Unequal law in plural India

The double standards of Indian polity was immediately exposed after the Supreme Court’s conviction and five year jail term for Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt.

Former Supreme Court judge and chairman of Press Council of India Markandey Katju provided an escape route to Dutt by suggesting that he can file a pardon petition with Maharashtra Governor to waive off the sentence. The entire Bollywood joined Katju bandwagon and sought the pardon.

One could see on television Bollywood glamour dolls shedding ‘fake’ tears for Dutt, who is not as innocent as being made out by media. His involvement was much more than just trying to protect his family and he had helped the accused in 1992 Mumbai bomb blast indirectly (read Indian Express).

The case taking almost 20 years to reach finality cannot be a reason for going soft on Dutt. Criminal is a criminal in eyes of law and there cannot be another set of rules for him.

The case may have been going on for 20 years but Dutt has spent only 18 months in jail and the government has been more than soft with him. His acquittal under TADA was never challenged in the higher courts – a rarity for the government in bomb blast cases.

Despite the brazen evidence against Dutt, Justice Katju decided to speak in his favour.

The distinguished former judge had, however, failed to speak in same tone and tenor about thousands of inmates languishing in Indian jails for failure of judicial system failing to deliver justice in time. Or about suffering families of persons who are acquitted after facing trial for decades.

Lives are wasted because of our decaying judicial system. Respected judges of Supreme Court like Mr Katju have failed to improve the situation. An example of the rot is a recent case from Bihar. A person got back his land in a case filed by his grandfather. It is not unusual that generations suffer because of our slow and tardy judicial process. But, nobody is there to speak about millions of such Indians, who do not have a celebrity tag.

But for Dutt there is a sudden outpour of sorrow to indicate that the Supreme Court has done grave injustice to him. From politicians to cine stars want the law of land to be turn to provide reprieve to Dutt. You would see in coming days that a pardon petition for Dutt would be filed with the Maharashtra Governor and should not be surprised if it is accepted.

Many right minded activists like my old friend and former information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi had initiated a campaign to dissuade the Maharashtra Governor from pardoning Dutt. “Friendship with Dawood Ibrahim and the underworld, and getting 3 AK-56 rifles, 9 magazines, 450 cartridges, a 9mm pistol and over 20 hand grenades from them are signs of Desh Prem and Gandhigiri. I am sure citizens will request pardon for the lakhs of people who are suffering as under-trials – since the Courts are unable to decide their cases – since their only fault is poverty,” Gandhi said in his Facebook post, which has triggered an online campaign to seek justice for inmates languishing in jails.

There are many who agree with Katju. An online petition has been initiated at Change.org for seeking pardon for Dutt on the ground that he is a reformed man and he has already paid debt to his society. “This petition is important because this verdict has unfortunately affected a reformed man who has not only suffered an ordeal for 20 years but also served a sentence for it,” the online petition says.

The guys who sign this petition should think whether the same logic should not have been applied in case of Afzal Guru, who suffered for more than 10 years in jail and was finally hanged. Or for another Kashmiri, Sayed Liyakat Shah, who apparently became victim of police’s brutal power while on his way back to Kashmir on the flimsy ground of planning a terrorist attack in Delhi.

Sadly, no Bollywood star or television anchor speaks for such people. Simply, because in practice we have different yardsticks for applicability of same law – one, for the influential rich and another for the poor.

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