Friday, March 6, 2015

"India's Daughter" knowingly broke an Indian law, many of us supported it; are we ready to face the ramifications?

Social media is replete with messages saying "I watched India's Daughter!" and praises for it are outpouring. A considerable part of the praise is because it was BBC, a non-Indian channel, that made the documentary. Had it been any Indian organization, the praise would have had limits, certainly less than what it is now. When it comes to rape, it is fashionable these days to show anything that has to do with India in poor light - Indian men, Indian police, Indian law and the courts, Indian government, Indian media, etc.    

Despite the innumerable messages sharing the You Tube link of the documentary and the provocation, I decided not to watch it. The simple reason being it is against the law of the land. The final judgment in the infamous 2012 Delhi Gang Rape case is yet to be pronounced; the appeal by the accused is pending before the Honourable Supreme Court of India. Publication of any material that may influence a pending case is prohibited by the Contempt of Court Act.

What BBC has done by publication of the statements of the accused Mr Mukesh Singh in the documentary is, therefore, illegal. The courts can, if they wish, take action against the media house. It is not that the BBC would not have known about this, but it simply did not care!

Meanwhile, there are now reports that the accused Mr Mukesh Singh had demanded Rs. 2 lakh from the documentary team for the interview. Later the team negotiated with him and made him agree to it for Rs. 40,000. I leave it to you, the diligent reader, to judge the correctness of this act.

The government's banning of the documentary, especially the reason that it gave that India's image would take a blow if it was published, made it the target of fierce criticism. It asked the BBC to not publish the documentary on women's day as the channel had planned to. But BBC acted smart and telecast it before, and it was also shared on You Tube.

The BBC broke the Indian law and disregarded the Union government's directive. Saying that their act of publication made us understand the mindset of the accused and that he had no remorse, many of us supported the channel's illegal act. People in responsible positions are reviewing how good or bad the documentary was, again in disregard of the fact that it is against the law. When asked they say that the Contempt Act is a stupid one and hence breaking it is fine.

Now that there are such people who are of the opinion that breaking the law which they find stupid is fine, and given that "stupidity" of law is a subjective matter which can vary from person to person, the definition of Rule of Law will itself need a major revamp, would it not? For instance, one may record movies from theatres and circulate it, and later justify his actions saying that anti-piracy law is a stupid one.

We are now aware that an infuriated mob in Nagaland on Thursday broke into the prison, dragged out a person convicted by a trial court for rape, paraded him naked and later lynched him to death. Why did this group do this? Simply because they felt that laws that prevent rape in our country are not that effective. Let's not wait for the courts to decide, let's decide the punishment and execute it ourselves, they thought.

Should this also be taken to be "fine"? Will those who saw and reviewed the BBC documentary despite knowing that it was in violation of a law find this act of the mob wrong? If so, how can they? You broke one law thinking it to be stupid, the mob broke another for the same reason.

There is also a large group which justifies the mob fury, some terming it as "mob justice," saying that the courts take a lot of time to adjudicate matters. Is this even a justification? If you and me can decide what is wrong and right, and what punishment is to be awarded for a wrong, why do we need the law, the police and the courts? Are we trying to emulate Taliban or the ISIS?

In my view, every individual who was present in the act which led to the killing of the rape accused should be booked for murder. The State needs to show them that the arm of the law is long enough.  

Our laws may be inadequate on many subjects, our justice system may have innumerable flaws and loopholes. In the words of the legendary lawyer Mr Nani Palkhiwala, "To expect a perfect system of justice based on rules of law is no more rational than to hope to balance soap bubbles on hat-pins." But the deficiencies does not empower us to break the law. Breaking of unjust laws, satyagraha, as Mahatma Gandhi put it, can be resorted but only when a really justifiable case is present. Moreover, he professed ahimsa, non-violence as means to do it. Let us not forget the means.

Also, let us not love democracy and hate democratic institutions. This sort of subjective application of law and a love for democracy based on convenience of circumstances can do no good.

The Rule of Law is paramount. Jai Hind!