Last week I was very fortunate to be a part of this wonderful, moving and inspirational seminar on the ‘Power of One’ (coverage of the same is there after my editorial)! The speakers included Tarun Tejpal, who so very inspirationally spoke about the founding fathers of our nation, their vision and saga of sacrifices. Indeed, hearing Tarun speak is always a pleasure, just as much as seeing him – a real life hero of public interest journalism in India – always is! His words had the power of making me forget for a while that the same Nehru, whose birthday is ironically celebrated as Children’s Day in India, founded an India where today, seven times more kids suffer from malnutrition than they do in China – something Tarun himself quoted. He spoke of how we shouldn’t forget where India resides – in the villages. And the onus was on us to fight for the right cause. He spoke of things that at least we never forget at The Sunday Indian. There was Neelem Katara who spoke next in the most moving manner on her battle to get justice for her son against the might of one of the biggest dons of north India. At one moment, she was confident; at another, she was hurt and tender; and yet, at all moments, she was brave! Sitting there, I was inspired and in tears – alternatively hoping that one day we could be instrumental in bringing an end to this demonocracy that prevails in India. Then of course spoke Rajinder Kachroo, the man who lost his son Aman Kachroo to the menace of ragging. He spoke how ragging was criminal – I couldn’t agree more. His journey to get stringent rulings passed against ragging was the story of sheer determination; and it made me more determined to keep our crusade to weed out the cause of ragging from its roots! Then came Binu Chandran, the real life hero who got Ghazi Baba, the dreaded Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist to his end. Binu did that through his saga of physical bravery, where the decision to be taken was clear – to send his people to fight or to lead from the front. He chose the latter and got this country glory. Hearing Binu was super inspirational but I knew it was beyond us to be a real part of any such battle. Yet, I kept reminding myself that the pen is surely no less mighty than grenades. Finally, of course, we had the water crusader of India Rajendra Singh speaking! His sense of humour floored all of us; yet, everyone got the simple message strong and clear – that we needed to give our children rivers and water instead of ‘gandaa nalaas’ and droughts – a cause our social wing the Great Indian Dream Foundation (GIDF) is very passionate about. The five speakers showed us the power of one in a country like India! Through their sheer grit, determination, bravery and commitment, they individually had indeed made a positive difference to this nation. The session was followed by a great round of questions and answers, mainly focusing around the issues of bravery versus fear and the need to be brave!
And then came the most difficult challenge, to get up and speak. Speak about the power of one; that is, about bravery versus fear and yet not spare the reasons behind the sheer requirement of these brave crusades. Listening to them had recharged my brain. While I was in total awe of these amazing people, I knew very well that forget taking the all-or-nothing risk of putting everything at stake for journalism of public interests that Tarun epitomized, I was not even sure whether I – if I had been a friend of Nitish Katara – wouldn’t have myself turned a hostile witness were I to face the threat of the underworld mafia. I didn’t know if I would have had enough determination to keep pursuing the courts to change ragging laws, had I been in the place of Rajinder Kachroo. Sixteen years back, my younger brother died in a road accident – the sorrow killed me – but I didn’t do anything at all to make the Indian roads safer or get laws enacted to make it compulsory for the pillion rider to wear a helmet – though fortunately the law got enacted on its own. Of course, I was candid enough to realize that I couldn’t have done anything remotely as brave as what Binu Chandran had done. Yet, I refused to believe that I was not brave; or that, given the right environment, I wouldn’t stand up for the right cause. I refused to accept that I was fearful. I knew there was something that was missing and was required to complete the story... some realities we must be aware of, and should take up as a serious cause to fight for! Perhaps only health, education and employment come ahead of the issue I’m going to discuss. And that is the demand for a judicial system that can alter the concept of India and bring us a huge lot closer to a real democracy rather than the ‘demonocracy’ that we live in.
