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Dilip D'Souza

    Waited till near the end of this 50th anniversary Republic Day to write this column, wondering if the day would leave me with any deep insights, any profound thoughts, to offer. Insights and thoughts worthy of the momentous event, I mean. Predictably, I had none. In fact, I have sat here for half an hour wondering what to write on the subject. Seems safe to assume that profundity is not on the way. Not tonight, anyway.

Part of the reason is that I have just found a small ad hiding in the middle pages of today's newspaper. I'll tell you what's in it in a minute, after I run down a list for you. Here it is.

Bofors gun scandal. Urea scam. Fodder scam. St Kitt's forgery case. Delhi Sikh massacre, 1984. Jain diary "havala" case. Stock scam. JJ Hospital glycerine adulteration deaths, 1986. Bombay riots. Bombay bomb blasts. Sukh Ram's money-in-the-sheets and telecom scam. Housing scam. Ramesh Kini's murder. LPG allotment scam. Some 24 cases instituted by the Maharashtra Government against the Shiv Sena's Bal Thackeray, all withdrawn when Thackeray himself became the Maharashtra Government for five years. Pickle baron bribe case. Priyadarshini Mattoo's murder trial, in which the judge actually pronounced: "Though I know [Santosh Singh] is the man who committed the crime, I acquit him, giving him the benefit of the doubt." Jayalalitha's trial. Babri Masjid demolition case.

What's common to all these? Nothing. As in: nothing has come of any of them. Whether they were prosecuted by the police or the CBI or the CID or some other alphabetized squad, not one of these cases has resulted in anyone being punished. Some of them drag on desultorily; others have been dismissed; still others have run into a dead end.

In at least one, the 1984 Sikh massacre, a fresh inquiry has been ordered. Fifteen years have gone by since those bloody events -- think of it, fully fifteen per cent of the 20th Century -- and all we can dream up in the direction of justice is still another inquiry where eight have gone before. Eight inquiries, now nine.

Writing in Frontline about Mattoo's murder trial, TK Rajalakshmi has this to say: "The acquittal on December 3 [1999] ... has dealt a blow to public faith in the criminal justice system." True enough, Rajalakshmi, except for one thing. Public faith in the criminal justice system is dead. It was dead long before December 3, 1999. It died because the public has spent years watching crime after nauseating crime by powerful Indians, followed by trials after lackadaisical trials that never, not once, have managed to punish such Indians.

It's a parade of infamy that far outdoes the ones that make their way down Delhi's Rajpath every January 26th. Even the 50th anniversary edition. Five decades after we gave ourselves a Constitution, we debate what's in it, the fundamental rights it gives us, the form of Government we have or should have, electoral reforms, all of that. But the Constitution is a flimsy bit of paper indeed when we are unable to put criminals -- the real criminals, not two-bit roadside pickpockets -- where they belong. Constitutional issues are all entirely meaningless when "public faith in the criminal justice system" has been so completely smashed.

So when I ran across this ad, I nearly laughed out loud. Not that it was funny. Here's what it said:

''Central Bureau of Investigation: "Contact Us"

If you have specific information on corrupt public servants of the Central Government or Public Sector Undertakings, just log on to our website ( and click the "contact us" button. Give your genuine e-mail address for us to contact you if the need arises. Your identity will be kept confidential.

You can also earn rewards by providing information leading to the arrest of wanted criminals being publicized on our website and in Newspapers.''

On Republic Day 2000, to boot.

I am constrained to wonder here at the temerity of the CBI, and if that gets some people in the CBI agitated, I'll have to live with that. The CBI has itself gathered "specific information" on the corruption and criminality of many "public servants" in several of those cases I listed above. It has itself prosecuted several of those cases, or at least given us to believe that it did so or is doing so. Nothing has come of several; others have been dismissed because of the CBI's own apparent incompetence, whether wilful or not.

Yet the CBI now wants us to click at a website to offer specific information on corruption. What is going to happen with this specific information? What is going to happen to those public servants the specific information will refer to? You, I and the CBI know the answer all too well: Not one teeny-weeny thing. I am even willing to bet a thumping majority of you is not willing to believe that "your identity will be kept confidential" bit. For the lamentable feature of several of those cases I listed -- besides resulting in zero, I mean -- is that people who came forward as witnesses, to help the investigation, were themselves then victimized.

And anyway, suppose I stifle my cynicism, visit that website and click on that "Contact Us" button. On whatever comes up, suppose I cut-and-paste my list above. After all, in two examples at random, I do indeed have access to "specific information": one, Justice BN Srikrishna's inquiry report on the Bombay riots and two, Justice Bakhtawar Lentin's inquiry report on the JJ Hospital glycerine adulteration deaths. (Not that I am particularly favoured with this "specific information"; both reports are in the public domain and are undoubtedly available to the CBI as well. Perhaps even already).

Suppose I do all that. Will the CBI suddenly leap into action in all the cases listed? Solely because I clicked on "Contact Us"? Solely because the CBI has set up a website, like so many do, and sat back thinking all that needs accomplishing is therefore accomplished, again like so many do?

Do you need me to answer that still again?

So when faith in justice is so pervasively gone, what can you do? When the consequences of widespread criminality -- from a hijack to a brand new flyover with a huge hole in its roadway -- bombard us every day, what can you do? When criminals are now the ones making and supposedly enforcing our laws, what can you do?

Those are questions I find I am turning over in my mind nearly every day. The answers are, unfortunately, are far more difficult. But may I suggest, as we enter a second half-century of Republic-dom, as resolutions for Indians like me who long for answers, these few things.

One: Understand that criminality knows no political boundaries.

Two: Understanding that, give up your own political leanings for the limited purpose of tackling widespread corruption. If you are unable to do that, you should read no further. For such leanings will only perpetuate corruption. After all, goons who threaten those who would investigate a Laloo are the same as goons who threaten those who would investigate a Sajjan Kumar are the same as goons who threaten conflagration if a Thackeray is to be arrested are the same as goons who beat up a lawyer for filing cases against Jayalalitha. If you get my drift.

Three: Agree on a two-point agenda, to be pursued relentlessly. Those two points: police reform, judicial reform. The aims: make the police independent of politicians. Make the judiciary quick, responsive and willing to punish.

Four: Initiate campaigns towards these aims. The only weapon in our hands is citizens' action. Use it. Meaning: Write letters to the press and to your elected representatives. Monitor the response. There will be none, so write again and again. Come out on the streets to demand results. Get the press to follow investigations. Stand for election. You will lose, so stand again. And again and again.

This is not a simple battle that will be won soon. It will need time. It will need perseverance to get over the countless failures that lie ahead, and I do mean countless. But it's the only way. If you've read this far, perhaps you agree. If so, send me a note. Let's see where it goes.

And if you want to, do by all means visit that CBI site.

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