Sunday, 29 May 2011

Guilty until proved innocent

She never thought it would come to this. Being dumped in a 15ft by 10ft cell in the country's most notorious jail. In a filthy place and in the close proximity of some of the most hardened criminals of the land. Her only consolation was that there were many like her, who believed they were innocent, hadn't been convicted and yet forced to already begin serving their punishment.

Her crime was that she was famous. Or rather, her family was famous. And probably notorious as well, but then if guilt by association was a crime, virtually all of us would be in jail. In a land where the rule of law is supposedly in force, you ought to be judged on your own actions and not the actions of those you are "palling" with (the awful word within quotes is courtesy of a certain lady in the US of questionable intellectual capability ).

The problem in this land is that there is a public perception (not unaffected by jealously) that the rich and famous have all got there by unfair means and are all guilty of crimes. Quite a few of them may indeed be. But many of them are certainly not. And never mind that the public that hasn't got there, would do exactly the same thing given half a chance. And so the great body called public opinion, is all too ready to believe that you only have to make an allegation and its already sealed, served and delivered that the person is guilty. Never mind the formalities of a trial, of producing hard evidence, of proving beyond reasonable doubt, and such other inconveniences.

The great body of the public believes (rightly) that the process of justice takes far too much time , often decades, and therefore believes (wrongly) that we can dispense with the formalities and assume the right to pronounce an instant guilty verdict. The judiciary, which delights in issuing homilies to the executive and passing strictures against all and sundry should hang its head in shame if it just looks at its own navel. It should set itself in order before commenting on anybody else - has it heard of the cliche that justice delayed is justice denied. When it can take a decade or two to pronounce a judgement, when sometimes the protagonists have actually died of old age before a verdict was given and when undertrials are jailed for periods of time greater than the maximum sentence if they had been found guilty .........

The great body of public also believes that all this is extremely unfair on the poor, but is extremely fair on the rich. For some reason, the rich and famous need to be made an example of to prove that all are equal in the eyes of law. That's an awful argument. We should be fair on the poor; not unfair on the rich. Two wrongs don't make a right.

The words civil society is often heard of these days in my nation. I am not sure there is much civility about it. In a civil society, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Not the other way around. You can only be punished if you are proven guilty. The operating word is proven. Not presumed. 

All of this was not of much consolation to her. She was licking her woulds, both literally and figuratively. Literally because she had been jostled , pushed and pulled, on her way to the jail. The media, which vigorously defends its freedom, believes that rugby tackles, scrums, brawls and such other techniques are perfectly acceptable in trying to film an "event". Pushing and shoving  a subject is totally acceptable while pushing and shoving a reporter is a grievous assault on press freedom.

She knows that she'll have to wait and wait. And resort to some underhand political machinations to get released, which she indeed will probably resort to. There is little chance of an upright stand on  the strength of the argument or the defence. Because it won't work. Others like her , languishing in the jail, don't have any other option. Their only option is to languish.

One of the greatest sins a civil society can do is to arbitrarily withdraw the liberty of a human being . Without a due process of law, trial and conviction. Doesn't matter if she is rich or poor. Obscure or famous. Plagiarising one of the greatest ever sons of the country "Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake".

24 comments:

  1. kiwibloke29/5/11

    Serves her right! The great body of net surfing public is probably not aware of the underbelly that operates in cities like Chennai/Coimbatore/Trichy where every bit of illgotten wealth (be it the corrupt RTO,Rs1 a Kg rice, realty companies etc) finaly traces back its way to the first family of that state. In a land where we have a justice system that operates at the speed of microns per year and where we the 'intelligensia' demands due process of justice for a cold blooded killer of scores of people in a crowded railway station, when it was watched live on TV by millions, what is wrong in extra judicial vigilantism? Human rights are for humans.

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  2. wow!! what a great debate.. i agree with you... i agree with Ravi.

    these are ruthless guys. they have not feared to kill to meet their selfish interests. this gang has no value for life... anyone's. they have ruined many lives. and the entire lot is like that.. so they get back, though not the right way.

    Now coming to media, they have a big role in many things... but at the same time, and many of them have taken this into their head and to break news, they have been breaking many rules of respect to basic democratic rights. they have to come to a right mix.

    But i think the question of where lines can be drawn remains with every nation. and it is a very sensitive line. Take Krittika Biswas. it is so depressing to go thru this. i dont know, how many krittika biswas exist who have never had that courage to open up. the embarassment remains for life with the individual. the person is of course saved the media coverage that a high profile individual gets, but is it any respite.

    It isnt the ideal situation to be. it isnt the ideal situation anywhere for that matter. as long as democracy gives us visibility to see both sides of the line and speak up for either side... it will find its course over time.. this is my belief

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  3. @Kiwi - I understand the sentiments, but I still rest my case !!

    @Sandhya - Yes indeed - we are fortunate to live in a land where we can air conflicting views and respectfully disagree. Out of such debate comes the accumulated wisdom of nations.

