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Friday, 22 March 2013

Go to Jail. Go Directly to Jail. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200.



The Denouement in the Sanjay Dutt Criminal Case

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Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 22 March, 2013

Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar.  All Rights Reserved.

For other articles by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, please visit http://www.leftbrainwave.com

You can reach me on twitter @KumarSeshadri.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

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On March 21, 2013, a 20-year-old legal case of national importance finally came to an end in the halls of the Supreme Court of India.  This was the well-known case of the 1993 Bombay serial blasts, in which 257 people lost their lives and 713 people were injured in a terrorist attack masterminded by Mumbai underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and his associates.  

In the investigations that followed, the police unearthed links to many people, and one of the prime accused was Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt, who was found to have been in contact with the brother of Dawood Ibrahim in Dubai, Anees Ibrahim, and various other associates of Dawood; who was found to have possessed 3 AK-56 automatic rifles, 20 hand grenades, 9 magazines, 450 rounds of ammunition, and a 9 mm hand pistol, in his residence, before, during, and after the attacks; and who attempted to destroy the AK-56 rifles by having an accomplice melt the guns.

The case was prosecuted in Mumbai and, initially, the police interrogated Dutt with third-degree methods, which was to be expected from Indian police, given the depth of his involvement and the scale of the terrorist attacks.  However, due to the influence of his father Sunil Dutt, a popular member of parliament (MP) after his highly successful film career in Bollywood, and the help of many other rich and influential people, Sanjay Dutt managed to get bail after 18 months.

The TADA Court Verdict

With the case crawling through the infamously-slow Indian justice system, it took until 2007 for the special TADA (Terrorist And Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act) Court to pronounce its verdict on the 189 accused in the case, some of whom had died in the interim.  The court, very surprisingly, exonerated Sanjay Dutt of the charges of terrorism against him, but found him guilty of illegal possession of prohibited arms and sentenced him to six years of rigorous imprisonment.

That this itself was a travesty of justice can be clearly seen by reading the detailed Tehelka article on the 2007 verdict on Sanjay Dutt.  The article clearly details how:

1.       Sanjay Dutt was closely connected to Dawood Ibrahim’s brother, Anees Ibrahim, as phone records clearly show.
2.      Sanjay Dutt was clearly associated with many criminals and terrorists closely associated with Dawood Ibrahim’s gang, many of whom were convicted on terrorism charges by the same court.
3.      Sanjay Dutt had in his possession 3 AK-56s, 450 rounds of ammunition, 20 hand grenades, 9 magazines, and a 9 mm pistol.  Possession of just the 3 AK-56 rifles or the 20 hand grenades alone would have been sufficient to sentence him as a terrorist under the TADA act.  But the CBI, for reasons known only to them, chose to press less serious charges against him.
4.      Other accused in the case, whose involvement with Anees Ibrahim wasn’t even shown, who were less consequential second-level middlemen, and who did not even have in their possession similar quantities of arms, were sentenced under TADA, whereas Dutt was not.
5.      Sanjay Dutt had strong connections with the well-known associate of Dawood Ibrahim, Abu Salem, and there was clear documentary evidence linking the arms found in Sanjay Dutt’s possession to the cache of arms being smuggled around the country by Abu Salem.  The CBI chose to de-link Sanjay Dutt’s case from that of Abu Salem’s.
6.      Dutt, on knowing that the police was on his trail, asked accomplices to melt down the AK-56 rifles found at his place – a case of destruction of evidence.

Anyone else would have wept with joy and gratefully accepted this huge leniency of the justice system towards a criminal and a terrorist who should be behind bars for the rest of his life and, had he truly changed in the years after 1993 and regretted what he did, not oppose the sentence but immediately gone about serving it.

But not Sanjay Dutt.  He is among those who believes that the rich answer to a different law.  After all, this was the person who had many run-ins with the law during his youth on drug-related offenses, and gotten out of jail’s way mainly due to the influence of his rich and powerful father.  This, he probably felt, wasn’t anything different.

So he appealed his sentence in the Supreme Court.  He also moved bail in the Supreme Court, and in another shocking show of leniency (not shown to other co-accused) he was allowed to freely move about and pursue his profession of acting while his co-conspirators counted the bars in their jail cells.  Dutt continued to act in high-profile, money-making movies in the time he should have been serving his sentence while his co-conspirators continued to rot in jail.

Supreme Court Verdict of March 21, 2013

On March 21, 2013, the Supreme Court finally pronounced its verdict on all the appeals in the 1993 Bombay blasts case, bringing the case to a close.  The Supreme Court did not acquit Dutt, but commuted his sentence from 6 years to 5, with 18 months of that sentence treated as already served.  The court ordered Dutt to voluntarily surrender within 30 days.

