Irremediable Indian inequalities

    Inder Malhotra cites the example of frequent parole to Sanjay Dutt to pinpoint Indian inequalities

    All honor to the Bombay High Court for putting its foot down on the ease with which actor Sanjay Dutt, a convict for his role in the horrendous 1993 serial blasts in the western metropolis, has been able to get extension after extension of his parole, initially granted only for a month.

    The honorable judges have underscored that since going to Yerwada jail last year, he had spent 40 per cent of the time out of it because he was earlier allowed a month’s furlough. Obviously, all this has happened simply because of his clout and influence while the parole applications of sons of a lesser God have been gathering dust in one government office or the other.

    No wonder the court directed the state government to set up a committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary to revise the existing rules for parole and furlough so that all prisoners could be treated fairly and equitably. Of course, no one knows how long the revision of the rules would take, especially at election time, and how effective the revised regulations would be.

    Meanwhile, under the existing rules that require only a favorable report by the police and its approval by the Divisional Commissioner, privileged convicts would go on getting a bonanza of paroles and furloughs. While the hearing of the PIL on the parole issue was in progress, Sanjay Dutt intervened, through his lawyer, to plead: “I am not alone to be on parole”.

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    He was both profoundly wrong and partially right at the same time. He was utterly wrong because, according to the court’s record, 600 applications for parole had been pending for various lengths of time while the film actor’s parole was being extended from month to month. As if this wasn’t enough the Nagpur Bench of the High Court was driven to making some justifiably sharp remarks on the subject. Another convict in the same case, imprisoned in Nagpur, had petitioned the court that his daughter had died some time ago but the authorities were neither giving him parole nor denying it, thus dragging their feet.

    “Is there no humane consideration in such matters”, observed the judges, “or is such consideration reserved only for film stars?” And Sanjay Dutt is right only to the extent that in that he is not alone in enjoying the kind of parole privileges available to him. Others belonging to his class are doing equally well. For instance, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence in Delhi’s Tihar jail, a son of a powerful politician, also manages to be out of prison either on parole or on medical grounds whenever he likes.

    He is often seen attending marriages or dining in fivestar hotels. All protests against this state of affairs have been of no avail so far. It must be added that after his first trial this young man was set free. Only after huge protests in Delhi on behalf of the young lady he had shot dead a retrial was ordered. What an irony it is that at a time when even the richest and most powerful countries have woken up to the problem of great and growing inequalities and are trying to do something about it, the “Secular and Socialist” Republic of India – to borrow words from the amended Preamble of the Constitution — is a glaring exception.

    Here the governing doctrine among the privileged classes is that inequalities are meant to be preserved, and indeed expanded further. Nothing should happen to “people like us” for any reason whatsoever, and to hell with the rest. They deserve whatever they get. To be sure there has been some criticism of the too frequent paroles to Dutt, but among the movers and shakers of Indian society his critics have been denounced, even abused roundly for being “insensitive”.

    “Don’t these idiots realize that Sanjay’s wife is suffering from TB and needs his presence by her side?” said a socialite the other day. When asked whether the same consideration would apply to other convicts, she scornfully added: “They don’t matter”. The truth is that what is going on now is a relatively low-key repetition of the “our-poor-Sanju” lament that rent the sky exactly a year ago when the final judgment on the 1993 outrage was delivered by the Supreme Court 20 years after the ghastly blasts.

    There was a howl by not only movie moguls and Sanjay’s fans but also from crème de la crème of Indian elite demanding that the “great actor” must not be sent to jail even for a day; the sentence – mandatory in the case of his offence, according to the apex court — must be cancelled or commuted. In this cacophony, nothing else about the horrifying case was discussed, not even the inability of the Indian state to bring to book the mastermind of the massive slaughter and destruction of property, Dawood Ibrahim, who was merrily strutting around in Pakistan most of the time, while making short visits to Dubai.

    A former judge of the Supreme Court, then heading the Press Council, spent most of his time pleading for the remission of the punishment meted out to “Poor Sanju”. He wrote letters to the Governor of Maharashtra and the Government of India demanding that under no circumstances should “Sanju” be sent to prison.

    Almost all the movie moguls of Bollywood and “Sanjay fans” joined the outcry. One particularly loud boss in Indian filmdom argued that he had “reprimanded Sanjay sharply” and that should be enough! The most ridiculous argument for the immediate grant of pardon to Dutt came from the high and mighty among the elite. The famous actor, they said, had become a symbol of “Gandhigiri”. Therefore, he should be left free to continue playing this useful role.

    That was when some people were enraged enough to ask: “When Sanjay was visiting Dawood Ibrahim and his gang regularly and bringing in and storing deadly weapons for them, was he spreading the Mahatma’s message?” They also underscored that of the weapons brought in for D-company’s murderers, the actor had kept to himself three AK-56s. Having failed to get the sentence passed on Sanjay Dutt remitted, the movers and shakers are now busy ensuring that he stays out of jail for the maximum possible time by hook or by crook. Under these circumstances, please forget Article 14 of the Constitution that ensures every citizen complete equality.

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    Volume 10 Issue 41 | New York | Oct 21

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