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  4. Yes, your case is true indeed.But it seems to happen in every land as we are seeing.
    Being unfair to the rich people stems more from the point of jealousy and the seeming unfairness I presume. And the fact that they are rich also tags in a point that they can get away with it too. So all the aggression right at the given chance!
    Anyways, lets wait and watch how the family pulls her through.

    Her crime is not just being famous I guess...

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  5. Oh I dont know Ramesh.....the problem with our rich is tht they have this notion tht they can get away with anything.
    You say "The problem in this land is that there is a public perception (not unaffected by jealously) that the rich and famous have all got there by unfair means and are all guilty of crimes. Quite a few of them may indeed be."
    Nope not few Ramesh, a lot of them are corrupt...its almost like they cant help it, they get pulled into this vicious circle and they find it difficult to extricate themselves out of it.
    I guess they convince themselves tht nothing will happen and even if it does they have the 'money & power' to hush it up.
    But the hindi movie dialogue never seemed more true "Kaanoon ke lambe haath hote hai mere bhai";-)....sooner or later they are hauled up and have to pay.

    But yeah agree abt the slow procedures in the court....takes far too much time, people end up losing interest & worse the plight of the innocent[waiting for justice] is truly pitiable.

    Ummm....u r actually feeling sorry for the woman;-o???? Mayb just mayb she is inncocent[yeah right;-/] but there is no doubt tht she is paying for her father's sins.

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  6. @hema - let us see indeed. My prediction is that she will spend 3 months in jail, then let out and the case will take 10 years.

    @Reflections - No; I hold no candle for her. Or Kalmadi. Or Raju. My problem is that its just becoming widely acceptable that you jail somebody before proving guilt. If the judicial system is slow, we need to correct that ; not use public opinion to presume guilt without trial.

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  7. semma contrasting view point. intha anglela yosikravanga evlo per irunthirupaanga therila..first article on this view point i've read. Aana oray oru kostin thalaivaray. Neenga solra viewpoint justify panra mathiri ethachum example personality irukangala? anyone who was innocent but treated like guilty? irthuvaraikum maati irukaravanga ellarumay eppo maata porangannu ellarumay wait pannitruntha personalities thaane. Leaving the corporate criminals aside..micha political personality ellarumay awaiting punishment categorya thaana irukaanga. Enakenamo neenga solra view point jealousy pathi irukuthonu thonuthu. That the general mob is jealous of the famous few. Could be. But..famousa hero worship panravangaloda great fall and again rising back to glory like phoenix..ithaana column rowa nadanthutu varuthu?

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  8. Trial by media, trial by perception is all there and I don't think any country is an exception. I don't think we will ever go to a phase that we don't judge before the court pronounces a judgement. If she deserves a reprieve (whatever angle it might be), the millions of others languishing should. If people can arm-twist the country to loot it, they deserve it. Leaving them outside till the court rules is more than enough to bribe/threaten the witnesses to extinction. I don't think there is an just/unjust answer to this.

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  9. Law:- Law (in the hands of rulers) will do its duty duly. Your perception is soo right, but the law is making way for long-time custody not public opinion. May be if Ram jethmalani thinked from ur point-of-view he might have got valid point on table.

    Media:- Like a saying in thamil (mic ketachavanellam pechaalar aara mathiri) who ever gets a place in channel becomes expert, they not only do debate but makes conclusion, decision, justice, verdict, murder, everthing. we billions gushingly watch & read all and encourages their TRP (enna kodumai sir ithu).

    Rich & Poor:- Your point is valid for Ramalinga raju, but not for the family who sold nations security level to foreign. (both state & national family, unfortunately national side is not drown-in till).

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  10. @gils - Indira Gandhi was a classic example. Jailed in the same Tihar jail after the Janata Party came to power in 1977, she was then acquitted. There are so many undertrials languishing in Indian jails who are then subsequently acquitted. And what about those who were in jail as an undertrial for a period longer than their sentence and then immediately released after the guilty verdict was given.

    @RamMmm - Yes, it cannot be avoided in any country. But take the case of Dominique Strauss Kahn or Bernie Madoff. They were arrested and then released on bail. A swift trial and then if found guilt - by all means put them in jail.

    @Simple Lever - Welcome to this space. Yes the law does allow for imprisonment before trial, but I believe its being widely misused. A simple statistics shows this - there are more undertrials in Tihar than convicted criminals.

    @All - I have been struck by an uniform thread in comments till date - the family looted the country and she therefore deserves her fate. While the looting may have happened (but I still maintain it must be proved in court and if its so obvious must be quite easy to prove), the issue is of individual liberty of the lady concerned. Did she loot and is that proven. Then jail her for sure. But its a vengeful society if they can't jail the menfolk and therefore jail the soft target.