The reaction of Mumbai’s film industry has been expectedly self-serving, cowardly, and bereft of any national spirit.  Many of them rushed to post tweets of sympathy for Dutt.  Many were concerned that their film projects would now be stalled because of the conviction.  But all this was expected.  Mumbai’s film industry is really the last place you would expect any sort of serious reaction to such matters.

The Hypocrisy of Markandey Katju

But what was not expected was a reaction in support of Dutt from, of all people, retired Supreme Court Justice and current Press Council of India Chairman Markandey Katju.  Justice Katju wrote an open letter to Maharashtra Governor K. Sankaranarayanan asking him to pardon Sanjay Dutt.  The letter is such a cynical and unprincipled letter that had I not seen for sure that it had been penned by Justice Katju, I would not have believed it.

Katju appeals for leniency for Dutt on the grounds that

1.       His parents have done social service for the nation.
2.      He played the role of a Gandhi-lover in a film (“Lage Raho Munnabhai”).
3.      The event happened 20 years ago.
4.      Dutt has already suffered a lot because the trial took so long and everyone assumed he was a terrorist all these years.
5.      "He had to undergo various tribulations and indignities during this period. He had to go to court often, he had to take the permission of the court for foreign shootings, he could not get bank loans, etc."
6.      Govt. pardoned Commander Nanavati, who was guilty of murder, many years ago, and murder is a much more serious crime than possession of prohibited arms.

Is Katju serious??? Here are the problems (pointwise) with his nonsensical argument:

1.       Dutt's parents' social service has nothing to do with him.
2.      Dutt played a role in a movie as a Gandhi-lover. This has nothing to do with what he really is. It's just a role in a movie.  As one friend commented on facebook, by this logic, Ben Kingsley could not be convicted for anything anytime after playing Gandhi in the eponymous movie of 1982.
3.      When the event actually happened is irrelevant to the demands of justice. If a criminal commits murder or robs a bank and goes into hiding for 30 years, should he not be sentenced once found?
4.      If Dutt suffered a lot because of the long trial, so did all the other undertrials. Did they get off scot-free? Why this special treatment for Dutt?
5.      Any under-trial has to undergo all these inconveniences. The amazing thing is the amount of discretion and leniency shown to Dutt. How many others accused of such serious crimes would be allowed to go abroad, or allowed to make a handsome living making crores of rupees as a movie star while under investigation for such crimes? And it isn't that he was found innocent. How many of us ordinary Indians would be allowed all these privileges if we had been caught with an AK-56 and 20 hand grenades in our home?
6.      Each case is different. If Katju's argument were to be used, every convict who has been convicted of any jail sentence could ask for a presidential pardon because they didn't commit murder. This is an idiotic line of reasoning.

All this is highly unbecoming of a man who once held the August office of a Justice of the Supreme Court of India. Even an illiterate in law can tell that what he is asking is contrary to basic justice and equality under the law. If the principle of equality under the law is applied, then what applied to the other undertrials should have been applied to Dutt. That they haven't so far is already a travesty. Giving a pardon to Dutt would be a complete mockery of justice in India.

And it is odd that this is coming from a man who has been decrying the nonstop focus on celebrities and movie stars in this country and who has been arguing for a rational interpretation of the law. Katju has proved that he is not above anyone else in being starstruck and pandering to the basest instincts. He has also thereby lost the moral right to lecture the media on the way they are focused on celebrities and movie stars.

Concluding Thoughts

Sanjay Dutt committed a crime. He committed treason against the country.  He aided and abetted terrorists.  He got away on the very serious charges of terrorism because he had contacts in high places and because he was the son of a sitting MP with the ruling party.  But at least the TADA court convicted him on the lesser charge of illegal possession of prohibited arms.

He should pay for at least this crime the same way you or I would have to, had we been convicted of a similar crime. An ordinary Indian found in possession of an AK-56 rifle and 20 hand grenades would not have seen the outside of a jail for the last 20 years. Dutt has been allowed to roam free, make movies, travel abroad, live a generally grand life. In that sense, he has already been allowed more privileges than any of the rest of us have or will ever have been allowed.

It is time to stop this nonsense and enforce the idea of equality under the law.

Let him at least spend the next 3.5 years in jail serving a sentence of rigorous imprisonment.

And let us never again dignify the nonsensical pronouncements of a certain Justice Katju, who by his latest ramblings has completely lost credibility.

3 comments:

  1. Katju seems to be one big bumpkin with nothing but hot air in his head. May be all his judgements need to be revisited and those whom he convicted spared and those whom he has spared put behind bars forever! And yes, he too should be interned permanently in a lunatic asylum.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Kumar,
    I'm in Utah visiting my parents and heard the good news that you and your wife had a beautiful baby girl. Congratulations! We are all so excited for you and your family. I hope all are doing well.
    Would love to connect if you are on facebook.
    April (Smith) Ramsay
    p.s. My parents are requesting current pictures of Nindini

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. April,

      Great to hear from you!! And thank you! I will contact you via FB.

      Delete