FROM #K.R. MEERA TO #SANJAY SURI – WHITHER INDIA’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM ?

IN NOVEMBER 2012, A PUBLISHING SENSATION occurred in Malayalam literature : former Assistant Editor of the newspaper Malayala Manorama, #People’s Union of Civil Liberties’ award winner and a Nuffield fellow, #K.R. Meera published her novel “Aarachar” which has since run into more than six reprints and by now swept all the major literary awards there is to win in Malayalam literature.  The novel has since been ably translated into English by J. Devika and published by Penguin in 2014 under the name of “Hangwoman” and is quite simply an arresting read.  The novel is a fictional account of  the highs and lows of India’s first hangwoman, Chetna, the 22-year old daughter of the Kolkatta-based Grddha Mullick family and is a richly layered work that covers the plight of women in India, violence, media hypocrisy and the drama that surrounds the execution of a death sentence in India.  An actual execution of death penalty that occurred in Kolkatta was very deftly adapted for fiction by #K.R. Meera to present one of the most trenchant social commentaries on contemporary India.

As I write this, the death sentence for #Yakub Memon for his role in the blasts that devastated Mumbai in 1993 has just been reconfirmed by the Supreme Court of India.  The verdict brings closure 22 years after the blasts occurred  (and barring an unlikely change of mind by the President of India on a mercy petition filed for the second time by #Yakub Memon), Yakub Memon would be executed early morning tomorrow (July 30, 2015) at Nagpur Central Jail.  A posthumous disclosure barely a few days ago of a hitherto unpublished article written in 2007 by B. Raman, a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat who headed the Pakistan Desk in the Research and Analysis Wing and who  coordinated the operation to bring back Yakub Memon and other members of his family from Karachi expressed concerns that the Yakub may have been denied the advantage of mitigating circumstances in his case as these have not been highlighted earlier to the courts seized of the matter.  It remains a real mystery why the article was released posthumously but its impact was such that several jurists and other eminent Indians thought it fit to file a petition requesting the Supreme Court to reconsider the death sentence.  The two-judge bench of the Supreme Court considering the  request for stay of the execution of the death warrant itself rendered a split verdict yesterday leading the Chief Justice to constitute a bench of three judges which  finally dismissed the petition today. Against the background of controversial and inconsistent judgments of the apex court of India on the issue of death penalty on several occasions, the debate on the conduct of the Supreme Court in the matter will not die down so soon although today’s verdict at last brings closure.

EVEN AS THE #YAKUB MEMON PETITION WAS BEING HEARD a book titled 1984: The Anti Sikh Violence and After written by the journalist #Sanjay Suri (who worked with the Indian Express newspaper and Outlook magazine) has been released by Harper Collins.  The book is a full coverage of the mass killings of Sikhs that occurred immediately after the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31,1984.  Says, Sanjay Suri: “(I feel) betrayed by one Government after another, betrayed by the police, betrayed by the judiciary. The police, first, failed to protect; second it made sure that there would be no prosecutions. They did not register FIRs (First Information Reports), they killed the process of justice itself.  I feel betrayed by the Supreme Court commissions of inquiry, one  after another, which were set up. It was not just me who was betrayed, all of us were betrayed.  You were betrayed as an Indian, as a person. What is it to live in a country, in a city, in which 3000 murders took place and there was no justice ? What does it feel ? Is it not betrayal ?”

FICTIONAL AND NON FICTIONAL ACCOUNTS OF India’s justice system that have been cited above leaves one wondering that it is not just art that imitates life in India, the converse is also true.  Meanwhile the country awaits with anxiety the final verdicts in the Malegaon blasts case and the several pending cases related to the riots in Gujarat that occurred in 2002.

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