Being Sanjay Dutt
Mercifully, the sluggish Indian judicial system has delivered its much-awaited final verdict in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case, which had claimed over 250 lives and heralded the cult of urban terrorism in India. The apex court has been more than fair and lenient to the accused including the Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt. While the others have accepted the verdict stoically, it has not gone down too well with the star and his well-wishers in political and cine circles, who are busy portraying him as a victim of circumstances.
Like many others, I too like Sanjay Dutt on silver screen. He reintroduced Mahatma Gandhi to the present generation. He has been successful as an actor and has a considerable fan following. I am also aware of his legendary parents and their contribution to cinema and society. But, is that enough to forgive and forget Dutt’s involvement in the crime, where he acquired a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a pistol from known criminals and terrorists, who had planned and executed Mumbai blasts? The actor also got rid of the weapons in a planned manner to destroy the evidence.
Initially, Sanjay Dutt was charged under the anti-terror law Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA). In 2006, the TADA court did not find actor’s complicity in the Mumbai blasts and acquitted him from the terror charges and sentenced him to six years rigorous imprisonment under the Arms Act for illegal possession of arms, which was a fair sentence for his crime.
Sanjay Dutt was 33 years old, married and an established actor at the time of commission of crime. He should have realised the propriety of his actions as a citizen, when he acquired illegal weapons purportedly for ‘self-defence’ and disposed these off to destroy evidence. Portraying actor’s actions as ‘immature’ by his supporters is a crude attempt to dilute the gravity of his crime. For, I would like to to draw a comparison here. In December 2012, entire nation was baying for blood of a minor, accused in the Delhi rape case demanding that he and other accused be hanged publically without a trial; here is a 33-year-old who is being labelled as an immature kid for a crime, equally serious if not heinous.
REVISIT YOUR CONSCIENCE JUSTICE KATJU
By Kulsum Mustafa
Congratulations Justice Markandey Katju! Your bold statement pleading clemency for actor Sanjay Dutt after the Supreme Court verdict of three-and-half-year jail term has evoked sharp reactions. You acted without wasting any time and drafted a mercy petition for the Maharashtra Governor. You followed it up by drumming up support through media and tried to justify your act in every way possible. Your action at first glance appears worthy of an applause and appears to have been made as a gesture of a good Samaritan. But this move has evoked negative response too. Several eminent persons have expressed their reservations against your gesture. While some have questioned your authority to do so, another gentleman on the national television channel even charged you of forgetting that are you are no longer an SC judge and he accused you of behaving like a judge still.
Of course the charge that your reaction is motivated by the celebrity status of Dutt was rather rudely clarified by you on the national channel and you did not even spare the anchor of the show and snubbed her. You claimed that it is well known by now that you are the last one to be affected by anyone’s celebrity status and that you have always taken up the cause of the common man.
Justice Katju, here I would most humbly like to tell you that you are lying. I can quote here at least one example where you made no consideration for the so called common man and where you acted in a most insensitive manner to the plight of a student. In this incident Sir, you totally ignored all the humanitarian angle and just conveniently chose to look the other way. I invite you Justice Katju to go back to June 2012 and revisit your conscience.
An e-mail was sent to you regarding the case of Faraz Talha, a student of Class 12 of St Francis College, Lucknow. Faraz, a school cricket captain, along with two other boys, was being stopped just two days prior to the examination from appearing in the ISC Board exams, on what the school ‘claimed’ was attendance shortage. Though a court order dated February 13, 2012, the boys were allowed to write their papers and all through the examinations the hearing in the case continued.
The school and the Board had engaged the best and most expensive lawyers, but on April 13, the court ruled that the boys had adequate attendance and that as per the attendance register they were actually playing cricket match for the school wherein they had been marked absent. There were eight other glaring mistakes in the attendance register, including attendance marked on Sunday instead of accepting the verdict and apologising to the students and families for harassment, the school and the Board went in for revision petition. Here, too, they lost and court passed the judgment on June 1, 2012 in boys’ favour and ordered that the results, which had been withheld be immediately declared. The court went in for one month summer recess and the Board did not declare the results making it almost impossible for the students to proceed for further admission. The fate of the children hanged in the balance.
It was at this juncture that Faraz’s aunt, Parveen Talha, former UPSC member, who knew you and his mother sent you a mail and I quote from the mail: “It has been five months legal battle against the Indian School Certificate Board and St Francis School to get justice. We have won both in the single bench (April 13) and also in the SLP filed by the Council and school (dated June 1, 2012). The court had called for the results, found them to be ‘very good’ and ordered the mark sheets to be given but the Board has not complied with the order and is planning an SLP in Supreme Court. This will completely jeopardise the future of these children as any further delay will mean they not getting admission anywhere in this year. What should we do?”
