When the rich and the powerful get on the wrong side of the law, it's the law that suffers the most. VIP offenders and convicts are often treated by law enforcers as VIPs and not as offenders or convicts. Security officials rolled out the red carpet for Jagir Kaur, former Minister in the Shiromani Akali Dal government in Punjab, following her conviction last week on charges of abduction and wrongful confinement of her daughter in 2000. Video footage from the Kapurthala jail captured the astonishing sight of officials rushing to touch the convict's feet when she arrived at the prison complex ostensibly to serve out her term. Although Ms Kaur “resigned” as Minister immediately after her conviction, she appears to have lost none of the privileges that come with office. Twice president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the powerful body responsible for the administration of gurudwaras, Ms Kaur wields considerable clout within the current government headed by Parkash Singh Badal. Opposition members have already demanded that she be shifted to a jail outside Punjab so she gets a taste of prison life as it is lived by countless other convicts.
Of course, Ms Kaur is not the first person to receive comforts and favours inside a prison cell. Industrialists and politicians convicted for fraud and violent crime have always found ways to carry over their material advantages in the vast, outside world into the confines of a prison. In many cases, they abuse the legal provisions governing incarceration to evade the full rigour of the law. It has, for example, become the done thing for celebrity undertrials and convicts to feign chest pain and seek refuge in high-end hospitals which curiously seem able to delay diagnosing the illness for as long as the patient wants. Stories of well-heeled undertrials being lavished attention in prisons — the 2G accused being a case in point — are a legion. The other trick in the book is parole; the reason for the excursion can be anything, a parent's illness, the death of a relative, or simply the need to reconnect with the city's social circuit. Manu Sharma, convicted in the Jessica Lal murder case, famously spent the parole period granted him (originally 30 days but extended by a month) partying, helped in no small measure by his benefactors in the Delhi government. India's criminal justice system is lax, and many literally get away with murder. For a select few convicted by a court of law, the journey from home to prison brings no ordeal that they cannot bear. When the prison cell door clanks shut behind them, the VIP inmates manage to force open a window to freedom. That's the sad truth.