The essence of justice says that every person is innocent unless proven guilty. And the authority lies with the judiciary to adjudge a person guilty of an offence. My purpose of writing will become evident in case I quote the instance of a father and mother affirmed shamefaced to have killed their daughter. And you know the names. Since 2008, and all through the passing years, the media, the police, and those news-bite experts did not leave any stone unturned to make the general public believe that the parents were the slayers. It was in November 2013 that the special CBI court proclaimed the association of parents in the brutal crime; however the public was certain to the core as the verdict was many a times pre-announced by the police and media. Can you fail to recall those reincarnations by the media houses based on the theories projected by the police where they alleged the murdered girl’s sensual connection with the male house-help? We all remember a veteran BJP leader’s pure acquittal in the Ayodhya and in the multi-crore hawala case. Then why blame him of prejudicing the investigation by political stimulus?
This is just one of those cases where the probable offender is deemed-guilty basis the unsubstantiated equations proposed by the police and media. The recent is the much-hyped Badaun case, which if you will search is listed as ‘2014- Badaun gang rape’ in the Wikipedia. The CBI, however, has established zero evidences for sexual assault. And in case the discoveries come true, what about those detained men who would re-live their public lives; however with a tag of deemed-rapist? ‘Breaking News’, which most of the times comes from ‘sources’, makes every endeavor to validate whatever is stated. Just lately, the CBI reported to the court that the agency could not establish any connection between mala fide activities and a highly regarded Indian entrepreneur in the Coal-Gate scam. Now, would the same CBI or the media houses that adjudged the industrialist as guilty pay for the losses incurred in the business owing to a blow to his reputation? No. Post such failures, none of the probing agencies stand liable for harms to the acquitted.
Bloomberg has claimed that the evil of ‘paid news’ is decomposing Indian democracy. It is now quite easy to ruin the public life of any individual by bribing either the police or a media house. Considerable to note, post the toughening of rape law in 2013, acquittal rate in rape cases has gone as high as 75 per cent. But would these 75 per cent be able to lead a normal and reputable public life owing to the sensational claims made by the police in many of these cases ending with declaring the apparent offender as guilty? The list of such cases is not exhaustive and ranges from violations linked with murders, corruption, rapes, and cheating. And extending from shattering the public life to sullying the business/ career, the outcomes take away even the basic right of a person to lead a cherished and peaceful life. The catastrophe does not end here. A deemed-guilty even when led free by the court remains a suspect in any of the wrongs that subsequently happen. What a wretched conclusion of our constitutional rights and privileges.
The most vulnerable to this obscenity are the renowned individuals viz. the politicians, businessmen, film stars, and bureaucrats. Politicians were once considered as men who for the service of the mankind and economy abandon their personal lives. In the Indian political setup, however, with many politicians held as suspects in scams and crimes the general public regards the entire community as cheats. Same is the case with corporate houses, the crucial leaders of which are named in police/ CBI charge sheets, leaving the hard-earned business reputation at stake. Our bureaucracy is usually acknowledged as the most crooked wing; however, the list of bureaucrats declared guilty by the court of law is noticeably trivial. And the common man, who has every right to be respected in the society, is deprived of all such honors once he is charged with misconduct, many a times even without any substantial evidences. The ones, able to get out untainted, are blamed to have prejudiced the judiciary with misuse of political power or money. The gravity is severe and hence Indians’ constitutional rights ask for some quick actions.
Holding of press conferences the same day when the case is recorded in no way makes sense. The investigating agencies, with their rushed disclosures and verdicts, rule out the accused as guilty there and then. The enduring part is played by the media and the accused has no other option than to live in a state of anarchy. More flavors are added by the lawyers of both sides who voluntarily give news-bites to press. To my valued government officials- Sir/ Madam, the public appreciates your devotion towards work; however premature exposes leave the accused in dejection. Appearances on TV are not that important, the reputation of the accused, however, is a life-long earning. All of us know what happens in the search operations of IT Department when the eager officials adjudge cash and gold holding as illicit, but later findings find the same as untainted. The public standing of any ‘deemed-guilty’ is what we all need to preserve, always.
Let me share an incident where an NGO filed a petition with the Delhi High Court over sharing of information with the media by the investigating agency in Delhi serial bomb blasts case. The petition said, ‘Delhi Police is leaking info claimed to be obtained by them in the course of interrogation into a case to the media and the manner in which the media publishes the same, apart from being defamatory in nature, also affects the fundamental right of the accused to a fair trial.’ The Court not just issued notice to the Centre and the city police, but also said, ‘It is a serious issue. Such press conferences go beyond giving information to hamper the investigation. You are an investigating agency. Don’t you know how to preserve evidences?’ It is thus evident that apart from damaging the repute of the accused, Indian investigating agencies also leak substantial information during press releases, or shall I say hurried press releases. Forget justice or fair trial in the particular case, such immature acts even lead to additional detriment.
Now, either the new rulers or the Apex Court of India should step in at the earliest. Infringement of rights listed under the constitution is apparent in such conditions; hence firm guidelines have to be established to prevent further breach. Investigating squad, lawyers in the ongoing suit, media houses, and other government officials must be directed to preserve the findings of the case, which are prone to take twist and turns subsequently. Press releases by police and re-creations by media are not to be allowed unless one of the courts of law adjudges the defendant as guilty. The other side of the coin though demands flow of facts in the public domain; however this can only be said in case of proven facts. Little knowledge is a dangerous thing- An old proverb says.