Just when I thought that the thirteen year old case had reached its logical conclusion, that truth had prevailed over theatrics, just as I, a commoner, was feeling vindicated by the strongly worded verdict of the trial court I realised that my jubilation was premature. There was a flurry of legal activity and when the smoke cleared Salman was still free, armed with a bail awaiting his appeal, smug with the belief that the legal process might take another decade. Thus, the Salman saga plays on. And although seeking and getting bail was his constitutional right, the rights of those he trampled will have to wait. It is a given that truth will prevail, that the high court and the ones higher up will ultimately reach its destination but my misgivings are about the journey which will be long, convoluted, tedious and time consuming.
Justice delayed is justice denied, this holds true not only for the victim but also for perpetrator of the crime. Unless he is a sociopath, anyone will be filled with guilt and remorse after committing a sin and be willing to pay for it. This comes naturally with being human. Give him time to think and rationalise, and the survival instinct will kick in, he will exonerate himself and try to be saved. This is about being human too. Surround him by expert legal advice and he will start believing his innocence and will stoop to any level to protect himself. Overtime, this conviction will grow and the contrition of guilt will lessen. Sadly, this is also a part of being human.
Nothing else can explain the depravity of the desperate pleas made by the defence. The efforts made by the star to save himself, revealed that he is neither the super human portrayed in his films nor the human with a golden heart professed by the industry. He is on a lower rung than the rest of humanity, a sub- human for he was willing to sacrifice another’s freedom for his own. In the trial which dragged on for more than a decade there were many twists and turns, witnesses turned hostile, files got lost, a key witness went missing and later died, a driver was born and presented. Despite being in full media glare every trick of the trade was used, from intimidation to bribery, from star power to philanthropy claims. The legal eagles did not give up until they had exhausted every possibility. It was a classic example of Chanakyaneeti , which condones the means used to achieve the end. ‘ Saam, daam, dand, bhed ‘ ( persuasion, money, punishment or blackmail) nothing was spared.
But for a moment lets not whip a dead horse and put this in perspective. How many of us lesser mortals can truly assert that we would not have behaved in a similar manner? How many of us would stop at an accident site, if there was an option to run? How many of us would willingly pay for a misdeed of the distant past if we could evade responsibility? We all know the truth and it is a bitter one. Unlike more developed and righteous societies if the means and the opportunity are available, most of us will try to escape punishment. The fact is, if a lie is repeated often enough it becomes the truth, at least to the liar’s mind . Delayed justice gives the culprit time to do this. It is therefore pertinent for trials to be speedy and short, before memory fails, evidence is lost and conscience dies.
There is no doubt that this case marks a momentous event in the Indian Judiciary. Like other civil societies, the system has emerged a hero. The ruling of the Trial court demonstrated that Justice is blind to stature and status, that it is not a prize tendered to the good-natured , to be withheld from the ill-bred. It is no secret that the certainty of punishment is always a greater deterrent than its severity. However, to grant it more stardom, justice should not only be fair it has to be fast too. Steps should be taken to decide appeals quickly. Presently, most cases go up the apex court as a ploy to buy time for the convict. This reduces the institution to a mockery. To reap the benefits of an orderly society the wheels of justice have to grind exceedingly fine and do so with efficiency and speed.
Despite its deficiencies, the judiciary has all the inherent qualities to become the real hero in a country where there is a dearth of them. In the absence of role models in real life the average Indian looks for them elsewhere. Bollywood is a hot contender for this attention and the screen persona of a star is often confused with the actor himself. When he falls from grace, it is a shattering journey from lofty heights. It is time to introduce an able justice delivery system as the new hero. In this age of shortened attention spans and growing impatience, a hero in slow motion may not generate frenzied fan following but a fast and firm one will.
Mahatma Gandhi once said,” There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all others.” Till we reach that level of moral integrity and learn the essence of being human, an able judiciary remains our only hope.