Has Sanju Baba Done His Time?
Why Sanjay Dutt’s conviction while following the letter of law goes against the spirit of justice.
The debate over Sanjay Dutt’s jail term has been hot and loud, as most debates in our country tend to be. A lot of it has revolved around former Supreme Court justice Markandey Katju’s letter seeking pardon for Dutt.
Katju’s point, in brief, was that “the Supreme Court has not found him guilty for the 1993 bomb blasts, but only found him guilty of having in his possession a prohibited weapon without licence”. He thought there were extenuating circumstances, which he listed as follows:
a. The event happened in 1993 i.e. 20 years ago. During this period, Sanjay suffered a lot and had a cloud hovering over his head throughout. He had to undergo various tribulations and indignities during this period. He had to go to Court often, he had to take the permission of the Court for foreign shootings, he could not get bank loans, etc.
b. Sanjay Dutt has already undergone 18 months in jail.
c. Sanjay Dutt has got married and the couple has two small children.
d. He has not been held to be a terrorist and had no hand in the bomb blasts.
He went on to mention Sanjay’s parents Sunil and Nargis Dutt, and the work that Sanjay has done in the film, Munnabhai MBBS. It was these last two points that were picked up, and talked disparagingly of. The substantial points remain unchallenged.
I wholeheartedly support Justice Katju’s views on this and regard them to be entirely logical, factual and correct. Moreover, I agree with Justice Katju that others whose cases may merit calls for pardon should also find support.
My reasons are as follows.
The first point is basic. Why do jails exist? And why does society send some of its members to jail? It is because some individuals are considered a threat to society. If rapists and killers walk around freely, there is a danger to all of us, so society solves the problem by locking them up. This is the main purpose of sending anyone to jail. In Sanjay Dutt’s case, it is clear that he is not a threat to society. Dutt has been leading a life as a law-abiding citizen for 20 years now. So, the most basic reason to jail him does not exist.
A second reason to jail someone is to punish them for their crime. Dutt has already been punished with one-and-a-half years in jail. The argument now is whether this was enough. I would argue that it was. This is because the punishment is not an end in itself.
Punishment by jailing is meant to reform the criminal. In Sanjay’s case, that has already happened. He has already turned his life around. He is already reformed. At this time, there is no need to send him to jail for reformation.
Last, punishment of those who commit crimes, acts as deterrence to others. I have a simple question for those who think 18 months in jail is not enough: would any of them like to spend 18 months in jail? One and a half years in jail seems like quite enough deterrence to me. No person in his right mind would want to spend that long in jail.
I’ve been told that it is not enough to deter potential terrorists, which is a daft argument. Sanjay is not a terrorist. If ever he was a potential terrorist, he certainly seems to have been deterred by his experience of a year and a half in jail.
There is really no reason, anymore, to send Sanjay back to jail except out of a sense of vengeance. However, there is a great clamour that he should be sent back to jail.
The principal reasons being cited are that, first, the law should apply equally for all, and second, that Sanjay had knowledge of the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts before they happened, and did not warn the police early enough to prevent them.
Of course the law should apply equally to all. Unfortunately, in our country, it does not. For example, it is commonplace for villagers in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to own unlicensed firearms. There is no hue and cry about that even though those “kattas (a locally made firearm)” probably number in lakhs, because those who own them are not famous. At the other end of the scale, there is a famous chief minister of a certain state who knew that riots were about to happen and did nothing to prevent them. He is a hero to this day. If the law applied equally to all, he would have been in prison. Similarly, certain leading lights of the Congress party should have been in prison for their role in the riots against the Sikhs in 1984. They were more directly involved and responsible for more deaths than Sanjay Dutt.
Even in Sanjay’s case itself, the politicians who participated in the Mumbai riots that preceded and provoked the Mumbai bomb blasts got away scot-free. It is a known fact that before the Mumbai riots, Dawood Ibrahim and his D Company was not communal or terrorist in nature; it was simply a criminal gang. The change came after the Mumbai riots which followed the demolition of the Babri masjid. The role of politicians in the riots was uncovered by the Justice Srikrishna Commission of Enquiry, whose report has been gathering dust till date. How is that equal justice? Governments of all hues have come and gone, but the politicians have all protected each other. Some of those politicians implicated in the Mumbai riots also allegedly had underworld links. Journalist and author David D’Souza, writing in The Big Indian Picture, dug out this excerpt from newspaper reports from the time:
“Sanjay Dutt arrested” (Indian Express, April 20, 1993): [Chief Minister Sharad Pawar told the Maharashtra Legislative Council that] “the suspect who named Sanjay [also] revealed several other names including that of Madhukar Sarpotdar. But we have not pressed charges against all.”
