Friday, 11 December 2015

Exonerated!

I would've been a mere 10 years old when I watched the movie Gandhi the first time. Knowing that it'll be tough to wade through the intensity alone, my family watched it with me. There was a scene when an anxious man, played by Om puri, straggles towards Gandhi in one of his meetings. The man warbles "I've killed a small Muslim boy in the ongoing Hindu-Muslim riots". Gandhi feels the repugnance of the action and then issues out his verdict. He says "Go and adopt a Muslim boy who's been bereaved of his guardians". The man, still confused if he can ever be exculpated, feels extenuated nonetheless. After all, Gandhi had stamped the decision. 

Baffled, I asked my parents what kind of justice was that. They said the country was in absolute tatters, and the only justice Gandhi could have provided was to make things somewhat better. That was pretty heavy but still pretty simple. If someone goes on and commits something egregious, the law should simply work out a way to set things right. Hence if the situation in the recently partitioned India was to be pretty much in control, this man had to be hanged. But just because the ruckus all over the place was too titanic for one murderer to be convicted, the right sentence was for this man, this otherwise heinous convict, to be asked to make amends for the sins collectively committed. That explanation became the bedrock of my understanding of law and rectitude. 

Fast forward to today. It's been 13 years - more than half of the duration of my existence; for which I've seen proceedings on Salman Khan's hit and run case traipsing through the otherwise sanctimonious judiciary. I'd seen a lot of movies to see how criminal proceedings can go on for ages. But law was always eulogized for it bringing ultimate justice to all parties. I had utmost faith in the most sound and the most intransigent pillar of democracy. I knew justice can be delayed but not denied, notwithstanding the otherwise worthy adage of "justice delayed is justice denied". Meanwhile, I also saw Salman Khan flourish, grow by leaps and bounds, and become a heartthrob of millions. And as Salman's stardom grew by leaps and bounds, the once critical and questioning proletariat dismissed the case as mere bunkum. But I still waited with bated breath to see how the case went. After all, the judiciary had to set things right. Every one and everything had pointed towards that. So we just had to wait to see how Salman was to atone for his crime once the wheels of justice began turning again. 

So certain factions of the society started coming up with a weird agenda. It was said that Salman had turned egalitarian and was now an expurgated man. He was running charities, was exhibiting behavior of an ideal citizen, and was cooperating with the law. This faction believed that all of Salman's resuscitated conscience was good enough to compensate for a hideous crime he was convicted for. While it was too churlish to be even considered, I did think about why would someone say that. People propounded that Salman is a big star, and sending him to jail wont do any good to anyone; And that he should actually be allowed to act as the soigne Samaritan he now was all of a sudden. The image of the ribald contumacious law breaker, who killed an endangered black buck, had worked in a movie financed by the underworld, and had allegedly effaced a few men - all vanquished in this renaissance of a man's character. And I did hear the debates and all to form an opinion. I just was too confident the judiciary would provide a picture perfect verdict at the end. So I just wanted to grasp everything. 

The more I thought about the above argument, the more rubbish it came across as. India was racing towards development and was now embellished with slowly but steadily progressive pockets of civilization. We were now way past the days when rogue elements could condescendingly usurp anyone. Any crimes were now seen as been usurious. Certain high profile cases were in court and some really astonishing verdicts had already been announced. The Ansal brothers had been convicted for the Uphaar mishap, punishment was accorded to culprits in the Katara murder case, and the judiciary always made it clear that no matter how big you are, the law will make you blanch. So it was clear. Salman Khan was just another mere mortal for tenets of the law to be bent for his case. In fact rather than to let him get away and serve people, putting him behind bars was going to be much more correct. Not only was it going to set an incisive precedent on what to expect if you kill people in India, but was also going to finally restore the faith of the population of minions that there is a house where your pleas could be heard. So, for the first time, with utmost certainty, I knew what to expect in Salman's case. Yes a prime witness was dead, others budged, police cried lack of evidence, but something told me law will prove more powerful at the end. And as always, I still waited. 

Around 6 months ago, when I was sitting inside an examination hall in a college just a few meters away from the Bombay high court, the entire area seemed abuzz. The court was to announce the final verdict. Salman's fans believed the circumstances would be extenuating, believers of law hoped law will strike back in a bodacious way. And then, the law set celebrations rolling among jubilant Salman fans and despair and vile melancholy among those who waited so long to see law in action. Salman was free!

Yesterday, once again in a part of stultifying proceedings, the courts reaffirmed that Salman is acquitted. Many people are elated, and many see this as an elegy to a gargantuan body that has become too bulky to as much as move. 14 years, a plethora of hearings, an ocean of patience, and our country's judiciary gives us this - Salman's exoneration. A sibylline Salman would now visit all shrines of all major religions to pledge his allegiance to his remarkable fecundity of a good man. His fans would now eagerly await his next movie to make it the biggest blockbuster, and a lot many would now expect him to get settled. Those who watch Big Boss would now carouse on the prospect of not having to miss out on the superstar's quotidian appearance. And while a small section of people would bewail, sooner than latter, all memories, all instances, all occurrences related to this case would recede to the asylum of our collective secondary memory! 

But for me, this serves as a testimony to the fact that the duty of law is to not set things right, as my parents told me it is. The duty of law is to summon authorities, which summon other authorities and which cascade instructions down to the lower rung, which finally gets some facts and evidence to a court of law. In reality, our judiciary is a mammoth, rid of its massive wings, long before we could know that. Indira Gandhi commenced this with her usual panache by literally setting a tirade to law by imposing the emergency. And then there were umpteen number of cases where law was mocked. The icing on the cake being that of Ajmal Qasab who lived the life of a connoisseur in a jail for committing a crime whose only punishment was certain death, and whose evidence lay in the memories of a billion plus people. But law still did its job even in some big cases, right? Well, I had to look carefully. 

The Ansal brothers were convicted only for 2 years while 63 people died in their theater. And they served only a modicum of it before they were released on bail. Even in the Katara case, the plea of Neelam Katara to enhance the sentence of the prime convict to a death penalty was rejected. Law did manage to do its job, but never really provided the kind of succor that the adversaries expected. The law did manage to show it was there, but the law never buttressed the feeling that there should be some fear in the minds of those who have odious intentions. The law is not acting as the silent stick that would beat when someone was about to do something big. In fact law has done everything to promote the feeling that if you could connive with the enforcement authorities, you could even bend the law in your favor and get away on the pretext of lack of evidence. And finally it boils down to our all encompassing laws, which no doubt are a behemoth body of caveats, but are rendered rather scraggy in the face of changing crime and the changing dynamics of law enforcement. To sum it up, even a good 68 years since Gandhi pronounced that utterly whimsical but still sensible sentence, nothing much has changed. Nothing much ever will be. I'd never view law as I always did. Yesterday, a hero was released, and a much more eternal, much more ubiquitous, much more sturdy hero - our law, perished, and left us forever!