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India

#MeToo And Due Process — How It Looks In India

The expanding movement to denounce sexual assault is a symptom of the problem, not the cure.

Walking in Mumbai
Walking in Mumbai
Nizam Pasha*

NEW DELHI — This is the age of absolutes. Absolute majorities, totalitarian governments and extremist ideas that allow for no difference of opinion. In this age of absolutism, ideas and thoughts that thus far identified themselves as "liberal" have fallen prey to the same extremism.

Liberalism has generally been understood as a political philosophy that prioritized liberty and equality, and sought to strike a balance between individual liberty and the power exercised by society and the state over an individual. Freedom to express and defend ideas that may not find favor with the majority is at the core of liberal thought. But today's "liberals' are so vehemently opposed to points of view different from their own that they are no different in political posturing from their sworn opponents from the religious or political right.

The recent furor created by the "liberal" junta over M.J. Akbar's decision to seek legal redress demonstrates that no matter who has power at any given moment, due process is always the first to be sacrificed. After reading the moving testimonies and judging just by their sheer number, we may each be personally convinced of Akbar's guilt. But we must realize that our personal conviction is not a substitute for due process. "Every woman must be heard" is the cry of the moment. And be heard she must. But we must not lose sight of the legal maxim audi alteram partem, which is the bedrock of our legal system and a principle of natural justice. It means "hear the other side too".

People hold their personal convictions to be above the law.

If you join the dots, an ugly and dangerous pattern starts emerging that cuts across political ideologies. That of people holding their personal convictions to be above the law. Preventing lawyers from representing a person or position that is unpalatable to the majority might begin with the Jyoti Singh gang rape and murder case, but it is not long before it transforms into protest marches against others in a very different context. Condemning a person as guilty before the trial commences may start with another heinous act but quickly spirals into attempts to lynch student leader Kanhaiya Kumar outside court for being an anti-national.

Let us once and for all disabuse ourselves of this idea that there exists a crime so heinous that it does not deserve to be defended. The law laid down by the Supreme Court on this subject is unequivocal: "Every person, however wicked, depraved, vile, degenerate, perverted, loathsome, execrable, vicious or repulsive he may be regarded by society, has a right to be defended in a court of law and correspondingly it is the duty of the lawyer to defend him."It is not the fact of taking up a case on which a lawyer must be judged. It is how he or she conducts the case.

No doubt the problem is complicated by the fact that the #MeToo movement is a result of the failure of due process. It is the direct consequence of years of the legal system's inability to provide redress or even an environment where women feel safe seeking legal recourse. Despite this, we must not lose sight of the fact that the #MeToo movement is a symptom of the problem; the error lies in seeing it as the cure. The solution to the failure of due process is more stringent adherence to due process, not less. The churning that the #MeToo movement is causing is much needed and for the better, but it must result in the evolution of the mechanisms of justice delivery. To see it as justice in itself is wrong.

We must remember that when vigilante justice becomes the substitute for due process, it is the more powerful and more numerous of society who will always wind up winning.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Dead And Disappeared: A Village Emerges From 72 Days Of Russian Occupation

Russian forces have been pushed out of the area around Kharkiv. Villages that were occupied for two months are free once more — but utterly destroyed. And thousands of people have disappeared without a trace.

Kharkiv and the surrounding villages faced weeks of constant Russian shelling.

Alfred Hackensberger

TSYKRUNY — Andriy Kluchikov uses a walking stick, but is otherwise fairly sprightly for a 94-year-old. Under his black wool hat, Kluchikov seems fearless as he surveys his hometown in northeastern Ukraine. “The missiles don't scare me,” he says with a smile. “I have slept in my own bed every night and never went down into the basement.”

As for the two-meter-wide bomb crater that has appeared in his garden, between the vegetable patch and the greenhouse with its shattered plastic roof, Kluchikov almost seems proud. “No one can intimidate me,” he says. “Not even the Russians.”

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In the early days of the war, in February, Russian artillery almost completely destroyed this village of Tsyrkuny, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Only a few houses, including his own, were left undamaged. Shortly afterwards, Russian troops marched into the village and occupied it for 72 days. It was not until early this week that the Ukrainian army was able to liberate Tsyrkuny and many other areas to the north of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

It is the Ukrainians’ most successful counter-offensive so far. They are thought to have pushed the invading troops back almost to the Russian border. “The offensive is gaining momentum,” according to the independent American thinktank Institute for the Study of War. “It has forced Russian troops on the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.”

In the modern city of Kharkiv, home to around 1.5 million residents, the relief has been palpable over the last few days. Restaurants and cafes have reopened. People are walking and riding bikes in the parks, and couples are strolling hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. You can still hear the artillery, but it is now many miles away.

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