Selected Articles from Various News Paper: Civil Services Mentor Magazine March 2014


(March 2014)

A lost opportunity

There are occasions when the finality of a judicial verdict is in unfortunate conflict with the interests of justice. The contentious case of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is one such. By declining to review its retrograde decision to uphold the validity of Section 377, the Supreme Court has lost an opportunity to revisit a verdict that has drawn widespread criticism for failing to extend constitutional protection to sexual minorities. While it is true that the scope for review is limited, there was some hope for the LGBT community when the Union government came forward to seek a review of the December 2013 verdict in Suresh Kumar Koushal . Many jurists, activists and political leaders felt the ruling overturned a well-reasoned judgment of the Delhi High Court, which had read down Section 377 to de-criminalise consensual sex among adults irrespective of gender. It was seen as incongruous with the mores of our times. The verdict required a review on merits because of some intriguing conclusions. The Bench had ruled that “those indulging in carnal intercourse against the order of nature”
constituted a different class, and that Parliament could treat the category differently from others. It had failed to see that ‘order of nature’ is itself an artificial construct rooted in the outdated view that alternative sexuality is unnatural. It had dismissed the LGBT community as a minuscule fraction of the population, as though the relative smallness of a group disentitled it to constitutional protection.

While holding that Section 377 suffered from no infirmity, the Bench had said it was open to the legislature to delete or amend it. The verdict had cast a shadow of doubt on the judiciary’s decisiveness in enforcing fundamental rights. In a recent case concerning death row convicts and mercy petitions, it was reaffirmed that the Supreme Court was best equipped to adjudicate the content of fundamental rights. “This Court has always granted relief for violation of fundamental rights and has never remanded the matter,” it said. The Bench that declined to review the verdict could have taken inspiration from these words and examined afresh the section’s chilling effect on fundamental rights, instead of leaving it to the legislature. A curative petition could provide one more avenue of redress, but its scope is limited to judgments passed in violation of principles of natural justice or in circumstances suggesting bias on the part of the court. The situation is ripe for a legislative solution, but the process may not be easy, for not all members and parties will be able to resist the influence of religious conservative groups that are likely to oppose any amendment.

Tensions in Ukraine

The unrest in Ukraine, which recently flared into violence, is dividing the country and intensifying long-standing tensions between Russia and the West. Public protests started in December 2013 over President Viktor
Yanukovych’s decision to abandon a deal with the European Union in favour of aid and natural gas agreements with Russia. The protesters, who for weeks were peaceful and even returned equipment to the police after water cannon was used to disperse crowds in the capital, Kiev, have seized government offices across the country, including the Justice Ministry. Their demands include an end to corruption and self-enrichment by the ruling political elite, and at least four people have died as security forces opened fire. Mr. Yanukovych has softened his position by putting an amnesty for protesters through Parliament and by offering the prime ministership and deputy prime ministership to the respective opposition leaders, Arseny Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko. But the opposition parties are furious that the amnesty requires the protesters to vacate the occupied buildings, and the offer of political posts has been rejected.

Mr. Yanukovych has now taken a time-out by going on “sick leave,” but his cosmetic measures are bound to fail because Ukraine is a prize in a geostrategic tussle between Russia and the West. To start with, the President’s policies since his election in 2010 have troubled a substantial section of Ukraine’s 46 million people, especially those in the western regions, who support accession to the EU. Eastern Ukrainians, however, prefer closer links with Russia. Secondly, the EU deal was tied to an IMF bailout that would require public-spending cuts and higher gas prices. Thirdly, NATO and Ukraine have held joint exercises, which they have progressively enlarged, though Parliament cancelled the 2009 manoeuvres. The EU association agreement proposes deeper Ukraine-NATO links, though only 30 per cent of Ukrainians favour NATO membership; such proposals fuel support for aggressively ethno-nationalist far-right coalitions such as Prawy Sektor (Right Sector). Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part, has blocked the Kiev-EU agreement with •15 billion in aid, cheaper gas supplies, and trade deals. While Moscow sees NATO as trying to encircle Russia, the Atlantic alliance has repeatedly tried to invent new roles for itself since the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Treaty Organisation collapsed in 1991, and both NATO and the IMF have in effect tried to hijack the EU’s relations with Ukraine; neither Ukrainians nor the EU must allow themselves to be traduced thus, and Ukraine’s future direction must be decided solely by Ukrainians.

New scourge in Assam

Northeastern India has seen a pattern for long: when one terror outfit is neutralised, another pops up in hydrahead fashion. The most recent such organisation is the Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland. On the ascendant in terms of strike potential, it has gone on a killing spree in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts in Lower Assam over the past few weeks. In one recent series of attacks, eight persons were killed, including Muslims and Hindi-speaking Bengalis. While the NDFB (S) has come out with statements accusing the security forces of targeting Bodo civilians, its plan is clearly to drive a wedge between Bodos and non-Bodos. The turmoil that engulfed Lower Assam in July 2012 that claimed 96 lives and left lakhs of Muslims and Bodos traumatised and displaced, is fresh in memory. While the Ranjan Daimary faction of the NDFB signed a ceasefire agreement with the Central and the State governments in November 2013, the faction led by I.K. Songbijit refused to join the process. Songbijit, who was the Daimary’s faction’s ‘commander-in-chief’, broke away in late-2012. Remaining in Myanmar, he is now believed to be in league with Paresh Baruah of the ULFA (I), and S.S. Khaplang, chief of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (K). The prospect of the three teaming up with the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation, poses a new challenge.

As the movement demanding a homeland for the Bodo people runs its course through its second decade, it remains one of the most serious potential sources of violent political confrontation in the region. Even admitting that the Bodo cause stems from the perception of their not being a part of the composite indigenous population of Assam, extortions, kidnapping and other atrocities have over time undermined any legitimacy the movement could claim. The State government has made clear its resolve to clamp down on violence, and the Assam Police have declared 15 leaders of the NDFB (S), including Songbijit himself, as “most wanted”, even putting a price of Rs. 95 lakh on them. Considering that the outfit is estimated to have less than 250 cadres, firm enough action does not appear to be a tall order.Inter-State intelligence cooperation will be key. At a point when sustained and aggressive action by the government, with some help from across the border in Bangladesh, has substantially broken the back of militancy at large in northeastern India, the latest threat should be met with a firm hand. Meanwhile, the process of peace involving the two other dominant Bodo groups, led respectively by Dhiren Boro and Ranjan Daimary, should be handled with fairness and magnanimity.

Courtesy: Various News Papers

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