Bhopal, Feb. 24: When murder convict Jagmohan Parashar hurled his footwear at the judge in anger, he did not realise he would be changing the dress code for his entire tribe.
Shocked judges of the Gwalior court have decided to bring all undertrials to heel, lest they find themselves in their colleague’s shoes while passing sentences.
For the past one month, accused appearing before the district and sessions court in criminal cases are being made to take their shoes off as if entering a shrine and walk barefoot up to the dock.
Rights activists are indignant at people not yet proved guilty being treated as “inferior”.
Bharat Singh Bhadoria, president of Human Rights Forum, Gwalior, has threatened to move the Supreme Court against the Gwalior court order. “This is a clear violation of human rights. An accused is not (necessarily) guilty... no law of the land approves (such measures). We will soon file a writ before the Supreme Court,” he said.
But Vijay Chandra, secretary general of the Judges Association, wants everybody to keep their feet on the ground.
“There has to be a sense of balance or proportion,” he told The Telegraph. “What about civil liberties and human rights in the security drill at airports, Parliament and such places'”
Chandra, a district judge himself, explained that the jail term for contempt of court usually ran for only a few months, and therefore was a poor deterrent to hardened criminals or those sentenced to life imprisonment.
Parashar, a sacked policeman, too had felt he had nothing to lose except his shoes after being handed a life sentence last month. He missed judge Rajendra Mahajan at the first attempt but hit with his second shoe.
A stunned court registrar immediately called a meeting with Gwalior’s top police officers to tell them their must never be a repeat.
The officers say they were promised that the court direction, passed on to them verbally, would be made official in the form of a written order. But so far, it hasn’t reached them.
Rights activists believe this is because such an order would have no “legal teeth” -- the law doesn’t sanction shabby treatment of people not yet proved guilty.
But city superintendent of police Sanjeev Shammi said he was executing the “guidelines”. Other than carrying out the footwear ban, his force has “informally” agreed to handcuff any accused they suspect to be a “hardcore” criminal, and not to allow any undertrial to enter a courtroom with anything that could be used to make “mischief”, such as a pen.
The caution may not be entirely without point.
In 1999, a 32-year-old man convicted of kidnapping a girl had flung his footwear at special judge Shalini Phansalkar Joshi in Pune.
Although Balu Bandgar missed his target, his stunt earned him two years’ rigorous imprisonment over and above the five years he had got for the abduction.
Two years later, it was a woman’s turn to think on her feet. Frustrated that her divorce petition had been kept pending for several years, Arlin Helbe had directed a shoe at a Bombay High Court judge.
She was, however, let off after she tendered a written apology.