Shahabuddin case:

Shahabuddin case:

Justice or prejudice?


Faraz Ahmad

Justices Dipak Mishra and Amitava Roy of the Supreme Court of India are increasingly becoming the conscience keepers of India.

I dare not accuse Their Lordships of vigilantism notwithstanding their remarkable directive to the progressively dwindling cinema houses in the country to play national anthem before they start screening the scheduled movie of that day to establish without doubt patriotism of each cinema goer, before he sits down to enjoy a movie thus ensuring that no anti-national goes to a cinema hall. I think it would not be inappropriate to describe this as judicial outreach. Do the judges even of the apex court have the mandate to determine patriotism of a movie buff?

But such are the times and the prevalent Sanghi vigilant terror that none dare question that, never mind that even physically handicapped persons have been assaulted and mauled in cinema houses by the Sanghi moral police force for not being able to stand up to the national anthem in time. A tray of cold drinks and snacks in front of you which restricts your movement is no excuse for immediately rising to Jna Gana Mana.

Knowing the state of mind of these two honourable Brahmin judges of the apex court their ruling forcing Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader and four time Lok Sabha member from Siwan Mohammad Shahabuddin to be moved away from Bihar to Tihar jail, notwithstanding no such provision under the law of the land, and a clear attempt to create a precedent of denying a fair trial to the accused, comes as no surprise. It however evokes a response whether this does not amount to holding Shahabuddin guilty before the due process of holding the trial. The Patna High Court and the other courts in Bihar had granted Shahabuddin bail in precisely the cases which the apex court has cited for taking this unprecedented decision of shifting Shahabuddin from Bihar to Tihar here in the Capital. In effect the apex court has passed a no confidence motion not just against the lower courts of Bihar but also Patna High Court because these courts have already acquitted this man in 20 of the 45 cases slapped on him.

True he has been accused of murders, many taking place while he was in jail for 11 years since his bête noire Nitish Kumar became the chief minister with BJP support. But in September last year the Patna High Court granted him bail after the lower courts granted him bail in all other cases slapped on this loyal lieutenant of RJD supremo Lalu Prasad.

Soon as Shahabuddin walked out of jail last September predictably BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi raised a political storm against Nitish Kumar accusing him of succumbing to Lalu’s pressure and lo and behold the Supreme court sent this RJD leader back to jail  within a week or so. Curiously Justice Amitava Roy was a member of that two-judge bench as well.

It all began with the death of a local journalist Rajdeo Ranjan, shot dead in a busy market in Siwan on May 13 last, leading to an outcry that this was Shahabuddin’s handiwork even while he was interned for more than 10 years in Siwan jail. Within a week,  the Nitish administration shifted him to Bhagalpur jail. Then in September the Patna High Court granted him bail and Shahabuddin walked out of the jail after 11 years which did not go down well with the Supreme Court which promptly put him back in jail.

Not satisfied with this, Ranjan family moved the apex court  which readily granted its plea and ordered Shahabuddin shift to Tihar thousands of kilometers away from his hometown Siwan. The court rejected the plea of his defence counsel who cited Shahabuddin’s right to free and fair trial and pointed out that there was no provision in law that mandated transfer of an accused from one prison to another. Justices Dipak Mishra and Amitava Roy did not dismiss the defence counsel’s contention. Instead they took the plea that, “This is not a normal and usual case” and added, “Fair trial must soothe the ultimate justice which is sought individually…” In effect the Supreme Court has already pronounced Shahabuddin guilty and therefore you don’t need a Nostradamus to predict the outcome of this RJD leader’s trial in Rajan murder case. Never mind that neither the lower courts nor Patna High Court found sufficient substance in the allegation of his involvement in this murder since he was already incarcerated in Siwan jail then.

There appear to be two obviousreasons for this clear bias and prejudice in seeking to hang Shahabuddin without giving him a fair opportunity to defend himself, reminding one of the Afzal Guru case where the then Special Court judge S N Dhingra, a RSS activist, had made up his mind, unmindful of any evidence to hang all those the Police produced as accused then, dismissing Guru’s plea of getting a proper and sound legal counsel to defend him there.

Shahabuddin’s first fault is his unflinching loyalty to Lalu Prasad and the RJD, which the entire gamut of Aryavrat, nee the urban upper caste upwardly mobile class, cutting across regions loves to hate and pray for complete obliteration of RJD and wish that its leaders leaders starting with Lalu himself be locked up in the deepest dungeons, never to be shown the light of the day.

Besides Shahabuddin has also to pay the price for being a Muslim, because ever since the demolition of Babri Masjid and the accompanied organized attacks on Muslims, an undercurrent of communal bias is widely prevalent and the judiciary cannot entirely escape that prejudice. Ironically, in his area of influence no one looks at Shahabuddin as a Muslim. His Hindu supporters in Siwan are equally committed to him largely because they find him above communal bias.




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