The Best Bakery case verdict was announced on Feb 24th this year. A good four years after the bloody communal riots in Gujarat. The verdict was a good one sans one thing, which is what this post is about. [hat tip: Red]. Nine of the defendants were deemed guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment and Zaheera Sheikh a key witness who has (under pressure) turned hostile in the case has been found guilty of perjury and a year in prison.
There is a reason why the latter bit of the judgement bothers me. This girl saw fourteen people burnt alive and naturally scared. But there’s more to this. Sure, she turned hostile, perhaps she even took money. Perhaps not. But what we do know is that BJP party legislator Madhu Srivastava owned a lot of land near Zaheera’s house.
What we also know is that Gujarat 2002 was a pogrom. The question to be asked is this: How is it, that a witness was allowed to be terrified into lying in court? How is it that while she has been charged with perjury, Narendra Modi goes scott free?
Justice is supposed to be blind and objective. But is it? Should there not be a concession made to Zaheera? Should not the real perpetrators, those who offered the money (regardless of whether it was accepted) and those who threatened her be punished?
Then there are further questions. Logically, in a case like this to ensure justice, it ought to be absolutely imperative that the court direct the police to provide security to the witnesses. What happened instead? The court maintained a rigid silence when the question of biased police officers was brought up.
Let’s imagine then for a second, that this is inevitable. Whatever happened to the public prosecutor? If I am right the public prosecutor can request an adjournment in a situation where witnesses after witnesses turn hostile. Of course none of this is a surprise considering the fact that the public prosecutor did even place on record (let alone follow up on) the National Human Rights Commission report.
So what now? I could naively assume that the the prosecutor managed to overlook these details or I could believe that the system of justice makes too much of of the ‘blindness’ of justice. In this case the scales aren’t even tilted. They’re upside down. And I can’t imagine a bigger tragedy for democracy.