“What do you think of the verdict?”, the old gentleman in the changing room asked me.
We were in the changing-room of a gym I occasionally visit in my losing battle against creeping unfitness. He had been watching the news on the TV in the changing-room, shaking his head all the while. This was in the early part of last week.
The news was about a verdict announced just a short while earlier, pronouncing a doctor couple guilty of killing their only daughter and a domestic help. This was a case that had received a lot of attention a few years back when the event happened. The accused were not someone living on the margins of society. They were, as doctors mostly are, a well-respected doctor couple, and likely to have been part of the affluent set of society.
Caught off-guard by a stranger, I paused before replying, “I do not consider myself competent to say whether the verdict is right or wrong. But what I do feel is happy that there are processes in the country that permit cases to be taken to their logical conclusion; even when there is no individual who has an interest in pursuing the case to its logical conclusion. In the case of a teenage girl, it would be her parents who would have the most interest in bringing the guilty to book. Here, the parents were the accused.”
He was silent for a while. Then he spoke again, “This verdict is incorrect. I know these people. They have come to my charitable school. They are a very pious couple…” and his voice trailed off.
“Pious? What has that gotta do with it?” I thought, but said, “I don’t know on what grounds that can happen? I assume due process of law has been followed and the accused provided reasonable opportunity to present their case.”
Just then the attendant came to talk to him and he got distracted. In the meantime, I went on into the shower.
In the shower, my mind was full of the event and the brief conversation I had just had.
“What has pious got to do with it?” I wondered.
Another case that has been in the public eye came to my mind. Of a sage (or self-styled godman as he is called in the media), who apparently had a following in the hundreds of thousands, accused of raping a girl in his ‘ashram’.
“Would he not have been considered a pious man?”, I again wondered.
So what happened to him?
Once the matter came to light, he was apprehended. Apparently a prima facie case has been found against him and he has been incarcerated. To stand trial as per the law of the land. He will, equally, have the right to defend himself. With the help of the wealth he has seemingly accumulated on account of his pious activities, he can certainly afford to hire the best and the brightest. And I am sure he will not be denied that right. I am also sure he will not be tried by a kangaroo court. He will have the right to appeal at various levels should initial verdicts be inimical.
So what is the point?
The point I am making is that in case of the doctor couple also, while their supporters would no doubt be aggrieved at the verdict pronouncing them guilty, I have confidence that the law of the land has been applied.
In my view, a verdict which does not either have an admission of guilt or video evidence will always have scope for doubt. Should such cases be abandoned? Supporters of a person at the receiving end will never find such a verdict fair.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying they are guilty. All I am saying is that I have reasonable confidence that over the last few years this case has been going on, due processes have been followed. And there are multiple agencies involved. Not a single gun-toting marshal in a lawless western frontier town of yore who “is the law”.
I can only say that I grieve for them and sympathise with their supporters. I wonder what nature of provocation can lead one human being to kill another. I also hope that no-one has to go through an experience like this.
The point I am making is that while we find reason to complain about the smallest things, and I have no doubt there are many irritants, we do not bother to appreciate the privileges we possess.
We could be living under a despotic regime claiming to be benevolent while amassing wealth and power.
We could be living in a nation where decisions pertaining to someone’s life and death are taken based on the whims of whoever is in power.
We could be living in a state where clerics have arrogated to themselves the right to decide how others should behave and what scripture should be applied to what situation.
We could be living in a place where the path to justice passes through the barrel of a gun.
We could be living in an environment where any sort of dissent is treated as treason.
We could be living in a society where public servants blindly toe the party-line and have neither the courage or vision to make sensible decisions based on law and their own conscience.
We do not appreciate enough living in a free country. We do not appreciate enough living in a place where generally there is rule of law. We do not appreciate living in a place where the common man can raise his voice when the need arises and the powerful are brought down when the situation demands.
This is what I wish to do through this post.
Human battles will continue. We now have the case of the managing editor of a leading publication who has been accused by a young journalist of rape. Again, he apparently has the resources to buy whatever kind of help he wants. At the same time, I am confident that we have the institutions to handle the case on its merit.
We also have the case of a charismatic Chief Minister, feted by leading business schools of the world for the apparent turnaround implemented in his State, who is now in jail for a scam. Again, I am confident justice will be done.
What do you think?