Sarpotdar, a member of the Shiv Sena, was among nine politicians named for acquiring weapons from D Company gangsters. None of them landed in jail. Were they all innocent, or were they just better at “managing” the police and witnesses?
As far as the bomb blasts are concerned, Sanjay has not been implicated at all. He was, according to the court, not a part of the blast conspiracy. He has been found guilty of keeping one 9-mm pistol and one AK 56 rifle, which was never used. Whether he knew of the impending blasts or not may remain a matter of conjecture, but there is no evidence that he knew of anything more than the guns and grenades that he is said to have seen. He was certainly stupid to have got involved with the underworld and he paid a price for that. However, links with the Mumbai underworld used to be common among builders, politicians, policemen and Bollywood stars and starlets at that time. If links with Dawood Ibrahim and his gang is the reason Sanjay should be in jail, well, the list of those who would need to accompany him there would be very long indeed.
As far as the Mumbai blasts are concerned, one group of people who did know for sure that it was planned was the Bombay Police. One of the men involved in the blasts plan, Gul Mohammed, had been arrested three days before they took place; he told the police about the plot. This much is on record. It seems they did not take Gul Mohammed seriously, because those were more innocent times. There was no Anti Terrorist cell, because there was no terrorism, and the policemen didn’t know what RDX was.
Blaming Sanjay for not raising an alarm and preventing the blasts is therefore rather pointless. The alarm was raised, but the police could not prevent the blasts.
It may be that the letter of law dictates a term of five years for a certain crime. It has come 20 years after the event, during which time the purposes of justice have already been served. The man convicted has suffered imprisonment, been reformed, and resumed a normal life. To disturb that situation belatedly in order to follow the letter of law would go against the spirit of justice.
Law must always serve the cause of justice.
The process for grant of pardon is not out of the ambit of the legal process. It is very much a part of the process.
The fear that this will weaken deterrence is unfounded. It is axiomatic that it is not the severity of punishment, but the certainty of it, that deters crime. If every prospective lawbreaker knows he or she will be caught, he won’t commit the crime. However, if he thinks he can get away with it, he may chance it, even if the punishment is severe.
The solution to increasing lawlessness in India is not more severe punishment for those few who do get caught. It is to make sure that everyone, high or low, who breaks the law is caught and brought to justice – in weeks, not 20 years later.
Moreover, justice must be done, and be seen to be done. This does not happen when draconian laws like Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act are used. It is being said that Dutt is lucky he was not charged under TADA. That is the wrong end of the argument, and raises larger questions. TADA was repealed by the Parliament of India because it was a lawless law and was perpetuating grave injustice, thereby giving rise to greater grievances and creating more potential terrorists.
The problem really is that the police fail to use the regular laws properly, and fall back on extreme laws like TADA, POTA, and MCOCA. This is against the spirit of the Constitution of India. Every citizen is guaranteed certain fundamental rights, of which the rights to life and personal liberty are foremost. These basic rights are violated, very often wrongly, and the processes of justice are subverted, by the indiscriminate use of extreme laws. This solves no problems in the long run. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the harshest law in India, has been in force, and the army deployed, since 1958 in the Northeast. The number of insurgent groups has only multiplied as a result. Where there were only 3-4 groups, now there are 30-40.
The rise of terrorism and insurgency in mainland India coincides with the rise of politics of religion in India. From the days of MA Jinnah to now, such politics – whether practised by Muslim or Hindu leaders – has always been against the interests of the Indian nation.
The muscular nationalism that accompanies the politics of religion always tilts towards “strong measures”. It is precisely those “strong measures” that brought religious terrorism to India, and increased it where it already existed.
What is required to combat terrorism is not “strong measures” but wisdom, intelligence and compassion.
The writer is author of The Urban Jungle (Penguin, 2011). Views expressed here are personal.