TNN | Jan 16, 2013,
Police in the Kalyan-Dombivli area recently began stopping couples and lecturing them about the benefits of staying indoors at night, one of which apparently is that they wouldn’t be fined Rs 1,200 under the BPA. Over 90 people have been fined. Criminal law counsel Shrikant Bhat said that under the law the police have no power to even impose such a fine. They are only authorized to investigate.
“The policemen are acting like tyrants. Instead of doing their duty to protect people and women, they seem to have lost all sense of policing,” said Colin Gonsalves, a civil rights lawyer who has moved to Delhi from Mumbai and now practises in the Supreme Court. “My advice to the womenis to identify these police officers who prevent them from being out and then move the police chief or Bombay high court to have such officers removed from service,” he said.
Senior counsel and criminal law expert from Mumbai, Shirish Gupte, added, “The police have absolutely no power to stop anyone from being outside unless the person is soliciting a customer. The police are overreaching the law.” The police also have no power to ask college principals to ensure that students display their college identity cards at all times, even outside college premises.
Apparently, the police move came after a circular was sent to the force in Thane asking it to act against sexual harassment. “The police move, an outcome of a well-intentioned circular to form squads across police stations to tackle sexual harassment, is being misdirected and enforced by overzealous cops without application of mind,” said one lawyer.
“I think the problem is not with the law. The police are targeting law-abiding citizens by grossly misunderstanding the provisions of the law,” said former chief information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi. “Instead of providing security to citizens, they are harassing them to cover their own failure. The police must stop this immediately and apologize to the innocent citizens.”
“A couple or a single girl, irrespective of the time of day, is not exposing her person in an indecent manner by merely walking on the road or sitting in a corner. The police have absolutely no justification to fine young couples Rs 1,200 and lecture them on morality,” said Bhat. He added, “The police also can’t ask a couple or single girl to stay indoors after 8pm or 10pm. By doing this, they are outdoing the Taliban. Article 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India enshrine personal liberty and freedom of movement. Undoubtedly, neither freedom nor personal liberty is unconditional or absolute. However, a couple moving at night is not indulging in indecent behavior. There is nothing to show that the women who have been attacked by rapists and goons were indulging in indecent behavior or ‘exposing’ themselves.” Only the charge of indecent, riotous or disorderly behavior would justify police intervention, says the law.
Bhat added, “The police must be taught a lesson by being taken to court and fined, which should be recovered from their salaries and not taxpayer money. Departmental action should also be taken against them.”
The policemen are acting like tyrants. Instead of doing their duty to protect people and women, they seem to have lost all sense of policing
— Colin Gonsalves, civil rights lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court
The police also can’t ask a couple or single girl to stay indoors after 8pm or 10pm. By doing this, they are outdoing the Taliban
— Shrikant Bhat, criminal law counsel
The police are only authorized to investigate. They have no legal right to punish a citizen. The fines collected by the Thane police are subject to the approval of a magistrate. The fined individuals can visit the magistrate’s court the next day, engage a lawyer, plead not guilty and fight a case. Their lawyer would have the right to cross-examine the police. The magistrate can then give a judgment. Alternatively, and depending on the case, the aggrieved party can file a writ petition in the high court for quashing proceedings and return of fine, said advocate Shrikant Bhat.
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