Saturday, May 28, 2011

Guilty until proved innocent

She never thought it would come to this. Being dumped in a 15ft by 10ft cell in the country's most notorious jail. In a filthy place and in the close proximity of some of the most hardened criminals of the land. Her only consolation was that there were many like her, who believed they were innocent, hadn't been convicted and yet forced to already begin serving their punishment.

Her crime was that she was famous. Or rather, her family was famous. And probably notorious as well, but then if guilt by association was a crime, virtually all of us would be in jail. In a land where the rule of law is supposedly in force, you ought to be judged on your own actions and not the actions of those you are "palling" with (the awful word within quotes is courtesy of a certain lady in the US of questionable intellectual capability ).

The problem in this land is that there is a public perception (not unaffected by jealously) that the rich and famous have all got there by unfair means and are all guilty of crimes. Quite a few of them may indeed be. But many of them are certainly not. And never mind that the public that hasn't got there, would do exactly the same thing given half a chance. And so the great body called public opinion, is all too ready to believe that you only have to make an allegation and its already sealed, served and delivered that the person is guilty. Never mind the formalities of a trial, of producing hard evidence, of proving beyond reasonable doubt, and such other inconveniences.

The great body of the public believes (rightly) that the process of justice takes far too much time , often decades, and therefore believes (wrongly) that we can dispense with the formalities and assume the right to pronounce an instant guilty verdict. The judiciary, which delights in issuing homilies to the executive and passing strictures against all and sundry should hang its head in shame if it just looks at its own navel. It should set itself in order before commenting on anybody else - has it heard of the cliche that justice delayed is justice denied. When it can take a decade or two to pronounce a judgement, when sometimes the protagonists have actually died of old age before a verdict was given and when undertrials are jailed for periods of time greater than the maximum sentence if they had been found guilty .........

The great body of public also believes that all this is extremely unfair on the poor, but is extremely fair on the rich. For some reason, the rich and famous need to be made an example of to prove that all are equal in the eyes of law. That's an awful argument. We should be fair on the poor; not unfair on the rich. Two wrongs don't make a right.

The words civil society is often heard of these days in my nation. I am not sure there is much civility about it. In a civil society, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Not the other way around. You can only be punished if you are proven guilty. The operating word is proven. Not presumed. 

All of this was not of much consolation to her. She was licking her woulds, both literally and figuratively. Literally because she had been jostled , pushed and pulled, on her way to the jail. The media, which vigorously defends its freedom, believes that rugby tackles, scrums, brawls and such other techniques are perfectly acceptable in trying to film an "event". Pushing and shoving  a subject is totally acceptable while pushing and shoving a reporter is a grievous assault on press freedom.

She knows that she'll have to wait and wait. And resort to some underhand political machinations to get released, which she indeed will probably resort to. There is little chance of an upright stand on  the strength of the argument or the defence. Because it won't work. Others like her , languishing in the jail, don't have any other option. Their only option is to languish.

One of the greatest sins a civil society can do is to arbitrarily withdraw the liberty of a human being . Without a due process of law, trial and conviction. Doesn't matter if she is rich or poor. Obscure or famous. Plagiarising one of the greatest ever sons of the country "Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake".