When Lawmakers Become Law Breakers, Who Do You Appeal To?

Kapil Sibal writes: When a bulldozer razes my home to the ground, it seeks to demolish not just the structure I built, but my courage to speak up

My home is not just a brick-and-mortar structure. Its masonry and whitewashed walls do not even begin to tell the story. Within its womb lies all that I cherish. It saves me from the heat of the blazing sun, protects me from chilling winter nights, and holds the memories that live with me. The joys of my being are cradled within it. It is a place where I can freely breathe, laugh, cry, and give vent to my emotions, away from the gaze of outsiders. It may be a palace or a little hut, but it is my space. That is why each of us wants a home, which we call ours. A home where I am both alone and together, essentially a part of my very being. When you allow a bulldozer to wade through it, you don’t just destroy a structure, you destroy the essence of all I am. With it, all of me falls apart. I can never build another.

Yes, there are rules and regulations. What rules to abide by when building structures, are coded. Corporations are meant to ensure that homes are built in accordance with the regulations and rules along with the operative bylaws. All of us know that any inspector can come around and find fault with a particular structure despite the fact that for years taxes stand paid, water charges regularly deposited and electricity bills duly honoured. None of this has any relevance when a bulldozer is assigned to demolish.

A bulldozer is a symbol of power, emotionless, cold as steel and it brooks no hindrance. Today, it has no relevance to illegal structures. It has relevance to who I am and what I stand for. It has relevance to what I say in public. It has relevance to my beliefs, my community, my being, my religion. It has relevance to my voice of dissent. When a bulldozer razes my home to the ground, it seeks to demolish not just the structure I built, but my courage to speak up. It seeks to belittle what I stand for, mock at my very existence and trample upon me with implacable arrogance so that I live in constant fear or succumb to the machinations of those who seek to bend me and all that I stand for.

I remember old Bollywood movies in which bulldozers symbolised the power of the villainous rich and the mighty, resisted by the courage of ordinary folk led by heroes who dared to stand up and be counted. Attempts of the powerful to aggrandise met with stiff resistance. The audience empathised with the victims and cheered when they were saved by the heroic deeds of the star performer, often winning over the lass he is in love with. The villain often met his destined end. The key element during the unravelling of these dramatic events was that the state eventually always came to the aid of the victims.

But times have changed. It is now the state that seeks to bulldoze. Its official machinery prostrates itself to the will of its masters notwithstanding the law. It allows homes to be razed to rubble. There is no compunction, no contrition. Instead, lawmakers have become law breakers and there is no one to appeal to and nowhere to go to. Overnight notices, inadequate time to respond, no checking of facts, no reprieve. All these acts violate all norms of civilised conduct, especially norms prescribed by the state itself.

Where should citizens go? The law is there, the lawmaker is there, and courts too are there. But citizens are helpless. There is no time to move the court and often courts have little time to listen. What about civil society? Very few in civil society have the courage to speak up. And If they do, they will be referred to as sympathisers of those who the state targets as a matter of policy. If one seeks to protect those who the law victimises, then trolls start rolling. Opposition to bulldozer justice is associated with being anti-Hindu. Mainstream media starts taking sides, pushing agendas demonising the victims who suffer. Nothing happens.

One must ask the question why of late this is happening and why only in some states? One wonders why is it that all illegal structures are not razed to the ground? If done, cities will be seen as heaps of rubble, given the reality of our cities. At least, the bulldozer that symbolises the power of the state must treat all with an equal hand. This does not happen because discrimination is at the heart of this unjust state enterprise.

Our Bollywood heroes are missing. This is not the mighty private entrepreneur’s unjust enterprise. It is the might of the state at work. Opposition makes reprisals inevitable. Protesters gherao theatres, stalling shows. Too much at stake. Some are rumoured to lean towards bulldozer justice. No cause to fight for. Even the public will not applaud. They, instead, might just clap at instant justice provided by bulldozers.

It all happens when right-wing evangelists strike at the belief of others, causing a furore. On occasions, silence is not an option. The result is stone pelting by miscreants — totally unjustified. But it is for the law to take over. It is for the law to identify and punish the offenders. The bulldozer is not a weapon that the law prescribes. But it is a weapon that the law seems to use to teach a lesson. One can only hope that courts of law sit up and take notice. I wonder why they are silent.

The writer, a former Union Minister, is a senior lawyer