. Perhaps someone should have at least briefed the Chief Justice and the President about how Farooq Ahmad alias Bitta Karatey, charged with many serious offences, has been languishing in prisons for last 16 years when all courts, including the Supreme Court, have ordered his release on bail, but the mighty executive, which day in and day out swears by the majesty of the judicial process, sees to it that judicial orders are treated with contempt? Or about Bilal Sidique, another youth, although granted bail by the court, who has not been able to come out of the prison and is shifted from one police station to other.
Although the judicial system in India has undergone a sea change in recent years, it seems that these winds of change find it difficult to cross the treacherous Banihal pass. While in other states, stress is being laid on providing speedy justice to the people, in Kashmir we still have cases that are pending for decades together. Last year, the High Court did take a major initiative in taking justice to the very door steps of the people and cutting the rising costs of trials. This experiment was successfully made with regard to the earthquake related relief cases and people of Uri and Karnah did appreciate the efforts made by the judiciary.
One expected that the area of such experiments would be widened and similar steps will be taken at other places as well, but, unfortunately, nothing of that sort has happened so far. The result is that a large number of people are suffering at the alter of delayed justice. The most glaring is the recent racket involving prostitution in some parts of Kashmir. A number of people have been arrested in this connection and all of them are languishing in prison for about two months. Without going into the nature of the charges against the accused, the fact remains that charges against many, as divulged in the CBI charge sheet, fall within the category of 'bailable offences' and the accused have the right to seek their release on bail. However this right has been denied to them and they have virtually been condemned unheard, even as in the eye of the law they continue to be innocent till the charges are proved against them and they are held guilty by the court of law.
At the time of arrest of these accused, an impression was given by the CBI, through media, as if all of them deserved the gallows. But when one goes through the charges levelled against them, it looks, on the face of it, that these hapless people, though of high profile, have been framed and the case against them is more political than criminal. While on one hand CBI is playing truant as far as implementing the directions of the court to effect the trial of 'big fish, which are neck-deep involved in flesh trade', on the other hand, the court also does not come to the rescue of those who have been subjected to a media trial and have been publicly condemned, without giving them a chance to defend themselves.
There is an old saying that justice should not only be done, but it should also seem to have been done In the present case, one earnestly expects from the honourable court and the highly conscious judges to follow the implementation of the law in letter and spirit, and deliver justice in its true manner.