From time to time there comes a film from Bollywood which is not of the usual song-and-dance type and which one can watch without having to ‘leave your brain at the ticket counter’, as an Indian friend of mine said many moons ago in then Calcutta. He had hosted me and another Mauritian student to a movie show: which one has long slipped from my memory!
Some weeks ago I saw ‘Pink’ on big screen. At that time it resonated with me not so much for the theme – gender issues – as for the fact that it was shot in New Delhi. I knew the places that were shown in the movie, and had been there a number of times for various reasons. Sarvapriya Vihar, a residential colony; the Deer Park where I have taken morning walks many a time and that evoked linked memories of precious moments spent in the adjoining locality of Green Park; Surajkund in Haryana which brought me back to a sunny winter morning a few years ago, when I visited the famous Surajkund Mela. All these and many more details in the scenes warmed me up, despite the Delhi pollution and traffic chaos that I have known too, but being in a greener environment was some comfort. Although I long to make a trip nevertheless, one which is overdue…
It was at the beginning of this week, if I remember correctly, that I chanced upon the movie playing on TV, and since I had nothing in particular to do, I thought that I might as well watch again the superb performance of veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan in his role of defense lawyer for the three ladies. I did remember also that there was a political angle in the story, and local events having an equally unsavoury political twist also prompted me to continue viewing. In fact, the trial in the movie is triggered by political rigging of a police enquiry.
The core story line is straightforward enough: three ‘independent working women’ who share an apartment meet a group of three young men at a rock concert in Surajkund. One of the women knew a close friend of one of the three young men. The two groups chat up and the ladies accept a dinner invitation by the men after the concert, where they share some drinks too. The night ends up with the men attempting to molest the ladies, during which one guy is hit on the head with a bottle by the lady he was harassing.
The ladies make a quick exit and the guy who is hurt is taken for treatment. His uncle is a prominent politician in South Delhi who admonishes him sternly when the nephew visits. Subsequently, instead of the police questioning the three men after the ladies have made an ‘FIR’ – First Information Report – to the police that they were being harassed after the incident, it is one of the women who is brutally arrested and hauled into jail, after the police launch an enquiry following a back-dated entry in the police records, only too obviously upon orders from the proverbial ‘above’. The victims become the accused but at the end of the trial, the Court finds the perpetrators guilty and they are given sentences accordingly.
There are a few points of interest. The police officer who makes the back-dated entry is, ironically, a lady. As the lawyer for the defense establishes in Court, she was off duty that night attending a reception in Faridabad, about half an hour away by car from the police station where the FIR was made. And yet the time that she made the entry was twelve minutes after she left the reception, which makes the lawyer call her a superwoman as soon as he starts to cross-examine her. She does not understand why of course, until he demolishes her evidence and testimony.
An absentee officer off work for personal reasons being recalled to make a fake, retrospective entry is surely a grave offence. I wonder whether there is a punishment in law for that, and if any such case has ever occurred in our own country. On the other hand, this officer was clearly under pressure to obey orders from a superior, and so the question of whether or not she could have acted in her own conscience is a moot point. However, given her earlier behaviour towards the two women at the police station when they went to see their friend who had been arrested, it appears that she probably had no qualms. She was most likely as judgemental about these ‘independent working women’ living on their own as the general perception that prevailed.
The other issue that calls attention is that when the ladies had made their FIR, the police officer who took it down immediately phoned his superior and told him that a complaint had been filed against minister so-and-so’s nephew. The moment of silence that ensues before he hangs up and the look on his face are very revealing.
If it’s the minister’s son, one might understand that the father has to be informed as the responsible party. But the nephew? Does this happen in democracies in the ‘third world’ only or also in the more mature democracies as well? Is there anything in the police rule book or equivalent that makes allowance for this latitude when it comes to politicians and their relatives? For clearly the minister was informed, otherwise there was no reason why the superior would give instructions for a back-dated entry to be made.
But it seems that he was prepared to trade his integrity and give in to political pressure. No one can deny that political pressure is a fact of life in many countries, and it is a rare and bold officer who has the courage to stand up to it. The refusal to bend can have dire consequences for the officer concerned, unless s/he is also ‘well-connected’ and can counter it through such connections. Of course no politician will ever accept that the phenomenon is real, but there are examples galore that are known across the board, and hush-hush is the mot d’ordre.
If this is the case in democracies, one can well imagine what happens in dictatorships, where people are simply ‘disappeared’!
The indifference of the minister and the superior police officer to the plight of the three women is another aspect of note. The trauma of their nocturnal misadventure pales in comparison to what they have to undergo in the public eye in Court, and although they are not indicted, no doubt they will long have to bear the stigma and the looks. As it is, one of them is asked to quit her job as soon as the case becomes known, even before the trial has begun, because she works in an advertising agency where the image is all.
Careers and lives can be destroyed in this manner, but who cares? Not the too-ready-to-please officers, not the venal, callous politicians whose glib talk of fairness, equity and social justice is so much hot air. Ultimately, therefore, the accused citizen has only one recourse: a justice system that is not only perceived to be, but is actually above board. That is how the incumbent politician’s nephew and his acolytes were convicted. But who will give the guarantee in other countries, other jurisdictions? Shall we be dreaming if we imagine a similar outcome in a case before the Courts in our own country?
Or is the common man’s option to only Cry, my beloved country? – to borrow from Alan Paton’s title of his novel about the disintegration of society in South Africa.
May the lights of Christmas bring hope. Amen.