A special injustice

Special courts for those falsely held in terror cases would acknowledge the problem, not solve it

The Union home ministry has come out in support of demands for the setting up of special courts for speedy disposal of cases of those believed to be falsely accused of involvement in terror cases. As reported in this newspaper on Sunday, Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has also indicated that action would be initiated against officials who are proved to be keeping in custody people they know to be innocent. Shinde did not offer details of the timeframe for the establishment of such courts, or the mechanism by which cases will be allocated to them. But the intention is welcome. At the very least, it acknowledges the magnitude of the problem.

In the past few years, as details of investigations in cases of terror attacks have come to light, it has become clear that far too many people have been unfairly, falsely, and possibly, knowingly, implicated and kept in custody. The fact that most of these young people, rounded up in the aftermath of terrorist strikes, have been Muslim has rightly invited fears that police and security agencies are prejudiced by — if not actively propagating — a communal stereotype. This is what sets these cases apart — in a democracy founded on the rule of law, exceptional arrangements must be based on exceptional circumstances. The cases of the blasts in Malegaon and Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid, for example, in which those under investigation now turn out to be not Muslim, but Hindu, have underlined a challenge for India's law enforcement agencies and its polity. It is a challenge that justifies extraordinary measures. Yet, the intended courts and the mechanism sustaining them should be carefully thought out, so that nothing transpires to boomerang on the good intent. It is also crucial that the special courts are seen as a temporary, expedient measure. They should be aimed primarily at clearing a backlog, not serve as a long-term prophylactic against future mis-steps by the law enforcement and investigation agencies. The intent of framing such a measure has to be administrative and police reform: upgrading and updating investigative procedures and ridding the system of social prejudice.

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