Supreme Court Slams Gujarat Police for Public Flogging, Questions Their Authority

In a strong rebuke of police brutality, the Supreme Court of India on Tuesday sharply criticized the actions of four Gujarat Police officers who publicly flogged Muslim men in 2022. The incident, which involved tying the men to a pole and beating them in Kheda district for allegedly disrupting a garba event, was deemed an “atrocity” by the apex court.

Public Flogging Deemed Unlawful and Barbaric:

The bench, comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Sandeep Mehta, expressed their outrage at the incident, questioning the legal authority of the officers to inflict such cruel and unusual punishment. “Did they have an authority in law to tie people to a pole and beat them?” Justice Gavai asked pointedly. Justice Mehta further emphasized the egregious nature of the act by adding, “And take videos.”

Contempt of Court Charges and D.K. Basu Judgment:

The four officers had appealed to the Supreme Court against a Gujarat High Court order sentencing them to 14 days’ imprisonment for contempt of court. The High Court had found their actions to be in violation of the Supreme Court’s landmark D.K. Basu judgment of 1996, which prohibits police abuse and custodial violence.

The D.K. Basu judgment had underscored the fundamental right of individuals to be protected from torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement agencies. It categorically stated that while police have the legal authority to arrest and interrogate suspects, such actions must be conducted within the confines of the law and absolutely devoid of any form of third-degree methods or torture.

No Excuse for Ignorance of Law: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court judges were unconvinced by the defense arguments presented by senior advocate Siddharth Dave, representing the police officers. Mr. Dave attempted to defend his clients by claiming that their actions did not constitute “willful disobedience” of the D.K. Basu judgment. However, the bench countered this argument by questioning whether ignorance of the law could be used as a valid defense.

Justice Gavai firmly stated, “It is the duty of every police officer to know what is the law laid down in D.K. Basu.” This statement underscores the importance of police officers being well-versed in their legal obligations and adhering to the principles enshrined in landmark judgments like D.K. Basu.

Jurisdictional Challenge and Next Steps:

Mr. Dave further challenged the jurisdiction of the Gujarat High Court to try the officers for contempt of court, arguing that they were already facing criminal prosecution, departmental inquiry, and proceedings by the National Human Rights Commission.

Despite this challenge, the Supreme Court admitted the statutory appeal filed by the officers and stayed the contempt action against them in the High Court. This decision paves the way for the Supreme Court to examine the case in greater detail and deliver a final verdict on the matter.

Wider Implications and Importance of Due Process:

The Supreme Court’s intervention in this case sends a strong message that police brutality and disregard for the law will not be tolerated. It serves as a crucial reminder that law enforcement agencies must operate within the boundaries of the law and uphold the fundamental rights of all citizens.

The incident also highlights the importance of due process and holding police officers accountable for their actions. While the officers in this case face multiple legal proceedings, the Supreme Court’s scrutiny adds another layer of accountability, ensuring that justice is served and such egregious violations of human rights are not repeated.

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