Perpetrators of Inhuman Crime Can't Be Let Off on Technical Grounds - The New Indian Express

Perpetrators of Inhuman Crime Can't Be Let Off on Technical Grounds

Published: 10th May 2014 08:10 AM

Last Updated: 10th May 2014 09:01 AM

WHILE the massacre of eight Dalits by upper-caste Reddys, assisted by Telagas, at Tsundur village in Guntur district on August 6, 1991 was a heinous crime against humanity, setting aside the trial court’s arguably mild convictions and letting off all the accused as not guilty, as the AP High Court has done recently, may be regarded as giving impunity to the crime.

Further justifying that faulty verdict on purely technical grounds is setting a dangerous precedent and it is unfortunate that a scholar and prolific writer on the cause of justice (to Telangana) like Gautam Pingle (Express, May 8, 2014) does it.

There is already widespread protest against the judgment and not only the special public prosecutor and Dalit organisations but also the state government announced that it would go for an appeal. Thus the judgment is in public domain right now, waiting to be taken up by the Supreme Court.

The judgment dwelt more on technical and procedural grounds and evidence than on the overall social setting in which the crime took place. Though the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 does not apply here technically, the social atmosphere of caste discrimination leading to violent suppression, including murder, does. The general discrimination against Dalits, allowed by religious sanction and perpetrated by money and power, began to be challenged by the assertion of new generations of Dalits from the 1970s and, by the 1980s, the upper castes began to retaliate this challenge with a vengeance. There is a long list of such incidents in the state.

The previous incidents of such planned violence, Padirikuppam and Karamchedu, were from an upper-caste community (though technically Sudra) that came to power in the early 1980s. Taking cue from those two cases, another dominant community that returned to power in the early 1990s indulged in the same kind of violence and Tsundur carnage was a ghastly example. There may be a couple of incidents that led to the carnage but they can be interpreted as ‘symbols of Dalit assertion’ or ‘intolerance of upper castes at the growing power of the downtrodden’ or ‘upper castes’ determination to maintain law and order’.

The assessment might differ according to the perspective of the commentator. But the law of the land is not just a human subjective commentator. It should be a neutral objective measure that takes into consideration the social, economic, political, historical and cultural aspects of the crime and the evidence is only a tool to substantiate or explain its findings. It is not and cannot be the other way round. One cannot cite evidence to conceal the much more serious and blatant social and economic injustice.

Even if one does not want to go into such a philosophic level, a crime in which eight persons were killed brutally and their dead bodies were bundled and thrown into canals, the dead bodies found after complete decomposition should be sufficient enough to be empathetic and desire to punish the guilty.

But the judgment chose to show evidence to obfuscate this reality and ended in an ambiguous state of not determining the guilty. Even if the prosecution failed to prove its case properly, the need of the hour is to find who the guilty are and accord punishment so that similar incidents do not happen again. It is not just whether to give the benefit of doubt to the accused or not but of identifying the reasons for such inhuman behaviour. Eight precious lives were lost, hundreds of families  forced to live in agony, the administrative and police machinery failed to perform its duty well and the trial was inordinately delayed. It is the background where one has to find evidence. If such a background is laid out, it is not important whether different witnesses gave different timings of killing or fleeing or seeing dead bodies. Then the question of reliability or unreliability of a particular witness, despite the prosecution’s perceived failure, would be a minor issue.

Gautam Pingle had written several pieces on the injustice done to Telangana and in none of those articles had he stuck to the kind of technical arguments he used in his latest. Earlier he seemed to be arguing for justice irrespective of evidence, cooked-up statements, allegations and statistics of vested interests. In the current article, he suddenly seems to have dropped his sense of justice and accepted similar statements, allegations and statistics provided by vested interests. How strange!

He says the case is complicated because of two procedural faults: “The exact date of the murders was not known as the decomposed bodies were recovered after three days” as well as “no one had taken the trouble to file a first information report.” Agreed, but who should be punished for these procedural lapses? Would impunity be an answer?

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