June 16, 2021

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Judiciary’s task: Amid draconian laws and executive overreach, hawkeyed courts can reverse the drift

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Uday Deb
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The state of civil liberties in Uttar Pradesh has again come under question in an Allahabad high court order, which directed the immediate release of a Muslim man detained under the draconian National Security Act. The court took note that though the detainee, Javed Siddiqui, made a representation against his detention, there was inordinate delay of three weeks in placing it before the advisory board tasked with confirming the detention order. The board is one of the few safeguards available in the NSA, which allows 12 months detention without trial.

Releasing Siddiqui, the court said: “Where the law confers extraordinary power on the executive to detain a person without recourse to the ordinary law of land, and to trial by courts … the executive must exercise the power with extreme care.” The continued incarceration of journalist Siddique Kappan, who was on his way to Hathras, on sedition and UAPA charges calls for introspection too. Meanwhile, concerns are mounting over the UP ordinance criminalising interfaith marriage.

Its first arrest, of a Bareilly Muslim youth – who had eloped with a Hindu woman several months ago – is facing pointed questions. An interfaith marriage in Lucknow was reportedly stopped because the families hadn’t sought the district magistrate’s approval under this law. Now an interfaith live-in couple in Meerut is caught in the ordinance’s crosshairs. The Hindu woman has said her Muslim partner didn’t deceive her on his religion and was even prepared to convert for an Arya Samaj wedding that eventually didn’t materialise. These incidents in the space of a week reinforce criticism of the UP law’s chilling effect on individual freedom by facilitating vigilantism and police overreach. Courts are the last refuge when draconian laws dovetail with the state’s absolute power, relegating constitutional liberties to the doghouse.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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