Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Laxman Rekha

The Laxman Rekha

PAKISTAN is one of the most popular metaphors for despotism, and Mr Atanasio Monserrate’s use of the metaphor for Goa may be far too outstretched and purely rhetorical, yet it does seem that some of the policemen crossed the boundaries that are drawn by the law not just for ordinary citizens but also for the enforcers of law in dealing with the situation at the Panaji police station on Tuesday and thereafter. In reality, what happened was revenge. The mob showered stones at policepersons posted at the Panaji police station for a long time, causing bleeding injuries to more than 30 of them, many of them women, and shattering glasspanes of cabins inside the police station. Police resorted to teargas and lathi charge – and would have still remained within the confines of law if they had stopped at that.

But they decided on a revenge. Of course, you have to look at it another way, too. Police and police stations represent the State – that Invisible Power that exists to maintain law and order – and any attack of the scale and kind that took place at the Panaji police station on Tuesday would be seen as an attack on the State. The State seemed to have lost its authority before an agitated mob bent on wantonly and freely attacking the police station. The State had to subdue the mob in order to re-establish its authority.

In short, the policepersons who went berserk after suffering the mob attack for a long time represented not only their vengeful fury against the attackers but also the State that had decided to re-establish its authority. We do not know which minister or superior police officer directed the policepersons who went after the mob and their leaders; nor is it important in seeing it very clearly that the State was behind the policepersons.

And we need to note that both the State and policepersons went overboard and crossed the boundaries of law in some respects. Although it is difficult to say in such situations whether the mob would have melted away and the situation would have become calm on its own with the agitated supporters of Mr Monserrate dispersing all by themselves. The attack on policepersons was brutal and barbaric, and Mr Monserrate’s supporters would have loved to inflict injuries to more policepersons had not the lathi charge and teargassing begun.

Yet, what the policepersons did after that could only be termed as unlawful, excessive and unwarranted. At the Miramar bungalow of Mr Monserrate, all things were shattered and smashed, which could not be justified on any grounds. Mr Monserrate and his wife, Ms Jennifer were beaten up in custody at the police station, which also cannot be justified under any law. Many of the MLAs, both from the ruling as well as opposition camp, have protested against the police ill-treatment of ‘an MLA’. Such protests may amount to suggesting that MLAs never be ill-treated by police, which would be tantamount to demanding a special immunity for MLAs and not bothering whether such immunity is available to ordinary citizens too. The truth is, MLA or non-MLA, the law does not permit police to torture or beat anybody in custody. So, in that sense, we have to condemn the beating of Mr Monserrate, because we do not want beating of anybody in lockup by police. It is plainly contrary to norms of justice, which is based on the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

So, even if policepersons saw Mr Monserrate lead and incite the mob to shower stones at them ( ‘attempting to murder’ them), they had to arrest and charge and prosecute him in a court of law and prove that he did it and get him punished for that. Policemen cannot assume the role of judges. They cannot usurp the powers of judiciary. At the same time, Mr Monserrate and his apologists have to understand that they cannot assume of the role of policemen. They cannot usurp the powers of the executive.

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