Question: Who would have thought that it was possible to drink tea in a suspicious manner?
Answer: Apparently, some police officers in India.
The court to the rescue
Fortunately, the judiciary stepped in and set the matter right. A Mumbai high court has set aside the detention of a man who was arrested because he was enjoying his tea in a “suspicious manner.”
The high court was unequivocal in its judgment: “This is bewildering. We were unaware that the law required anyone to give an explanation for having tea, whether in the morning, noon, or night. One might take tea in a variety of ways, not all of them always elegant or delicate, some of them perhaps even noisy. But we know of no way to drink tea ‘suspiciously.’ “
It is not at all clear what the court meant by drinking tea in a “noisy” fashion.
“The ingestion of a cup that cheers demands no explanation. And while cutting chai is permissible, now even fashionable, cutting corners with the law is not,” the court ruled.
The offending tea drinker
The suspect was Vijay Patil, a restaurant owner. The 49-year-old was arrested and detained under provisions of Section 151 CrPC last February. He was at a tea stall located near Shivaji University in Kolhapur when he was allegedly drinking tea suspiciously.
After his arrest, he was asked to produce a “bond of good conduct” before he was released. Perhaps the police thought that only after producing the bond they would feel more comfortable allowing him to go on with his suspicious tea-sipping behavior.
Unsurprisingly, Patil requested relief from the courts. He challenged his detention and sought damages.
After hearing arguments from his lawyer, the court noted that the arrest “presents far more fundamental problems.”
Apparently, “public consumption of Assam tea” is not yet a crime in that country. This is good news, because more people drink tea in India than in any other country in the world, with the exception of China.
The prosecutor in the case, K.V. Saste, referenced a police affidavit detailing Patil’s criminal background. According to the affidavit, he was the defendant in more than 100 cases against him and a repeat offender. The police, according to the prosecutor, were justified in apprehending him before he committed another crime.
It seems like somebody has seen Minority Report one too many times.
The justices were unimpressed with this line of argument. “There seems to be very little justification for the impugned orders or even for taking the view the police claim they did. Why exactly his behavior was thought to be suspicious, we are not told. We are only told that he has a very long line of criminal cases,” they said.
The court also noted that, in all of the cases against him, he was acquitted nearly every time. Patil was typically charged under the Gambling Act or the Arms Act. Further, 90% of those cases were outside of the jurisdiction of the police force that had arrested him.
The provision of the law under which the police acted gives them discretion to arrest a person without either a court order or a warrant. The provision is meant to be “preventative, not punitive.” It’s meant to prevent a crime from taking place, rather than to punish someone who has already committed a crime.
The law also means that the suspect doesn’t need to have a cleverly decorated sign hanging above him to advertise the fact that he’s about to commit a crime. Arguably, it gives the police too much latitude in determining which people will likely commit crimes. As a result, tea drinkers become potential criminals.
The court added, however, that there was a limit. “Such arrests can only be made when a cop is satisfied that the impending cognizable crime cannot otherwise be prevented. Otherwise, there is a violation of a person’s fundamental right to life and liberty,” the court said. And yes, the court used the word “cop.”
The court also denied Patil his request for compensation.