Thursday, August 02, 2007

What Is The Hit Rate Here ?

I am following, as the world at large around is, actor Sanjay Dutt’s journey to gaol. Not that I have a choice, theree seems to be little else that is being talked about, at least for the last two days.

Unsurprisingly, Dutt’s friends, of which there are many, have attacked the special court in Mumbai for pronouncing a `harsh’ and undeserved sentence. After all the crime is 14 years old and he has been held guilty for possession of arms, which, lets face it, is something that would have got him a commendation for bravery or held up as an inspiring act of self-defence in some countries. I am sure I don’t need to name them.

The point is not whether Dutt is guilty or not. He obviously is. Nor is this about whether he should have got six years or two years or should have got two years with the possibility of immediate probation and so on. My sense is that while he must have expected to spend some time in jail, he surely did not anticipate being carted off from the courts to jail immediately. As a journalist friend who spoke to the jailor told me, “That broke him down completely and he cried like a child all evening and night.”

Getting Caught And Not

The point, that I have been trying to debate in my own mind, is, what is the hit rate here ? Because this is not about innocence or guilt. Its not about being accessory to a crime or not. Its not about the intention to cause harm or loss to someone, an individual or collective. Quite simply, its about who gets caught and who does not.

The same journalist friend told me that the chances of Dutt getting some form of relief at the Supreme Court were high. “It’s a matter of some time though.” He also pointed out that it was amazing how in the famous BMW case (a young man and his friends mowed down six unsuspecting victims in Delhi), despite fairly conclusive evidence, nothing has happened. There is even a Wikipedia entry on Sanjiv Nanda, the perpetrator.

The Mumbai bomb blasts happened in 1993 on a hot March afternoon. I still recall sitting in a friend’s office in Nariman Point on a hot afternoon when we heard the dull explosion and the tremor that went through the building. We ran down and out of the building and noticed the crowds streaming towards Air India building where clearly, something had happened.

Show Me One Person Who Was Hanged ?

The blasts were, as the theory now goes, a revenge for the killings that happened in December 1992 in Mumbai, following the Babri Masjid storming. I remember biking around parts of south central Mumbai with a photo journalist friend. And watching in horror as groups of young, crazed looking men wandered around flinging huge stones at anything that came in their way, from cars, traffic lights to store fronts. They would openly mock the police cordons who stood in the distance, safe in their own self-described perimeter.

Hundreds were killed, a commission of enquiry was set up. As all of us know, no one really was handed out a jail term, leave alone a death sentence. One constable was suspended for police complicity. Appalling as that is, it pales in comparison to the 1984 riots where over 3,000 Sikhs were killed, mostly in northern India. A Sikh friend of mine traveling on the Delhi-Mumbai Rajdhani Express escaped sure death by cutting his hair off and shaving himself clean. A senior Delhi-based editor I know said a few years ago, “Show me one person who was hanged for 3,000 deaths.”

So what is the hit rate ? Is it a factor of influence. Sure, most people do get away because of it but you can’t say Dutt lacked it. Or is it influence in addition to a low profile ? Possibly yes, if you are high profile, then you are in trouble because the media will descend on you. But actor Salman Khan enjoys a similar status. He mowed down (yes, yes allegedly) workers sleeping in the open outside a bakery in suburban Mumbai. And what one would have thought is an open and shut case is still being tried. Yes, Khan never confessed.

The Karmic View

Is it a structural failure of the law, order and justice system ? Maybe, but I am one of those who believes that we have all the laws that any self respecting democracy ought to have in order to effectively govern its citizenry, give or take a few, small aspects. Like harsh penalties for drunken driving. The problem as we all know is administration and implementation.

Or, to conclude, as my journalist friend said, is it plain fate ? According to him, Dutt has always had a bad run with fate. From the first time he got caught and jailed 14 years ago to now, when he’s been sentenced again. Of course, no explanation works better than the karmic one. And maybe that’s the best answer to my question to who gets in and who stays out.

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