Sanjay Dutt and the inequality of justice of the powerful

Sanjay Dutt at the launch of T P Aggarwal's trade magazine 'Blockbuster'

Sanjay Dutt got convicted and sentenced to jail under the Arms Act. Of the five years he was sentenced to, he has served a year and a half, so at most he will go to jail for three and a half years. This seems to have put eminent people into shock and trauma. There are many speaking of his “mistake” and how he has suffered or it.

The Head of the Press Council of India and former judge, Justice Markandey Katju has written to the Governor of Maharashtra pleading for pardon to Sanjay Dutt under article 161 of the Constitution. SP, NCP and Shiv Sena want Sanjay Dutt to be pardoned. People from the film industry are in grief. Poor innocent man made a mistake. He has turned his life aound since then. Pardon him.

A mistake is when someone lets their gun licence lapse. A mistake is when someone lets a bag be kept at her home without knowing what is in it and it turns out to be weapons. A mistake is when someone unknowingly befriends a person and he turns out to be a gangster responsible for the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. A mistake is drinking and driving. Is it a mere mistake for a person to have contacts with terrorists and acquire 3 automatic assault rifles (two of which he returned)?

It is hardly something one can do without realizing the gravity and illegality of it and being fine with it. Besides, as MN Singh, who led the blasts probe as JCP (Crime) put it, ‘One doesn’t go running for help to gangsters’

The gilded people seem to buy Sanjay Dutt’s story that after receiving threats during the Mumbai riots (or felt threatened by the Mumbai riots – depending on source) he acquired the weapons from Dawood Ibrahim’s younger brother Anees for self defense, conveniently ignoring that he already had three licenced firearms when he got three assault rifles. These guns were part of large amount of weapons smuggled in by Dawood Ibrahim to arm radicalized Muslims to retaliate for the Mumbai Riots.

After all, a press release by a film star is shinier than that tape of intercepted phone call between Chota Shakeel and Sanjay Dutt featuring Mahesh Manjrekar, Harish Sugandh and Sanjay Gupta played by the police in special court. This call had happened well after Sanjay Dutt’s arrest, the start of court proceedings, etc. On 6th November 2002, the TADA court gave 98 accused a 2 month exemption while it considered 12,000 pages of evidence. They were to not leave the city. On 11th, five days before the CBI’s deadline to file a reply to a defense application, our “innocent mistake maker” Sanjay Dutt was on the phone with Pakistan based gangster Chhota Shakeel, in a casual conversation, introducing him to two “fans” of his – in Nashik. Confronted with this tape, he claimed to not remember the conversation because he had been drinking. He did admit to being in Nashik with Harish Sugandh, Sanjay Gupta and Mahesh Manjrekar that evening.

“He didn’t use the illegal weapons!” They say. But neither did he volunteer any information that would help get perpetrators of the horror arrested. It is very easy to realize mistakes after you get nailed. Heck, you have the Delhi Gang Rape rapists realzing their mistake now too. What part of any action he did indicated it was a mistake and not deliberate before his arrest? If he genuinely had made a mistake, the significance of the easy arms and grenades he got from gangsters cannot have escaped him in the face of the horrendous 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. Yet his only action was destruction of evidence.

He successfully fought his battle with drugs! I fail to see how this is relevant to anything. His defense doesn’t seem to have said that he was doped and thus unaware of what he was doing.

Has Sanjay Dutt so much as said sorry for affiliating with gangsters who perpetrated such a horror over Mumbai and the country? We do have reports of him admitting guilt to cops and a crestfallen Sunil Dutt (his own father) “Because I have Muslim blood in my veins. I could not bear what was happening in the city.”. 50 accused in that case submitted letters of appeal requesting for a death sentence if they were to be called terrorists. They were all convicted under TADA. Some of them on far less damning evidence.

Yusuf Kasam Khan, son of a freedom fighter wrote, “Your honour had granted me bail. I attended court regularly without caring for heavy rain and traffic for seven years. I am a true Indian. I and my wife with two small children cannot live with the label of terrorist.”. Yunus Gulam Rasul Borodia wrote “Though no rifle was found at my instance, I was booked for a recovery which is not in my house. Yet I am convicted under TADA, whereas Sanjay Dutt who got AK 56 for self-protection is convicted only under the Arms Act.”

Hotshot public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam dismissed these as pressure tactics, but apparently not the hours of footage on TV speaking of Sanjay Dutt’s “mistake”. Not the number of politicians and film personalities speaking up for him.

