Jaipur, May 27: The Ashok Gehlot government’s directive to police to extend special treatment to religious leaders facing criminal charges of “rape, murder or any other moral turpitude” has women up in arms.
The state Cabinet, in a recent meeting, decided to create a separate set of procedures for investigating criminal cases against religious leaders with a large following.
Women’s groups, under the banner of Mahila Atyachar Virodhi Jan Andolan, called the decision “unconstitutional” and said it was taken in view of the “vote banks” such leaders can manipulate. The protesters staged a token dharna near the state secretariat here today.
According to the Cabinet decision, an officer not lower than the rank of a deputy superintendent can investigate a case in which an FIR is filed against a religious person on charges of rape, murder or any act of moral turpitude. If arrest is necessary, the officer would have to seek permission of higher authorities.
The women’s groups, protesting since the decision was made public last week, submitted a memorandum to home minister Gulab Singh Shaktawat questioning the government’s motive. They asked what had prompted the government to differentiate between “a Sadhu or a Muni and an ‘ordinary citizen’ found guilty of committing a rape or murder”.
The government decision was spurred by observations made by a Cabinet sub-committee on the report of the Justice Kokje Commission that probed the infamous Lokendra Vijay case.
Vijay, a Jain Muni, had allegedly committed suicide on September 10, 1998 after police interrogated him on a rape charge. The Jain community reacted sharply to “police excesses” and “disrespect” shown to him that, they claimed, had driven him to suicide.
The Kokje Commission submitted its report in March 2002 though its contents were not made public. But the Gehlot government decided to act on its recommendations. If the government is to implement the decision, the Criminal Procedure Code will have to be amended, said lawyer and chief of the state unit of People’s Union for Civil Liberties Prem Kishan Sharma.