Sundeep Bhutoria

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

A nation awaiting speedy justice

The Delhi sexual assault victim passed away in Singapore defying death for two weeks. Many people are questioning the wisdom of shifting the victim to Singapore in such a critical condition. The government refuses to see reason and is bent on keeping the protesters under pressure. It has failed miserably to gauge the public mood and the pulse of the people. In a democracy the peoples' wish is supreme. Strangely, our government is missing out on this simple fact.
The Delhi rape incident has raised a big question mark on how soon justice would be delivered by a legal system whose wheels move at snail speed. Justice is definitely delayed, and thus, denied in most cases. Countless cases are stuck or lost in a legal maze that is crippling our judicial system.
In matters of crime, history seems to repeat itself with alarming regularity. The gruesome kidnapping and murder of Sanjay and Geeta Chopra in Delhi by criminals Ranga and Billa in 1978 had left our memories scarred. Ranga and Billa had murdered the brother and sister and thrown their bodies in the Buddha Jayanti Park. They had raped the girl before killing her.
The duo were arrested and hanged till death in 1982. The Court and the President of India had endorsed capital punishment for the criminals. Ranga had challenged the President’s verdict in the Supreme Court when the date for the capital punishment drew near. A hearing took place at the Chief Justice’s residence and the court issued a stay order on capital punishment and sent a notice to the government for legal advice.
About two months later, the court suddenly fixed a date for hearing and cancelled Ranga's petition. In a brief judgement, the court said that the culprits deserved capital punishment only. It was overwhelming public opinion that made it possible.
It was reported that Chief Justice Y V Chandrachud, at that time, had received 30,000 letters from children across the country opposing the court’s decision to stay capital punishment. Although this aspect was not registered in the judgement, it was evident that the court had respected the people’s verdict.
Executions are rare in our country and the “rarest of rare” principle means that most of those criminals who get the death sentence are only jailed for decades. Reminiscent of the protest marches that rocked Delhi recently, the school children, in 1982, had formed a human chain outside the court demanding capital punishment for Ranga and Billa. Why not treat this Delhi rape incident in a similar manner.
It seems, finally the government and the court, by setting up a fast-track court in South Delhi to deal specifically with crimes against women, is doing what it did in 1982 Ranga and Billa case. Once again it is the sheer public opinion that is making this happen. In a country with chronic lack of judges and a backlog of millions of cases, one cannot blame the citizens' eroding faith in the legal system. Fair trial but speedy justice is what the world's largest democracy is demanding.
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