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Doublethink in the Time of Criminal Reform

October 31, 2006

Orwell created a range of wonderful concepts in his dystopic novel 1984 to characterize the language of power. One such phrase Doublethink referred to the ability to hold “two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them” without being aware of their contradictions.

The latest addition to the vast repository of doublethinks in the archives of the Indian state comes from the background note of the new committee formed for the reform of the criminal justice system. Barely a few years after the controversial Malimath Committee, yet another committee has been formed under the chairmanship of Dr. Madhava Menon (the founder of the National Law School in Bangalore). The National Criminal Justice System Policy Drafting Committee (“NCJSPDC”) has been constituted “taking into account changing profile of the crime and criminal” We can safely assume in the context of the global war against terror, what the changing profile of the crime and the criminal refers to.

According to the background note, the motivation behind the setting up of the NCJSPDC is as follows:

The goal is freedom from crime, protection of human rights and the maintenance
of rule of law. The strategy is to send the message that crime does not pay and violent crime will be ruthlessly dealt with under law. The strategy is to assure the law abiding citizens that life and liberty will be secured by the state at all costs and victims will receive due consideration and justice. The strategy is to give the police and the prosecution the tools to bring criminals to justice effectively and expeditiously. Respect for human rights and the dual system of law enforcement between the Centre and the States shall not be allowed to dilute the efficiency and effectiveness of the system. The role of criminal justice in national development and good governance shall be promoted and redeemed.

So on the one hand, it is intended for the protection of human rights, and at the same time respect for human right should not be allowed to dilute the efficiency and effectiveness of the system.

Returning to Orwell, to engage in Doublethink requires us “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”

The Committee has been formed with the belief that the present criminal justice system is nor working, and in these tumultuous times, there is a need for extra ordinary legislation. It cites the Malimath Committee report which argued that
“There has been much patchy and piecemeal legislation and much more adhoc policy making relating to terrorism or organized crime or different types of victims such as women, children and Dalits for one reason or the other. Yet, things have improved little for the various kinds of victims and in the management of organized crimes or terrorism. Success has been elusive. The Committee also feels– with the greatest respect – that many of the orders of the various courts on different issues, constituting judge-made law has also hindered the criminal justice administration. It is therefore necessary for Government to come out with a clear and coherent policy statement on all major issues of criminal justice”.

Perhaps they were referring to judgments like D.K.Basu which laid down the rights of prisoners, and comes heavily down on torture by the police. Extraordinary times do indeed call for extraordinary measures. An interesting historical equivalent is the debate on the formation of the Sedition Committee of 1918 headed by Justice Rowlatt. The initial terms of reference of the committee asked them “to examine and consider the difficulties that have arisen in dealing with such conspiracies and to advise as to the amendments, if any, necessary in the ordinary criminal law in order to enable Government to deal effectively with them.” They were referring to the failure of the ordinary criminal justice system, and were instead more comfortable with the kind of powers that had been granted to them via extra ordinary legislations that were in force during the war.

The Rowlatt Committee, interestingly came up at the same time as the decision by the British to ensure greater participation of Indians in the administration. So liberal constitutional reform was accompanied by the prospects of constitutionally sanctioned violence and force.

Another War, Another time, only the Doublethink survives

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