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Pardoning Sanjay Dutt won't undermine Indian judiciary
Immediately after Justice (retd.) Markandey Katju shot off a letter to Maharashtra governor seeking pardon for Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt; many people took to social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter and berated Katju for what they saw 'subversion of Indian judiciary'. Were they genuinely ruing what they saw a threat to democracy or was it the same old, but unfortunate anger where Dutt's crime appeared hefty, as he had sided with gangsters who happened to be Muslims?

In the backdrop of events that have unfolded in the country during past couple of decades, many people have started to ask the often repeated, but an uncomfortable question: Had the victims of ’93 blasts been followers of the same God just like thousands of less privileged victims of Dec ’92 and Jan ’93 communal riots, would Dutt’s sentencing and cries for pardon have met the same revelry and indignation from bellicose patriots?

Even though Sanjay - thanks to his actor and Congress MP father Sunil Dutt, escaped the terror tag, getting away with a sentence commuted to five years under the Arms Act, people who stored or disposed of his weapons convicted under TADA weren’t that lucky. They, in fact, didn’t even have a brush with luck.

Whether or not, Dutt is pardoned, it is for the government or prison authorities to decide but one thing is clear: justice is fast being replaced with revenge in this country which claims to be the world’s largest democracy. The idea of restricting a convict behind bars, ideally, is either to reform him or to safeguard people from his violent and criminal behaviour. In Sanjay Dutt’s case, however, none of the conditions seem to be applicable. To those people who say justice must be served to the victims of ’93 blasts, of course, it should be. But, can we ignore the fact that courts have only convicted Dutt for possessing ‘prohibited’ weapons. He hasn’t been found guilty of killing or conspiring to kill anyone.

Pertinent to mention, not only has justice, but also the outcry for justice, been selective in this country. While hundreds of Muslims were charged for being party to the deadly blasts that claimed lives of 257 people, the deaths of more than a thousand people who were killed post the demolition of Babri Masjid by Hindu fanatics, it seems, have been erased from people’s memory.

What is being seen akin to rubbing salt into one’s wounds is how judiciary acted in the two cases: riots and blasts. The High Court judgement that exonerated the late Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray in 2007, observed: No ends of justice would be served by digging up the old cases (referring to riots of ’92 and ’93) after the expiry of seven years and that they would only revive communal tension. Time has already passed. In a review of these circumstances, it is difficult to find fault with the impugned order passed by the additional chief metropolitan magistrate terminating the proceedings in the two cases.

Every time the judiciary comes up with such hideous judgements, the beliefs that the legal system of the country is acting more like infamous Khap Panchayats, which pass judgements not on merit but on the basis of ‘what will follow’, have a tendency to grow only stronger.

If demand for justice in riots’ cases is being termed as ‘reopening of old wounds’ how is passing judgement on a person who has been suffering (of course, not physically behind the bars) being sentenced to five-year imprisonment, two decades after the serial blasts, any different? Do the riot victims not deserve justice or is it that people in this country, whose constitution guarantees equal justice irrespective of colour, creed, caste or religion, tend to forget the crimes committed on minority communities?

Blasts, and the riots that preceded them can’t be seen and spoken in different terms or dealt with using different yardsticks. Even the Srikrishna Committee that was formed by Narasimha Rao government post the deadly riots, in its final report has spoken of the connection between the two. It, in fact, feels that riots appeared to be a causative factor for blasts. “There is no material placed before the commission indicating that the riots during December 1992 and January 1993 and the serial blasts were a part of a common design. In fact, this situation has been accepted by Mahesh Narain Singh, who was heading the team of investigators into the serial bomb blasts case. He also emphasizes that the serial bomb blasts were a reaction to the totality of events at Ayodhya and Bombay in December 1992 and January 1993 and the commission is inclined to agree with him.”

Should you have any doubts how brazenly the Shiv Sena-BJP combine wanted people to forget the active part it played in the carnage, read this: When the Srikrishna Committee report was finally tabled in the Maharashtra Assembly, the Chief Minister Manohar Joshi, who belonged to Shiv Sena Party, rejecting the report said that it “was totally prejudiced against Hindus and that it would lead to countrywide false propaganda against Hindus.”

Notably, the government had disbanded the commission and expanded its terms of reference in a bid to delay or completely weed out the report. Had it not been for Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who revived the commission in 1996, the report would never have seen the light of the day.

Now, Bollywood has come out in the defence of Dutt, and given their proximity to the actor, one doesn’t see any reason why they shouldn’t. But the question, many people ask, is that pardoning Dutt would set a bad precedent, and that law can’t be tilted just because the convict has been involved in some Gandhigiri or comes from the other side of fence where only elite reside.

By imprisoning Dutt, one wonders how the conditions of a victim of Bombay blasts would get any better, but one thing is at least clear - the actor who is a father and a husband would lose precious years of his life and his kids would miss out on the love of their father, just because he has to fulfill some formalities of law of the land, which can’t claim not to have churned out miscarriages of justices.

Is there anything above law in this country, let’s remember the day when Sunil Dutt, a Congressman had to beg Sena Chief or Bombay’s uncrowned prince Late Bal Thackeray to grant bail to Sanjay after he had spent one-and-a-half-years behind bars. This was a time when all doors seemed to have been closed on Sanjay and the only way was to infiltrate the system. And so did Sunil Dutt!

Sena chief did use his clout, and Dutt got bail. For fans of Thackeray, this was a benign act of their leader, but for neutral observers, this was a subversion of justice, proving yet again there are people who are above law.

So why this fuss about Dutt? He has not applied for mercy, but on humanitarian grounds the prison authorities can commute his sentence, may be by a year-and-a-half. And the difference between Dutt and other convicts is that the former did get a chance to stay out of jail and demonstrate that he is a reformed individual.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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