Unequal Citizens Before the Law

    (Arnab Goswami and Varavara Rao)

    Article 14 of the Constitution of India proclaims “the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”

    But it seems like that this provision is been added only for name sake and is adhered to selectively.

    The cases of Goswami and Varavara Rao have revealed some glaring differences.

    Arnab Goswami is a journalist and the owner-editor of Republic TV news channel.

     Varavara Rao is also a journalist and was a newspaper columnist in addition to being a lecturer, writer and revolutionary poet.

     Both of them were arrested and imprisoned, of course, for varying charges. And so emerged the differences in the manner of arrest, as well as the response their arrests elicited from the political class, administration and judiciary.

    Goswami was arrested on November 4 and the same was published with a live video. It was alleged by the Media reports that the police or prison authorities allowed Goswami to use a cell phone while he was in custody. Within a week of his arrest, petitions for his bail were  heard by the sessions court, the high court and the Supreme Court on a priority basis. Even as the lower courts dismissed his pleas, the apex court granted interim bail and released him.

    On the other hand, in comparison, the manner in which Varavara Rao was arrested on August 28 was horrendous. 20 police officials from Pune, assisted by the Telangana police, barged into his house and seized cell phones from Rao and his wife and cut their landline connections. The next eight hours the elderly couple was kept incommunicado. Family’s helpers and neighbours were also prevented from approaching their house. In his house, bookshelves were ransacked and documents and papers were thrown out. The elderly couple were harassed for eight hours and were restrained to even make a call to their lawyer and Rao was arrested. Several appeals to the jail authorities and courts were made in order to get access to basic necessities like a blanket, a straw or even for a pair of socks. The jail administrations did not even allow newspapers, magazines and books to reach Varavara Rao.

    While Goswami could move the three tiers of judiciary in quick succession within a week to secure his release, Varavara Rao languished in jail for the past two years, without trial and without bail. Four bail petitions, in the Sessions court and High court, both on merit and on health grounds (including testing positive for COVID-19) took almost 20 months to be rejected ultimately!

    The Bombay High court, on November 18, finally directed authorities to shift Rao from Taloja jail to Nanavati Hospital for 15 days, noting that it would further examine the case after fourteen days.

    No doubt there is a difference in the charges imposed on both. But this distinction is irrelevant as both are entitled to the presumption of innocence until found guilty.

    All in all, Goswami was able to move three levels of courts in quick succession within a week to secure his bail while, Rao languished in jail in a fabricated case for two years, without trial and without bail.