The case of Mr Iftikhar Geelani shows up, yet again, the sinister face of “national security”. It is easy in India for a deeply flawed system of justice — implemented by clueless and dangerous policemen, intelligence officials and bureaucrats — to undermine fundamental civil liberties in the most protracted and shamefaced manner. Mr Geelani, bureau chief of Kashmir Times in New Delhi and son-in-law of a hardline Hurriyat leader, was arrested under the Official Secrets Act, 1923, and detained in jail for more than six months to have the charges against him withdrawn recently by the Centre. He was charged with possessing a document in his computer which reflected, according to the police, “his inclination towards insurgency in Kashmir”.
It was also given out that the raid on his house had revealed pornographic material, and that he had connections with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. The last allegation was on the basis of a hotel booking made for him by the Pakistan High Commission, but for which Mr Geelani had paid from his own pocket. The “dangerous” document in his possession turned out to be a paper on the deployment of Indian troops in Kashmir in 1993, published and made available on the internet by a research institute in Pakistan, whose publications are kept in libraries all over the subcontinent. What is particularly outrageous is that quite early in the investigations against him, a military intelligence report had established that this document was entirely harmless. But this was dismissed by the home ministry as irrelevant. Mr Geelani was being assaulted in jail as a traitor and his family immeasurably inconvenienced while the home and defence ministries kept up this double game regarding the nature of the document in his computer. The withdrawal of the case against him saves both the ministries and the police from profound public embarrassment. The need to forestall such an exposé, rather than any commitment to freedom and justice, seems to have precipitated Mr Geelani’s release. The terrible paradox is that all this is for the sake of making Indians feel safe, secure and patriotic.