The truth is that Nitish Katara’s friends backed out from standing by their dead friend, not necessarily because they were spineless, but because the society doesn’t provide a judicial system that is capable of punishing the criminals on time and decriminalizing the lives of the common masses. The same friends, if they had been in a society like the USA that has ten times more number of judges per capita than India, would have been at least ten times likelier to stand by their friend. The same Tarun Tejpal couldn’t have been harassed so badly, had the government not had the manipulative power to use the judiciary to suit itself by filing hundreds of cases against him. The same Nitish Katara and Aman Kachroo might have been alive today and Baba Ghazi dead much before Binu Chandran ever encountered him, had their been fear of punishment against crimes – a key activity that the judiciary has to necessarily propagate to make civil life more fearless, brave, decriminalized and democratic. Today, criminals literally rule us – officially from the Indian Parliament. Where is the fear of punishment? The government has deliberately kept the judiciary dysfunctional, because a dysfunctional judiciary benefits the criminals. When a typical case lasts for 15 to 20 years in a court, there is absolutely no fear of punishment amongst the criminals. We have about a lakh of criminals inside our jails while about five lakh are outside our jails. This is excluding those involved in bribery cases, which a staggering 23% of the Indian population suffers, compared to 0.2% of American population! Kumar Badal, a Tehelka journalist was imprisoned on charges he strongly denies. He wrote, “What I learnt from my stay inside the jail is that the real culprits are hardly ever imprisoned in India; and even if they are, they are released after a very short period.” There are quotas amongst police officials to crack a certain number of cases per month, to project the police as an effective law enforcing agency, resulting in many innocents getting picked – read poorest of poor – who keep languishing inside jails without anyone to even fight their cases. More than 80% of those inside jails are undertrials who have often remained in jail more than the maximum time they could have been punished if they had even been proven guilty. Past records show that in more than 82% cases whenever judgment has been delivered, these people were found to be innocent! Their only crime was being poor. The situation is clearly such that people with money to engage lawyers who can interpret our very many outdated laws have no fear of punishment!
The reason behind the moral bankruptcy in India is the lack of a really functional judicial system. The common man knows that seeking justice from the courts is almost a process of self harassment. If your 25 year old daughter is raped and murdered and the judgment comes twenty years later, by then probably you yourself are dead! And the beauty is that 20 years later, most often than not, the criminal goes away scot-free due to lack of evidence, and due to witnesses getting murdered or turning hostile; and so on. Except the page 3 hyped murder cases that make people stand with candles in a split second in front of India Gate, for the rest of India, it’s virtually a case of innocents inside (the jail) and criminals outside (the jail). In such a country, the police are fearless in asking for bribes since they know that no one goes to the court on such issues. In America, where justice delivery happens in a fraction of the time, people take bribe seekers to the court – and even the bribe seeker knows that even if he gets the benefit of doubt the first time when the case is decided over a maximum of just six months, that may not be the case the next time, when someone else takes him to court and in the next six months itself he could be convicted. So he has fear of punishment. Justice delayed is not only justice denied, but society criminalized.
And what does it take after all? India requires to plan the intake of a lakh more judges – say, over a period of five years – to bring down the average time of cases to a tenth of the current duration and to clear the past backlogs. It is something we must lobby for, if we want a society where the next Shayan Munshi doesn’t turn hostile. In fact, forget Shayan Munshi, where the next Manu Sharma fears like hell before taking out his gun; and where Jessicas and Nitish Kataras and Aman Kachroos don’t die in the first place. Where Kasabs are punished within a few months and not allowed to be traded against a plane hijack so that a Binu Chandran doesn’t have to go through the unnecessary ordeal of catching a terrorist all over again; and so that we get committed politicians ruling this country, who automatically bring clean water to our villages instead of illiterate criminals who siphon off all the money for such purposes, making the Rajendra Singhs of India spend entire lifetimes fighting for what is our minimum due, access to clean water! At TSI, we have been constantly fighting for improvement of our judiciary – and in my annual alternate budgets as well as in the book ‘The Great Indian Dream’, judiciary is a key focus. We are waiting for a Chief Justice of India who is serious about changing this country to take this issue up as a cause! After all, there are some judges still left whose morals are beyond compromise. Will one of them let my country awake, where the mind is without fear and the head is held high?