Monday, April 16, 2007

Miscarriage of Justice

Alistair Pereira , the man who killed 7 construction workers, crushing them under his vehicle in south Mumbai was acquitted of culpabale homicide and was given jail punishment for mere 6 months. Somebody needs to ask the question that why such incidents keep happening in Mumbai! Where Rich kids driving after drinking ram into pavements killing people! One of the the resasons is that Mumbai has large number of homeless who sleep on pavements and large number of poor laborers who have no place but to build their shacks along the pavements. In other parts of the world also, people, have accidents and ram into pavements, but in Mumbai if you lose control of your vehicle and swerve to the side of road, you might end up killing at least half a dozen people. In case of Alistair Pereira, he obviously lied that axle of his car broke and it went out of control and hit the huts along the road, but it is a genuine possibility that such things can happen with vehicles. A lot needs to be done to make our city roads and pavements safer. But this is beside the point. The fact is that there were 7 people killed and 8 injured when a man driving rashly under the influence of alcohol, lost control of his vehicle and rammed into the huts of poor laborers who were perhaps sound asleep after back breaking day's work. He knew that driving with few drinks under your throat is risky and that it can casue harm to others on the road And all this man has to go through is mere 6 month of imprisonment and pay a meager fine of 5 lakhs. The judge while delivering the judgment castigated city Police of doing a shoddy job with investigations and making a weak case against the accused. How many times have we heard it, before!

Corrupt System: The fact that there is something rotten with our judicial system is hardly a secret. Poor who can't afford lawyers for themselves, keep lodged in jails for years for petty crimes, as their court cases keep piled up for years, waiting to he heard. Rich who do wrong "by mistake" easily buy their way out of legal system. Witnesses turn hostiles, or are bought, important evidences can be misplaced and entire case weakened. ”At almost every point where citizens are governed, at every transaction where they are noted, registered, taxed, stamped, licensed, authorized or assessed, the impressions of being open for negotiation is given" Pratap Bhanu Mehta, India's political scientist has noted in his book "The burden of democracy". We can easily include the whole machinery of justice dispensing in this list of "open for negotiations" label. In a city where majority of police force is over worked and under paid, and where bribe and hafta have become almost a legitimate source of income for policemen, it wouldn't be very difficult for a rich man to buy few policemen to weaken the case by deliberately ignoring vital evidences. Investigations could easily be made perfunctory and persecution could be slack as perhaps happened in Pereira’s case also. Why is it that some cases involving rich are put on so called "fast tracks" when other poor accused keep languishing in jails for years awaiting their cases to be heard, is a question which needed to be asked. Do we have different yardsticks for poor and rich when dispensing justice! Must it be that every case where rich and privileged are involved, justice can only be safeguarded and ensured when there is constant media attention and public outcry! Is it now required for public to constantly do a Rang de Basanti! May be yes, the reason is that corruption is not rotting the system, but it has become a system itself. Most of us from middle class who work in private sector and live their life mostly outside the sphere of governmental controls are not affected by corruption but that is not true for most of Indians who are at mercy of "the System".

Is Judiciary also to be blamed: In case of Alistair Pereira, fingers can be pointed at the judiciary as well. The judge convicted Pereira, of rash and negligent driving and handed him over just 6 months of prison. Was it of no significance that his "rash driving" had killed 7 people? Judge said that chemical analysis report mentioned alcohol levels in blood of the accused but no witness was produced to prove that accused had consumed alcohol! Wasn't the report itself proof enough that Alistair was driving under the influence of alcohol! RTO inspector had testified that car didn't have any mechanical failure and judge himself noted that if a car as sturdy as Toyota corolla had suffered such extensive damage where its engine was ejected due to impact, then it must have been driven at very high speed! Pereira was also accused of acquiring forged papers to obtain license when he as just 15 years old. People who were killed were not walking on the road but were sleeping in their huts along the pavement. Is punishment for driving drunk and rash and killing 7 people, mere 6 months? I don’t understand law in its nitty gritty, but the judgment defies the common sense and logic. This is a travesty of law and justice.

Media Trials: While speaking to DNA after the verdict, Pereira did not express any remorse about what he had done and almost blamed media for his 6 months prison term. "I will have to go in for six months, all thanks to the media." He said. It has been debated for quite a while that there has been a rise in cases where accused are tried by media and public and opinions are made about guilt even before cases are deliberated by court of law. This is obviously a wrong course for law and justice. Accused is innocent unless proven guilty, but the way so called justice seems to be dispensed when it comes to rich and mighty, it is quite easy to understand why media has to take up the cudgels and why punlic at large feels cheated. In Jessica Lall case, the accused was almost but hanged by public opinion and media outcry. Ram Jethmalani, one of topmost criminal lawyers of country fought his case in high court and was highly critical of media's role in the entire case. His point was that it is only law which can decide whether a person is guilty of a crime or not, not the media. But his arguments stood on tenuous ground by the very fact that he almost ended up showing how well this law functions and how law has been hijacked by black coats who use every trick possible to win a case. Where is the truth! Who fights for truth! Truth it seems can easily be fabricated by arguments. See what Pereira's lawyer told to the media after the verdict:

Pereira’s lawyers feel that the six-month imprisonment is too harsh and have decided to appeal against the order in the Bombay High Court. “He is a 21-year-old boy and an accident like this could have happened to anyone,” Majula Rao, his lead lawyer, told reporters.

Bollywood movies for all of their flaws, can be taken as indictor of reflection of our society. In decades of 80 and 90s it was a common theme in various movies where hero of the movie had to take law in his own hands and deliver the justice himself because courtrooms couldn't do that or justice was compromised by scheming lawyers and compromising Police. The images still linger on.

Justice for laborers :Are we going to see "Justice for poor laborers" campaign as we saw it for "justice for Jessica Lall"?. Hardly seem likely but I would be pleasantly surprised if it happens. Jessica Lall had her family fighting for her justice. In present case, poor and perhaps illiterate families of killed laborers were most likely already brought for few thousands of rupees. "Jo hona tha ho gaya, ye sab to unke karm the" They must have said. As for Pereira, his family would stand by him as he is a nice guy and whatever happened was just a mistake. "He is a nice guy, a gem of a person." Some of his neighbors have said in media. Unbelievable, but we do seem to have this logic where if a person is good and perceived as nice guy, we are tempted to pardon him for "mistake". Even if that mistake had caused death of 7 innocent people! As for family, family always stands behind you regardless how severe your crime be. In great epic of Mahabharata, King Dhritrashtra knew that his son Duryodhna was wrong and had caused the battle by insulting wife of his brother, but he opted to be silent.

bk_keywords:India books, The burden of Democracy

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is time that a big overhaul of the judicial system is undertaken..otherwise we will keep cing such things.