January 9, 2001


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Kuldip Nayar

Why should the BJP shy away from reopening the Rajan Pillai case?

In Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther describes how cancer devours his only son bit by bit. He describes poignantly his helplessness. J Rajmohan Pillai, too, records his helplessness. He could not save his industrialist brother Rajan Pillai, who died at New Delhi's Tihar jail at the hands of doctors and officials. They were not only negligent, but also greedy. Rajmohan's account is in his book, A Wasted Death, yet to be printed.

'What that faceless municipal clerk wrote in Rajan's death certificate, was a casual, thoughtless thing but he was, in a way, being accurate. Where Rajan's permanent address was to be shown, he scribbled in his delightfully legible hands: 'Gate No 4, Tihar Jail, New Delhi.' I could not even show a word of protest. I was resigning myself to the clerically twisted version of truth. I was silently accepting Rajan's permanent address was Tihar Jail,' so says the brother.

I met his parents at Thiruvananthapuram a few days ago. Five-and-a-half years after Rajan's death, they are a picture of tragedy which could have been averted. The mother, sitting erect, looks vacantly, as if she is still waiting for familiar footsteps. The father is speechless after a stroke. His unacknowledged memorandum to the prime minister ends thus: 'Rajan is no more. Other fathers should not face similar tragic situations in their old age.' But he says he will not die in peace if he does not 'understand the circumstances that led to the tragic and untimely demise' of his son.

I do not think that the truth will ever come out. Some politicians, some bureaucrats and some doctors will see it does not. They cannot afford to reopen the case because they are a guilty lot. The Justice Leila Seth Commission, appointed after Rajan's death, was restricted to ascertain the circumstances leading to his death, nothing beyond. And it came to the conclusion that 'ways and means must be found to ensure that competent doctors were posted in the jail.' The Commission also suggested that the UN standard minimum rules be followed. A prisoner should be allowed to be treated by his own doctor. Rajan was denied all that.

The Kerala assembly felt so horrified by Rajan's death that it pronounced its unanimous verdict: 'It was judicial murder.' Members asked for a fuller inquiry. But neither did then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao nor then state chief minister A K Antony accept the plea. Why? They did not want to face the stigma of negligence.

It is understandable that the Congress-led governments at the Centre and in Kerala were shy of reopening the case. But why should the BJP-led coalition follow their example? What does it want to cover up? Do some rival business houses come in the way?

Rajan Pillai never came out of jail alive. He died in mysterious circumstances when he was in judicial custody. The trial he faced was for extradition to Singapore where 'criminal proceedings' against him had been initiated by some business tycoons. It was part of a conspiracy. It was the harvest of psychopathic hate. The government should comprehend this fact and order a fresh inquiry.

The Seth Commission understandably confined itself to investigate the failure in rendering proper medical relief. It never went into the charge of conspiracy, as alleged by Rajan's wife, Neena. This was beyond the Commission's brief. Still it asked Neena to provide evidence to prove the conspiracy. She was so depressed and upset at that time that she did not respond. Since then she has filed FIRs. But the inspector at the crime branch in New Delhi is still looking into them. The home ministry's silence is ominous.

Even when the Commission pointed out lapses on the part of doctors and officials, the government has done little (Two doctors were demoted this week). When Rajan was remanded to judicial custody, the judge wrote an urgent confidential letter to the resident medical officer, Tihar jail, enquiring about Rajan's ailment and sent a copy of the application moved in the court by his counsel for medical examination. Even though the letter was received by the assistant superintendent of Tihar jail, it never reached the RMO who was required to send the reply in confidence to the court. The RMO stated under oath that he never received such a letter.

According to the Commission, the CBI withheld vital information from the judge. Both the medical superintendent of the Safdarjang Hospital and the RMO of the Central Jail Hospital had replied to the CBI listing out hospitals in Delhi in which treatment for cirrhosis of liver, Rajan's ailment, was available. Although both these letters were with the CBI, they were not produced before the judge. Why has there been no action against the CBI officials till today?

Rajan did not get the attention which even an ordinary criminal gets. His mulahiza (inspection) did not take place immediately on his entering the jail, July 4, 1995. Nor did it happen even two days later. He continued to languish in the mulahiza ward while the court had ordered a 'B' class ward for him. To me, it seems a case of fiendish pleasure, something in which many government servants indulge to get vicarious satisfaction in teasing the rich.

Going through the sordid incidents, culminating in Rajan's death, it is hard not to conclude that there was a design to have him disgraced, if not dead. There was so much of glee in certain circles to see him break.

Where do we go from here? How does a dead man get justice? Officially, the case is closed. The Communist state government led by E K Nayanar has written to the Centre to conduct a re-inquiry into the whole gamut of what is known as the Rajan Pillai case. The state awaits the Government of India's response. So do his parents. And so does his brother, who says, Rajan was dumped in the jail and left in his cell to die. Indeed, it was a wasted death.

Kuldip Nayar

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