SC blasts Gujarat cops for public flogging of Muslims in Kheda

The Supreme Court on Tuesday admonished the Gujarat Police over its officials publicly flogging five people belonging to the Muslim community at a village in Kheda district in 2022, asking angrily from where did they draw the authority to tie people to poles and beat them up.

A bench of Justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta was hearing an appeal by four police personnel– inspector A V Parmar, sub-inspector D B Kumavat, head constable K L Dabhi and constable R R Dabhi– against the October 19, 2023 order of the Gujarat High Court by which they were sentenced to 14-day simple imprisonment for committing contempt of court for violating the apex court’s guidelines about detaining and interrogating suspects.

“(Do) you have an authority under law to tie people to a pole and beat them? Go and enjoy the custody,” a furious Justice Gavai said during the hearing.

Severely reprimanding the officials, Justice Mehta said, “What kind of atrocities are these? Tying the people to a pole, beating them in public view and taking videos. Then you want this court to intervene.”

Senior advocate Siddharth Dave, appearing for the officials, said they were already facing criminal prosecution, departmental proceedings and an inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

“The question here is the high court’s jurisdiction to proceed against them in contempt proceedings,” Dave said, adding no offence of wilful disobedience was made out against them in terms of the apex court’s 1996 verdict in the DK Basu case where it had issued guidelines for making arrest, and detention and interrogation of suspects.

He submitted the question right now was not about the culpability of these officials but the contempt jurisdiction of the high court.

“Was there any wilful disobedience of this court’s verdict? This is the question for which the answer has to be found. Were the policemen aware of the verdict?” he said.

Justice Gavai shot back, saying ignorance of law is not a valid defence.

“Every police officer ought to know what is the law laid down in DK Basu. As students of law, we have been hearing and reading about the DK Basu verdict,” Justice Gavai said.

Dave, however, asserted the accused policemen cannot be prosecuted for the offence under contempt jurisdiction of the high court.

Justice Gavai then wanted to know about the status of a private complaint lodged against the accused policemen. Senior advocate I H Syed, appearing for the complainant, said it was pending.

“Contempt charges were independent and irrespective of departmental proceedings and criminal prosecution. They are simply saying it’s not wilful disobedience. Beyond that, they have no case,” Syed said.

Justice Gavai said since it is an appeal, the court will have to hear the matter.

Dave sought stay of the high court order sentencing them to 14-day imprisonment, saying otherwise the appeal will become infructuous.

Justice Gavai castgated the officials, saying derisively, “Go and enjoy the custody. You will be a guest of your own officers. They will provide you special treatment.”

Dave persisted with his prayer for stay and said even the high court had stayed the operation of its order by three months.

Justice Gavai acceeded to his request and ordered a stay on the sentence.

On October 19, 2023, the high court, while holding the four policemen guilty of contempt of court, ordered them to spend 14 days in jail as punishment.

It had directed these policemen to remain present before the judicial registrar of the court within 10 days of receiving the order so they can be sent to an appropriate jail. It had, however, stayed the sentence for three months to enable them to appeal the judgement.

Eearlier, the chief judicial magistrate concerned had identified these policemen after a probe into the alleged incident the videos of which had gone viral. The CJM had also submitted a report to the high court.

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The high court had held them guilty of contempt for alleged violation of the Supreme Court guidelines issued in the case of DK Basu versus State of West Bengal. The comprehensive guidelines spoke about the way police should conduct themselves while arresting a suspect, detaining and interrogating them, and the kind of treatment they should get in custody, among others.

Five Muslims were allegedly beaten up with batons by the accused policemen, who tied them to a pole. The five were among the 13 people picked up for their alleged involvement in throwing stones at a garba event in Undhela village of Kheda district during the Navratri festival in October, 2022. Some villagers and police personnel were reportedly injured.

Later, the five accused, including the main complainant Jahirmiya Malek, had approached the high court claiming police officials committed contempt of court by flouting the Supreme Court’s guidelines.

A total of 13 policemen were named as accused in the case initially. However, the CJM’s report specified the role of only four of them after an inquiry.

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