Reeling in real life | india | Hindustan Times
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Reeling in real life

What Sanjay Dutt did in January 1993 was never in dispute. With communal fires raging across Mumbai and his father — the late actor and parliamentarian Sunil Dutt — branded a Muslim-lover, his family threatened with death and rape, Dutt bought an AK-56 automatic rifle from the mafia.

india Updated: Jul 31, 2007 23:27 IST

What Sanjay Dutt did in January 1993 was never in dispute. With communal fires raging across Mumbai and his father — the late actor and parliamentarian Sunil Dutt — branded a Muslim-lover, his family threatened with death and rape, Dutt bought an AK-56 automatic rifle from the mafia. Three months later, the same mafia set off India’s bloodiest terror attack. Did Dutt flirt with the dark side? He clearly did. Was Judge Pramod Dattatreya Kode harsh with sentencing? No. Other convicts, charged like Dutt with conspiracy, in the world’s longest-running terror trial got similar sentences. So, what explains Bollywood’s shock and horror and the crescendo of voices that says he did not deserve this?

It is not simply the fact that ‘Munnabhai’ is one of filmdom’s most bankable and loved stars. The problem is the 14 years that have gone by since the trial began. Mumbai and India have changed. Our perspectives as a society have transformed beyond recognition. Thanks to the media frenzy around the trial, we have all seen Sanjay as terrified, god-fearing and humble; actor, family man, friend and philanthropist — anything but a conspirator. Old wounds, like the riots and hate that sparked the bombings, have been forgotten in the rush towards economic prosperity and globalisation. As former actor and Dutt family friend Saira Bano said after the verdict, “People have forgotten the circumstances then. Sanju was picking up the wounded from the streets. We were under siege, our home was a refugee camp… sometimes, sometimes, under these circumstances, someone does something wrong, but my god, what a punishment!”

It is also hard to accept — as the 1993 bombing convicts have argued — that Maharashtra policemen and politicians indicted by a commission of inquiry got away scot-free. Indeed, they were never prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Madhukar Sarpotdar, then Shiv Sena MP and today a member of the legislative council, was arrested by the army with guns and swords in the boot of his car: an offence, like Dutt’s, under the Arms Act. The Sena’s argument: the circumstances were different then. Judge Kode’s rigidly legal and logically correct perspective cannot hope to account for his judgment’s disconnect with Bombay’s old realities and Mumbai’s new sensibilities.