If JanLokpal Bill is passed, I am wondering if my uncle would have got justice?
It was a bright July morning and the streets of Mysore were bustling, actually bristling with morning weekday rush hour traffic. My 78 year-old uncle was part of that traffic, riding to work as he had always done for the last many years on his moped. Now you may want to ask what a 78-year-old man was doing a) driving a moped, b) that too in rush hour traffic and c) going to work in the first place. Part of the answer is that “78-year- old” is a bit of a misnomer because my uncle was a sprightly old gent, arthritic knees being about the only burden of old age that his 78 years has placed upon him. The other part is that the size of his pension didn’t allow my uncle to stay at home.
He reached the gates of his workplace and had slowed down so that he could turn in and park his vehicle, when suddenly a speeding two-wheeler hit him from behind. The impact of the collision knocked my uncle off his moped on to the pavement, which he hit and immediately became unconscious. He was taken to the hospital where his injuries were found to be severe, internal ones in the head resulting in brain hemorrhage and fractures including several ribs. I won’t take you through the rest of the story, which is long and convoluted, and we will just rewind to the end.
My uncle died as a result of his injuries.
The driver of the vehicle that hit him was a 17-year-old engineering old student. He did not have a driving license, not even a learner’s one. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t manage to get away and was caught, arrested and then let out on bail. An FIR was filed and subsequently, my aunt filed a suit against the boy for criminal and negligent driving that caused the death of her husband. The damages that she asked for was Rs. 5,00,000.
This happened in 1998. In the four years that have passed, the following has happened:
Court proceedings started on the case and are still going on. Hearings are routinely postponed because a) the judge is on leave, b) one or the other lawyer can’t make it, c) the defense needs more time to prepare for the next hearing, d) the witnesses do not turn up, e) any combination of the above. (Unscheduled things like bands, agitations, the death of a VIP – which in Mysore could be the secretary of the ------- - also help in the matter.)
Meanwhile, the judge before whom the case originally opened got transferred. This meant that the hearings were further postponed till the new judge caught up. With his cases and his breath, I guess.
My aunt became a stoic little yo-yo, trundling herself to the court whenever she is needed which is roughly about once in 2-3 months.
In the latest twist to the whole thing, the defense lawyer is now apparently all cock-a-whoop, because according to him since in any case, it was all my uncle’s fault, there is no way that my aunt is going to win the case. How and when he arrived at this conclusion may be difficult to figure, but it may have something to do with several of the eyewitnesses mysteriously turning hostile and so on and so forth….
Which also completely seals any chance of an out-of -court settlement. (While my aunt is not the poor, illiterate widow of a poor, illiterate migrant worker who was dependent on her husband slaving away in some bakery thousands of miles away to eat her next meal, the money is definitely welcome.) You’d think there would have been an offer immediately after the accident, and you’d think that it would have been the defendant and his lawyer that would have been in such a hurry to make one, given how loaded the dice was against the boy.
And isn’t it? Just to be sure, let’s check the facts again. The boy was under age, driving without a license and there were enough eyewitnesses to give evidence that it had been the boy’s fault. Surely then, this is an open-and-shut case and shouldn’t the boy and his family, under the advice of their lawyer, be falling all over themselves to compensate and shut my aunt up because her chances of suing and getting a verdict in her favour are very bright? Ah, but you see, that’s the point of people like you and me, illiterate in the ways of legal system in our country….
Meanwhile, what’s happened to the boy? Well, for one, he’s not a boy anymore but an adult man who can drink, drive (sometimes drink and drive, if fancy should so strike him as it does so many other young men), get married and vote, not to mention engineer things since he’s no longer a mere engineering student but a fully qualified engineer. He is also back on the streets of Mysore, riding a two-wheeler. We don’t know whether it is the same two-wheeler that killed my uncle and we also don’t know whether he drives with or without a driving license. But how does that matter and how did that ever matter since it is possible to buy a driving license – much the same way as you would the latest dance mix CD – even if you can’t really tell the difference between the clutch and the accelerator, foot pedals all. And my aunt? Well, she’s grown too, like the boy – only she’s grown older but not wiser. For some strange reason, she continues to hope that there will be a verdict. In her favour. And in her lifetime.
Naturally, I cannot end without answering these questions…
Was the boy rich/famous/powerful? (At 17? Why not – he could’ve have been a child prodigy 15-stringed ukulele player or something…) Nope. The son/brother/nephew of a rich/famous/powerful man/woman/eunuch? Nope. The son/brother/nephew/brother/brother-in-law of the fourth cousin of the husband of a local politician? No. Of a local mafia don? (Same thing, is it not?) Nope. You mean to say that he was an absolute Nobody? Yup. Like you and me? Yup. And he managed to get off scot-free for killing an innocent man with his vehicle, which he was driving without a license? Yup.
So, my point is simply this. You don’t have to be a Salman Khan to get away with murder. All you have to do is just leave it to the Indian legal system.