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  11. thala..ipdiye comment potutrintheega..spectrum oozhalla unga melayum santhegama irukunu pudichitu pooiduvanunga :) usaaaraiyaa usaaaru :D

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  12. K.Venkataraman30/5/11

    Ramesh Sir:
    You cannot have the cake and eat it too. Your plea for consideration on gender basis is unacceptable. Those who have been part of a serious crime have to face the music.Yes, I understand the current judicial process of prosecution and conviction takes ages. I agree the process should be radically modified and made swift. Trials should begin as early as possible, should have an agreed maximum time frame within which prosecution, defence and evidence should be finished. Oral examinations and cross examination of witnesses should be restricted to absolute necessity. Once a trial begins unless there are extraordinary circumstances, there should be no adjournments. Once sentence is pronounced, appeals should be restricted to only one or two higher courts and should be disposed off within months, not held for decades. Supreme court should be only for strict interpretation of laws in a case. When enough evidence is let in under a charge sheet before the judiciary, granting bail should be only under rarest of rare cases. In this land of high and mighty, politicians and persons with money power will easily tamper with witnesses and evidence. Gender leniency is not acceptable. When you knowingly become a part of a crime, you cannot ask for leniency and protection. Due process of law is same for all. As you sow, shall you reap.

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  13. After reading ur media part if felt this link will be much appropriate to explain my thoughts about media which hyped this women's bail, and pulled the court's sentence unfavour.

    http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/notes/indian-army-fans/drabdul-kalams-letter-to-every-indian-why-is-the-media-here-so-negative/10150191944875949

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  14. There are many instances in one's life where you go against rationale and do what your heart says....
    What you might say sound rationale, But more than half the billion hearts ask for the imprisonment!

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  15. @gils - Fair warning. I have to be very very careful ! But then I'm not rich and famous, so probably nobody would bother about me !!

    @Venkatraman - No I am not arguing for any leniency on the grounds of gender. Not at all. I have a similar point of view against , say, Kalmadi. Your thoughts on speeding up of justice are perfect - easy to implement and extremely reasonable.

    @zeno - No zeno. I cannot buy the argument that public feeling can be a factor of deciding guilt. By that token we can get enough people in India arguing that virtually anybody is guilty. Justice is messy and inconvenient, but a civilised society has to honour that process.

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  16. @Venkat - Yes that famous letter is a gem indeed. Media is negative because that's what the people want to read.As a human race, we seem to love negativity. The media simply reflects our bias. If we stopped reading or watching negative news, the media will stop too. They are incredibly responsive to TRPs.

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  17. // I have to be very very careful ! But then I'm not rich and famous, so probably nobody would bother about me !!//

    Not famousa??!!! blog padikum nanmakkalay..intha aniyayathelaam kekaa maateeengala

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  18. Loved the post and then the entire spectrum of views. There isn't much left to be said here.

    But I get your point of view. I am sure there has been a legacy of wrong doings in the family she comes from that deserves retribution. But law is not about karma being a 'b!#$h', it is about facts and proofs. If a legal system has to depend on past karma to justify punishing someone, then we are definitely riding a donkey thinking its a horse.

    Nobody sympathizes with her definitely, but if stoning-the- witch was the best they can come up with, its regressive rather than progressive.

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  19. Viji1/6/11

    Agree with your point of view on the process. But your choice of example to illustrate your case is dragging the attention away from the process. Or is that the intention - to create some hot debates???
    I do not agree on the jealousy factor - Can you still attribute jealousy factor if the person involved in a legal tangle were to be Tendulkar, who more than fits the bill of rich & famous?? (hypotheticalnu solli nazhuvadheenga)

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  20. @Deepa - Stoning the witch - that's a beautiful metaphor. Exactly describes the situation.

    @Viji - Yes; the example does muddy the waters , but I have been moaning about undertrials for a long while now. I have seen the judiciary operate in the business side and there's so much of reform required in the judiciary. The public's high regard for the judiciary is, in my opinion, misplaced.

    Jealousy is an issue. Tendulkar is unique, but even if he, god forbid, ever got entangled into something, the public will turn against him.

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  21. I am too late on this one, Ramesh and after reading all the comments here, nothing much that I could say.

    Ironically, the problem with this land is rampant corruption in the entire political system and if I could say so, influence of this system on the judiciary system. There have been "n" numbers of revelations about so many riches and famous but were these guys adequately tried??? Having said this, whether or not a person is guilty must be proven before punishment and indeed, not at the speed of a snail.

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  22. Sandhya Sriram2/6/11

    Ramesh,

    I think my comment went off to Junk Again :-(

    hope you will move it back

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  23. @Vishal - Yes you are right - there's rampant corruption in the political system, but the solution is to vigorously enforce the existing laws against that. We all saw what one man, TN Seshan, could do on electoral law and practices.

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  24. Gils/Zeno, There are a fair amount of folks who argue similar to Ramesh's line which is right in a way. The problem we have is tardy collection of evidence for swindles and the dodgy trails which take its own sweet time to unknot and the biggest of them all, political compulsions.

    Then there is no solution judicially for the Ayodhya issue. The law cannot be blind to religion though it is supposed to be. Where does the digging back of muck to solve the issue stop?

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