June 9, 2013, The Hindu
The powerful are presumed innocent until proved guilty but the indigent citizen under arrest is considered guilty until he is proved innocent
Learned judges toast the majesty of the law. Politicians swear by its sanctity asserting that it will take its due course. But seasoned criminals are thoroughly familiar with its loopholes. They know how to flout the law and yet how to survive by it. But those who have felt the slings and arrows of misapplied law unhesitatingly subscribe to the Dickensian dictum ‘The Law is an ass’. Probably, the highest tribute ever paid to the ass! Law commands respect only from the law-abiding.
One is reminded of two amusing constables in a Shakespearean play. Enforcing the king’s midnight curfew on tramps, they ordered two ruffians, ‘ In the name of His Majesty go home’. Upon their insolent reply that they did not recognise His Majesty, the policemen duly apologised and went their way. Successful execution of the time-tested strategy of questioning law enforcers’ jurisdiction, and going scot-free riding piggyback on technicalities.
Love is not Time’s fool, as Shakespeare said but Law is. The dictum ‘Art is long but life is short’ has its parallel also in law and it would be equally correct to say ‘Law is long but life is short.’ A shrewd and high profile offender of the law can have a long-drawn battle with it and keep it at bay practically all his life. Law is definitely on the side of the powerful criminal since he is presumed innocent until proved guilty but the indigent citizen under arrest is considered guilty until he is proved innocent.
A criminal can keep out of reach of the long arm of the law until he is finally convicted and a series of legal procedures is exhausted. A lawsuit starts in the lowest sessions court, winds its way through the maze of higher level courts and finally reaches the Supreme Court creeping at snail’s pace through numerous speed humps of adjournments, court vacations, appeals, revision hearings, single-judge hearings, Full Bench hearings, presidential pardons, etc.
Meanwhile, criminals who are MPs can contest elections, serve multiple five-year terms and amass colossal fortunes through corrupt practices. The money thus illegally made will more than cover the lawyer’s fees, bribes to those who can help, huge election expenses and still leave behind a tidy fortune. Meanwhile, as the plea for justice is on its pilgrim’s progress to the courts, crucial files disappear from offices, inconvenient witnesses meet with mysterious ends and unsympathetic law enforcers or judges just vanish.
But what happens to the poor villager or tribal who is picked up on trumped up charges at the instance of the well-heeled? It takes months and sometimes years for him to be taken to the magistrate to be enlightened on his crimes, verification of identity, etc.
When some political or business bigwigs are arrested for serious crimes and put behind bars, at once a host of ailments like high BP and kidney and heart problems visit them calling for immediate hospitalisation and quality treatment. The wonder is that with all these ailments they were able to go about their daily business. These health problems seem to be ‘bar-coded’ since they crop up only behind bars. It is a brave new world, indeed!
Crimes taking place in full public glare, caught on cameras and repeatedly beamed by the media for days and weeks need elaborate and long court procedures to establish their veracity and the identity of the perpetrators. We may recall the prolonged trials of Kasab or recently the members of the gang rape of Nirbhaya in a Delhi bus. Or take the case of the seven-year jail term serving Bitty Mohanty who jumped parole, studied for MBA degree and got employed in a bank in a new avatar. A criminal who does not know to exploit to the full the niceties of court procedures had better hang up his boots.
A huge number of police personnel are engaged in VIP security, for Ministers and MPs and, in some cases, even extended family members of MPs. Allegedly about one-third of the MPs in Parliament have criminal backgrounds and several have murder, rape and other serious cases pending against them. Upon seeing this posse of security personnel around them amid crowds, one may be excused if he/she gets a nagging doubt: who is the potential target and who is the perceived threat?
What about protection for women riding alone in buses to their homes at night after work, and farmers exposed daily to the attacks of marauding elephants in forest areas?
(The writer is an assistant college professor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)