When Sanjay Dutt was being tried in 1995, he had little of the VIP treatment we hear about these days.
His father Sunil Dutt would come through the security barriers to attend his hearings, producing his ID, signing the register just before the X-Ray machines and talking to whoever was around about his faith in god and in the innocence of his son. Sanjay’s sisters would also come, sometimes bringing him a tiffin of home-cooked food (which under-trials are allowed).
Sanjay would eat this sitting on the floor of the jail yard at dusk, sharing his food with three or four other people and mixing it with their jail-cooked dal-roti.
I was Sessions court reporter for The Asian Age and was covering the Bombay Bomb Blasts trial, as it was called, in which he was charged.
The first time I met Sanjay, inside Arthur Road jail one July evening in 1995, he asked me if I could come the next morning to court, which was also on the jail’s premises in Central Mumbai. When I waved to him, he handed me a sheaf of papers. The pages were handwritten in Hindi, by at least three people, and in various colours of ink. “Print this if you like,” Sanjay said, “it’s for my birthday.”
The note was an emotional howl protesting his innocence and reminding people of his pedigree, who his mother was and what she had taught him. “If I’m guilty shoot me at the crossroads” one line read.
I spent a couple of days translating it and the paper published it for his birthday, July 29.
After that I met him often, spending time before and after court.
He was then 37 and his long brown hair had already begun to thin. His teeth were stained by the Marlboro Whites he smoked. He wore a rudraksha and sacred threads on his wrist, and most days had a fresh tika on his forehead in hope.
Bail was tough to get under TADA and the inmates were resigned to being in jail for a long time.
Sanjay’s luck changed when the Shiv Sena came to power in Maharashtra’s assembly elections of 1995. Bal Thackeray leaned on the Centre to let the CBI, which was prosecuting, relax its opposition to bail. The famous advocate VR Manohar appeared for Sanjay’s bail hearing. He wore morning dress: pin-striped trousers, waistcoat and tails, and everyone turned around to look. He walked to the bench with small, measured steps. Some people had come in support of Sanjay, including Pritish Nandy who waved trying to get his attention.
When Sanjay got bail, he went to thank Thackeray and then to Siddhi Vinayak temple.
Sanjay's new judge was now Pramod Kode (on Thursday in Bombay high court), whom I knew well from TADA court. He was sympathetic but meticulous and thorough. I'm not surprised the Supreme Court has upheld his judgment. He was not the sort who would make mistakes.
Sanjay would have been warned by his lawyers that he should prepare for jail. He will not sleep tonight, but he will settle in, assured this time by a firm date to be freed by, and supported by the new friends, constables and convicts, he will soon make in jail.
The home-cooked food will have to now wait for three and a half years.