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ALLEGED GUILT

Just as the memory of the licence-permit raj begins to fade, another equally odious regime has cast its dark shadow on public affairs in India. This is best labelled the allegation raj. A former justice of the Supreme Court finds himself accused of making unwelcome overtures of a sexual nature to a young female intern. On the basis of what is no more than an allegation, he finds his reputation tarnished because the assumption is that he is guilty. This state of affairs goes completely against one of the fundamental tenets of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence viz., a person is innocent till proved guilty. The matter bristles with too many unanswered questions. The incident that has been raised by the intern is said to have occurred nearly one year ago. Why didnít the intern report the matter immediately? What has prompted her to make the complaint now? Why hasnít she filed an official complaint with the police, which would have been the correct procedure? The nature of the evidence is such that it is one individualís word against another individualís. The argument that no woman would risk making such an allegation as it involves, given the biases ingrained in Indian society, tainting her own reputation, does not quite hold because she waited one year. She would have added greater credibility to her case if she had acted more promptly and had gone to the police.

The matter, however, has serious implications about how the rule of law is often applied in India. An allegation is not proof of guilt. It may not even provide prima facie grounds for an investigation. The Supreme Court appointed three judges to look into the matter and their conclusions were by no means free of ambiguity and it is not clear on what basis they arrived at their conclusions. Neither the person who made the complaint nor the person against whom the allegations are directed were actually questioned by the specially appointed committee. The three judges did not reiterate the legal point that the former judge of the apex court was, like any other citizen of India, innocent till he is found to be guilty by a court of law. The point needed to be made because of the high profile nature of the case, and because of the popular assumption that an allegation is proof of guilt. A regime where allegations are always taken seriously runs the risk of eroding the rule of law.