OPINION

Justice despite the odds

The wheels of justice grind slowly but grind they do. In Tamil Nadu's Dharmapuri bus burning case, it is a wonder that they ground at all. The case relates to the brutal murder on February 2, 2000 of three young women Kokilavani, Hemalatha, and Gayathri. They were burnt alive when their college bus was torched by an incensed group of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam functionaries and supporters who went on the rampage following Jayalalithaa's conviction by a special court in the Kodaikanal Pleasant Stay Hotel case. The bus burning case was in danger of being scuppered more than once. This was a case in which every one of the 22 witnesses examined by the Krishnagiri court turned hostile, for the awful reason that the ruling dispensation saw to that. The case assumed such farcical proportions that the Madras High Court, which described the trial in the Krishnagiri court as a "colossal failure and eyewash," was persuaded to transfer it to the Salem sessions court and order fresh proceedings. Finally, here was an instance where the AIADMK regime took nearly 15 months to issue the gazette notification appointing a person specifically chosen by the High Court as the Special Public Prosecutor, thereby delaying the start of the trial in Salem. The appointment was made only after contempt proceedings were initiated against the State Home Secretary and other officials and severe strictures handed down by the High Court. As if this was not enough, the case was further delayed by the mysterious disappearance of documents lodged in the Krishnagiri court that were to be transferred to Salem.

If stern justice has been meted out at last all but two of the 30 accused have been found guilty and three have been sentenced to death it is because of two factors. First, the Madras High Court stood its ground against the powerful and persistent attempts to derail the case. The second factor was the tenacity and heroic resolve of the father of one of the victims. It was on his petition that the case was transferred from Krishnagiri to Salem and it was he who initiated contempt proceedings against State officials for their laxity in dealing with the case. It is seven years to the month when the three young women fell prey to the murderous AIADMK mob. This is no story of systemic judicial delay. The criminal justice system was subverted to such a degree that the interests of the ruling dispensation and the prosecution seemed to merge seamlessly. This grim but moving experience underlines the urgent need to liberate the ostensibly professional process of investigating and prosecuting major crime from the control and influence of the government of the day.

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