The family was seeking your guidance not help, but your reply to this mail was just a one liner- short, crisp and rude. “I regret that since it is a court case, I cannot give any advice. Please consult your lawyer.” Justice Katju. It was an insensitive, rude one liner. Your reply spoke loudly of how little you valued human beings and relationships. Your reply wiped out any scope for sympathy, or regard for Faraz’s father– late Osama Talha, leading journalist of his time who passed away in 1995, when Faraz was just 11 months, and Parveen Talha, both of whom you knew well. Of course as PCI chairman also, you failed because you could not share the pain and dilemma or express sympathy for Faraz, whose parents were journalists.
That is why Justice Katju your sympathy for Sanjay Dutt seemed misplaced. It was difficult to believe that you could be doing all this just on humanitarian ground. After all how could a man who could not empathise with a student, a fatherless child, suddenly feels so concerned about the plight of an actor and defends him by saying he has been suffering from 20 years and has two children. No, no Justice Katju. Something is amiss, you seem incapable of the emotion of sympathy.
Faraz was an innocent 17-year-old boy, when he was up against the wall. He was on the threshold of a bright career that could have been thwarted and his future prospects destroyed forever. Your insensitivity in this case was appalling. The Board took the case to SC, and the learned judge there took just seconds to reconfirm what everyone already knew—the boys were innocent and that their attendance was wrongly marked. It was a legal triumph from the highest court of justice.
It is shameful the way you, a retired SC judge, has been trying to dilute the judgment of the apex court demanding clemency for Sanjay Dutt. It is clear that you must be having a hidden agenda. Justice Katju, it is time for you to revisit your conscience or accept the charge that you only believe in selective justice or accept that you have a warped sense of justice. What you may be doing for Sanjay maybe right, but what you did not do for Fraza was wrong.
So please, next time kindly shed that false expression of anger and voice that you use to put down anchors and media persons. Your true face is already revealed. Remember Sir, you are no longer the SC judge and your selective outbursts are failing to have an impact.
Sanjay Dutt has been behind bars for some 18 months, which is being publicised as an ordeal and penance endured by the actor, long and just enough to meet the ends of justice. There are countless under-trials lodged in Indian jails, who have been languishing there beyond the maximum prescribed limit of imprisonment of their crimes. Does anyone have time to take up the cause of these underprivileged?
Why this campaign for clemency? Are we such a celebrity-struck society, which does not mind giving undue concessions to its icons? Are our icons infallible? Or it emanates from our feudal subconscious, which justifies separate judicial yardsticks for the rich and famous and the commoners? Sanjay Dutt must not go to jail to complete the remainder three-and-half-year sentence because he is an offspring of legendry parents, or he himself is a celebrity, or he is newly married, or 200 crore rupees are riding on him in Bollywood, or he has friends in the political circle who are proffering stupid arguments to rake up a campaign of clemency for him.
Sanjay Dutt must go to jail because it will send a message to everyone that in a civilised society there is only one criminal procedure code for everyone, and every citizen is accountable for his/ her deeds and equal before the law. The campaign, mostly spearheaded by politicians and cine stars, is aimed at forcing the hand of the government to recommend clemency to Maharashtra Governor. It has dangerous portents for society. It is dangerous because political support for every cause can be mustered for a consideration. We have seen the cases of ‘cash-for-query’, ‘cash-for-votes’ and vociferous political campaigns in support of terrorists on death row. In this country, the tribe of rich and famous is growing every day and so is its brush with law. Earlier its misdemeanours were confined to economic offences only. There are many rich and powerful who have committed serious offences and tried saving themselves by using their clout. Cases of cine actors are known to public for their popularity quotient. There are others whose misdeeds do not attract media attention. Clemency to actor will only embolden such class that considers itself above the law.
Professionally, the actor is over the hill. After three-and-half-year prison sentence, having absolved himself of his crime and guilt, he will be a better brand and role model to his fans. There are many Hollywood actors, who have been convicted for their transgression of law and accepted the punishment with grace. Part of our evolving out of our feudal past includes the realisation that a greater responsibility is on the shoulders of those who lead society in various fields. The prevalent concept of non-accountability of this same class needs to be done away with, surgically. Sanjay Dutt must face the consequences of his breaching of law. He should also be entitled to all the rights and privileges that our society confers on every citizen. However, the film world and the privileged lot, joining hands to rescue one of their own from the swamps, reflects a tendency in that class to keep its members insulated from the law.
It is certainly perceived that Sanjay at 33, and Sanjay today are poles apart. He has evolved into a mature man, socially responsible and modest in deportment. Unfortunately, the ghosts of the past have come to haunt him. He is fortunate; the provisions of TADA were not applied in his case. It would be prudent to stoically accept the far lesser sentencing that he has been awarded, now. I am sure, we would like to see him in Bollywood again, post this lay off.
By Col US Rathore