The usual Congress puppets speak up for his pardon, while the Congress of course keeps its clothes clean of any dirt. Shiv Sena (with similar connections) was a major part of the Mumbai Riots that made Sanjay Dutt realize the “Muslim blood in his veins” – something media amnesia misses. Is the Shiv Sena guilty over their actions and wants him pardoned, because what he did was natural after what they did? Samajwadi Party tried to give him a Loksabha seat, but when his case got in the way, they made him President of the Party! But then Politicians are luckier than most in getting away with crimes.

Someone with minimal interest in politics to the point of stating disinterest in media interviews both before and after that political stint. Direct president! Wah Munnabhai! Considering the amount of backstabbing that goes into such posts in parties, one only must wonder at the amount of introspection this needed. Now they still bat for him in his time of need. NCP is the coalition partner of Congress in Mumbai. Congress has made no official statement, the high command’s reputation is not worth him, but Amar Singh and types have put in a good word.

The CBI, famously known as the puppet of the ruling party failed to present call records with terrorists, their chargesheet against him conveniently excludes the hand grenades that would have taken the case firmly out of Arms territory straight into TADA. The weapons Sanjay Dutt possessed were 3 AK-56 rifles, 9 magazines, 450 cartridges,a 9mm pistol and over 20 hand grenades. Yet enough damning evidence is public. Including a sting interview of his own lawyer who said he would be unable to explain why Sanjay Dutt, whose links with gangsters were clearly established as well as knowingly receiving and concealing illegal arms from them, was not punished under TADA when a woman who didn’t even know the bag she allowed to be kept in her home contained guns and the owner of the car in which arms were transported there got convicted under TADA.

The second half of 2006 and early 2007 saw unprecedented convictions of the rich and the powerful. People wondered if it was the dawn of a new era of justice. Khushwant Singh wrote “Convictions of Shibu Soren, Navjot Sidhu, Santosh Singh, Manu Sharma, Sharda Jain, Sanjay Dutt and others showed that no matter how important or celebrated a person, he or she is not above the law.”. Since then we have seen a few more, including Raja, Kalmadi, Kanhimozi and Maya Kodanani among others.

Yet, our sense of justice seems to not have caught up with the word of law in the equality we claim to want. Religion, region, caste and most notably class are still game changers when it comes to being punished for a crime or getting away with it. High profile criminals have no problems returning to a life of respectability while other lives are destroyed on suspicion alone. So we have this absurdity of public figures mourning how his life has been disrupted badly.

Sanjay Dutt was convicted at least, countless others rot in prison waiting for trials to start. They do not have the luxury of anticipatory bail and fancy lawyers paid to exploit every loophole they can find for their freedom. Their society will not accept a criminal back as respectable – even one suspected of a crime, let alone proven to have committed it. Consider the case of a certain employee of DRDO who got arrested on suspicion and while charges were framed against others, he was let off. He lost his job in the DRDO in any case – a calamity of hardship and indignity Sanjay Dutt never faced.

Afzal Guru, who was at best a minor accomplice in the Parliament attacks without any real control got hanged amid much celebration of justice delivered. If we are talking of a person reforming, the Hindu’s report of his hanging is touching in its description of how he never advocated separatism, violence of any sort and actually talked of universal brotherhood. Forget pardon or commuting death sentence to life, but acknowledging that if he was at fault at some point, he was “reformed” (that golden word) and in the face of an entire valley in grieving, possibly stopping jeering at him. He was under watch in the Tihar Jail from his first arrest. He never got out. He is still buried there. Now that would be a life destroyed.

There is Sadhvi Pragya who is seeking bail for a long time, suffering for cancer. Her scooter was used in the Malegaon blast, but she is no longer under suspicion for Sanjay Joshi’s murder. There are no arms, bomb material, etc attached to her name. Is her life ruined or what?

Sanjay Dutt went on to deliver some of his biggest hits in between his stints in jail. He managed to marry, have kids, have a prosperous career, become the president of a political party and gather enough of a following that will consider him to be the wronged party and victim in a remarkably watered down process of justice that ended with the Supreme Court of the country sentencing him.

But, for our elites, Sanjay Dutt was likely the first “real person” to be destroyed by justice system with five non-continuous years of jail, which are pregnant with potential for “best behavior” discounts, possible legal gimmicry or outright political pardon.  

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Vidyut
Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

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