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Sinfully emotional

Munnabhai goes to Yerawada jail. Friends and family still swear by his innocence, writes Sujata Anandan.

india Updated: Aug 04, 2007 01:43 IST
Sujata Anandan

Nearly a week after the TADA Court sentenced Sanjay Dutt to six years of rigorous imprisonment for possession of illegal arms, the country remains vertically split on the issue of whether justice has been done.

Sanjay’s friends and family still firmly believe in his innocence. Yes, he did ask for and acquire an AK 56 from the underworld. And yes, he did criminalise his friends by asking them to destroy that weapon. But even though he was 33 at the time, his father, the late Sunil Dutt, had always believed that Sanjay had the innocence and power of understanding of a child.

Age of innocence

Sanjay could not distinguish between good and bad, and right and wrong. Of course, those less charitable would interpret these qualities as plain stupidity. Neither description, though, convinces Ujjwal Nikam, the public prosecutor in the case. “He was 33. He was an adult. He should have known what was right and what was wrong.”

Sample this. A few years before his brush with the law, in 1988, when Sunil Dutt was on a peace march from Nagasaki to Hiroshima, he asked Sanjay to join him in Japan. “Papa, they will allow me to travel, won’t they?” Sanjay asked. “Because I have already been abroad three times this year.” Those were the days of restricted travel and foreign exchange, and Dutt Sr. was intensely annoyed. “My children are so stupid!” he exclaimed to a friend. “They don’t even know there are ways of getting around this!” The friend replied: “It’s good that your children do not know about these ways.”

Legal eagle

The friend was both right and wrong. For if Sanjay had been a little more clued into the world around him, he would have been able to judge for himself how wrong it was to associate with the underworld. And even more wrong to acquire weapons of an army category when he already had three licensed guns and knew an Indian citizen could not legally possess more than three weapons.

But, says Sanjay’s sister Priya Dutt Roncon, MP from Bombay North West: “Sanjay believes in his innocence. He knows he did not conspire. He thought from his heart rather than his mind. He reacted emotionally. It may have been wrong, but he is not a criminal.”

Sanjay says he was looking out for his two younger sisters during the 1993 riots when he acquired the weapons — he was receiving calls threatening his sisters with rape and worse. Today it is sisters Namrata and Priya who are looking out for him. “We will never give up. My father never gave up on my mother. The doctors had given up all hope and asked him to let my mother die. But he pulled out all the stops and took her everywhere and prolonged her life like no one else could have. We will also similarly pull out every stop to get him justice,” says Priya.

Sister support

More than anything else, Sanjay Dutt today needs his sisters’ support. Although he is much more mature now than he was in 1993, then he drew a lot of strength from Sunil Dutt who stood like a rock behind his son. “Today, he knows our father is no longer there. And I think that might make him a little nervous,” says Priya.

Sanjay’s life, says Priya, was on hold for 14 years. “He was waiting for it all to be over. But it is still on hold now. However, even though he has been sent to prison, I am glad that through his sentencing the whole country’s faith in the judiciary is restored and established. We, too, have full faith in the judicial system and we know he will eventually be exonerated.”

When Justice Kode had freed Sanjay of charges under TADA, the Dutt family was most upset about allegations that there seemed to be two laws operating in the land, one for Sanjay and another for the rest. “But he is still serving the nation through his imprisonment. Now every one knows that was not true,” says Priya.

Crime justified

Some Muslim groups, who earlier believed Dutt was being treated too softly by the court, are today less harsh in their judgment. “He took up arms because of threats to his sister,” says

Allama Hasani, president of the World Peace Forum. But, says Naziamuddin Rain, president of the Ekta Forum: “If he was given the slightest benefit it would have damaged people’s faith in the judiciary.”

There were others in the industry who had acquired similar weapons during the time (a former Punjab police chief even presented a similar weapon to Saawan Kumar Tak and Sridevi when she came shooting in Chandigarh and that led Bollywood to look for AK 56s as trophies). When Sanjay got into trouble, all these weapons washed up on sea shores all across Mumbai. Yet, through his trial, Sanjay never spilled the beans on others in Bollywood.

Whichever way the scales of justice may finally swing, Priya clings to the thought that her brother made a serious mistake all those years ago. “He will never do that again.” Most of his friends are sure of that.