Saturday, January 22, 2005

CSI : TN - The case of the Temple murder

Disclaimer: This post arises from almost a two hour heated discussion that I had with V, (my roomie) today in the midst of probably the biggest snowfall of this winter season so far. I am not in any way connected with this issue, so I think I can talk freely about a matter that is subjudice at the moment. Having said that, I am in no way passing judgment on the case per say, but just in the way it has been handled and the ramifications that I think this case would have in the way the law is viewed, has been viewed and will be viewed in the future not only in the state of Tamil Nadu, but in the whole of India. Frankly I am surprised that this matter did not really find web-space in blogs. But if I did miss any meaningful discussion in this issue during my period of dormancy, I would be glad if I got pointed to the location(s) concerned. I am not even going to go into the details of the case, because that’s been documented, in the media, in every leaning possible, both for and against the prosecution and the defense. But I do feel that the prosecution has placed all its eggs into one thin un-padded plastic bag and thrown it down from the 15th floor of the LIC building (or which ever new building that has sprung up in Chennai in the last three or four years).

I have had access to just one single Tamil TV channel, and that too only for around 5 (non-successive) days this past month. And every single news bulletin that I have seen on this channel had something or the other to say on this issue and anything that was said was accompanied by video footage of the murder scene at the Varadajaperumal temple, complete with the body of the victim lying in a pool of blood beside the chair which seemed to have toppled, with him sitting on it, on its back. My first question, how did the TV channel get this footage? If the footage is not from police video, did the police take any care to prevent contamination of evidence on the crime scene? It does not seem so. What if, one of the killers had stepped on the pool of blood and left a foot print or a shoe print on the crime scene? We will never know. It probably does not matter, now that the perps (have watched too much CSI lately) have been arrested. Wait, am I not making the assumption here that the accused (3rd and downward, 1st and 2nd being the you know who’s) are actually the perps? So we have one probable case of evidence contamination right there. Btw, was this crime covered on a “crime program” from the same channel? If so, I am wondering if the footage is from the same program’s camera men, or have the police taken to video graphing every single crime scene these days? I have heard at least one incident of this TV program’s host and camera men accompanying police on a unannounced visit, but what about this occasion?

The second issue I have is the inordinate delay in filing charge sheets by the police after claiming at least 60 days earlier that they have every single piece of evidence that was needed to prosecute Accused No. 1. So why is the police suffering from a sudden affliction of the foot-in-mouth syndrome and vacillating between looking like Doob Doob and Kalia at different points of time between Deepavali and Pongal. Well, it does not matter if they are right, but the constant alternating between talking their mouths off and looking like the proverbial deer in the headlights creates doubts in even the most ardent fans of the prosecution in this case. I would have preferred not more than a couple of days between the arrests and the charge sheet. It might actually be unconstitutional to arrest someone and hold them without a charge sheet for that long unless some loophole or the other (like the POTA or the Goondas Act or whatever) has been evoked. But can the evoking of those loopholes for someone like Accused No. 1 be justified without me LMAO? Was house arrest (incommunicado, that is) even considered?

The third issue that I have is the leaking of the “secret video” to the TV channels and the above mentioned channel claiming that it even had the police’s assent to air the “secret video”. I know that technically the video would not be admissible as evidence. Hell, it isn’t even damning, aside from the fact that it exposes probable bad blood between Accused No. 1 and No. 2, but it certainly does not boost the police’s image if “secret video footage” taken inside the walls of a prison finds its way into national (and pseudo-international) TV. Not that it matters in India, anyways, but such an issue would be grounds for a mistrial in some parts of the world. But do we even have something like a “mistrial” plea in India?

The last (at this moment) issue is the fact that while filing the charge sheet, the police said that the case would be tried in regular court and not in a Special Court (like some high profile cases are). I don’t have much of an idea about these judicial aspects, but does that mean that the case will be tried by any common judge who happened to be on duty the day the case comes up? Alternately, if this case was to be tried in a Special Court set up for the purpose, who chooses the judge? V, my roomie, says that regardless of the court and the judge, justice will be served impartially. I however, think that this is an idealistic view of the situation. I think, if all my surmises are true, that it is possible for an inexperienced judge in regular court, to be affected by the pressure from everywhere. So there exists the need for this trial, because it has much greater ramifications financially and politically, than any other murder trial, to be tried in a Special Court with a impartially chosen judge with lots of experience with civil and criminal cases.

Looking at the complete picture, the police have a lot at stake in this issue. It remains to be seen if they are just pawns in the hands of the politicians, but inevitably the whole reputation of the Tamil Nadu police is at stake. My take is that the police will lose a lot if the means cannot be justified by the ends and if the defense manages take Accused No. 1 off the hook. They will lose even if Accused No. 2 is let off the hook. The political moneybags will wash their hands off and police will be left to fend for themselves. So I hope they have a solid case.

Throughout this case, they will be subjected to extreme public and political scrutiny, because on one hand they have to justify all the claims of high handedness on their part that has plagued the case, ever since they took off from Chennai on the day of Deepavali. On the other hand, they also have to satisfy every whim of the bosses at Fort St. George and elsewhere.

There lies the irony, a sermon that a lot of people preach whenever someone close to them enters public service in the police or the civil service. The police and the civil service in India always face a tough job staying neutral and they will face brickbats regardless of whether their job is done or not. And this particular issue will not be any different and will be critical in ensuring whether the public’s faith in the law is re-affirmed or not. For the individual politician, it is just a matter of time before their crimes are forgotten, but the reputation of the policeman is not for the individual, but for the institution itself and that is where the brickbats will hit the hardest. Sadly, the damage will not be slight, with much of the institution’s grandeur already jaded. For that reason alone, I hope that all those eggs in the plastic bag don’t break.

(P.S: As far as possible, I have not taken any names here, mainly because the focus is not on the accused and their supporters or detractors, but actually on the police as an institution and the Indian judicial system in a certain level. So leave your comments about this particular side of the issue. If you are religious and feel strongly that a religious leader of your denomination has been treated this way, this is NOT the place to leave your comments. Thank you.)

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