Justice is not Russian roulette where getting it right or wrong are left to the vagaries of chance. In the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, however, justice came perilously close to getting it wrong. Even as we hail the fact that justice has been finally done with the conviction of Santosh Kumar Singh, we are left facing a swarm of very uncomfortable questions. How many other trials have resulted in the guilty getting away with murder? How many more trials will result in the guilty getting away with murder? The unprecedented re-trial of the case, led by a High Court bench that overturned Singh’s acquittal seven years ago due to “lack of evidence”, has made it clear that the blame for the shoddy, if not criminal, handling of affairs rests with one entity: the police.
Singh’s influence on the investigation process, by virtue of his being the son of a policeman, was evident even to the judge who had earlier set him free. So the nation was left dumbfounded at the court acquitting a killer “despite being convinced that there was no doubt in the prosecution’s case”. The guilty had connived with those whose job it was to convince the court to put him behind bars. To swallow such a naked violation of justice would have been to accept, once and for all, that there is no justice in India. Fortunately, public outcry saw to it that there was a re-trial in which the guilty got his due through the judicial process. One says ‘fortunately’ with a strong sense of anger, shame and fear because the Mattoo re-trial and its verdict look more and more like an anomaly. Beyond the gaze of a harried public lie many more cases where justice has been, and continues to be, derailed almost as a rule. Corruption stops being an abstraction in the hands of ‘bent’ policemen; it actually leads to victims of crime being hoodwinked by the very people who are supposed to protect them.
Something serious needs to be done about such a police system. What the court-led post-mortem of the Mattoo case revealed was that it is not the apocryphal apathy that has progressively damaged our faith in the justice and law and order systems, but the criminal element in our police system. Let the chain of command that scuttled justice the first time round be tracked down and brought to the dock. Even as we thank the public outcry that led to justice being finally delivered for the Mattoo family, we should know that it is not the public whose job it is to see to it that criminals go behind bars, but that of the police. For that to be the norm, many stables have to be first thoroughly cleaned.