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Will justice be done?

ANIL DHARKER

Celebrity crimes hog the headlines for a while and then disappear ... just like the victim and the likely perpetrator.

WHAT do Natasha Singh and 900 people in Gujarat have in common? They are all dead, murdered in cold blood. But a macabre ending is not the only thing they share.

It's understandable if you ask, "Natasha, who?" Her CV is brief, for she was young and just setting off on life's journey. She came of Jordanian-Indian parentage, studied at St. Stephen's College, did a brief stint in modelling and teaching before deciding that photography was her true calling. The only notable thing she did was to marry Jagat Singh and when the marriage started to unravel, have the temerity to cross him.

The police believe that Natasha Singh committed suicide by jumping from an upper floor of a Delhi hotel; her family believes she was pushed. There is enough evidence to support both sides. But even if she did kill herself, it's likely that she was pushed. Not literally, but figuratively: Natasha Singh and her boyfriend had been physically attacked (the latter publicly by her ex-husband), she had received a stream of abusive messages, allegedly from Jagat Singh and she was embroiled in an ugly custodial battle with him over her two children. She had even lodged police complaints citing threats to her life.

But it's unlikely that her death will be investigated seriously; the suicide theory suits Jagat Singh and so, after a routine investigation, the case will be closed. After all, Jagat Singh is the son of Natwar Singh, political bigwig, AICC member, former minister and Gandhi family confidante.

The Natasha Singh "suicide" will then join the roster of celebrity crimes, which hog the headlines for a week or two and then disappear, forever, from public view. The victim is forgotten, except by the immediate family. What is worse is that the likely perpetrator of the crime is forgotten by the police, the prosecutors and by the law. He resumes, as if the interruption never happened, his position of power and influence in society.

The list is very long, but just the more familiar names will do. Nitish Katara, the executive allegedly murdered by a Punjab politician's son because he was romantically involved with his sister; the rape and murder of law student Priyadarshini Mattoo ; the killing — in front of a roomful of eye witnesses — of model Jessica Lal ; the gruesome Tandoor murder ... Then there is the BMW hit and run case where the son of a retired navy admiral ran into and killed a number of policemen on duty but was given the freedom to study in the United States; the Puru Rajkumar case in Mumbai where the actor's son ran over and killed several slum dwellers and got away with a light fine.

And the murder of badminton champion Syed Modi, whose alleged killer was not only set free because of insufficient evidence but married Modi's widow and became a minister. And now, hot off the presses, the Gulshan Kumar murder in which 18 of the 19 accused have been let off for lack of evidence.

What the judge said on freeing the accused in the Priyadarshini Mattoo case sums up the whole sorry state of affairs. "Though I know," he said, "the defendant is guilty, my hands are tied. As a judge, I can only go by the evidence provided by the investigating agencies." The Mattoo case was in Delhi; the Gulshan Kumar case in Mumbai. Two distinct investigating agencies in two of the biggest and most developed cities. The end result is the same. A rapist and murderer walks free in one case; in the other, the hired gun gets caught and convicted. The people who hired him will live happily ever after.

This, then, is what Natasha Singh and the victims of the Gujarat carnage have in common besides their unnatural deaths. Any hopes their families may have of getting posthumous justice rest with the investigating agencies. Any thoughts that may cross their minds that the killers will be punished for their crimes depend on the evidence unearthed by the police. Any faith they may have in the judicial system isn't tested because even the fairest judge can only weigh the proof that's presented to him. And the proof and the evidence is never adequately presented. In some cases because of incompetence; in cases involving the rich and the powerful, because of wilful neglect.

But these are post facto considerations. The rot starts much earlier, right at the beginning. Because what Natasha Singh and the Gujarat victims also share is the same milieu; an atmosphere where there is no respect for law and order. Natasha Singh may not have been murdered, she may have been merely pushed, nevertheless the ones who did the pushing knew that they could "influence" the investigations.

Jessica Lal was murdered, but her killer knew that his connections would ensure that even an open-and-shut case could be shut. The people who killed and burnt and raped in Gujarat felt similarly empowered too. They knew the police were on their side; they knew State Government was on their side; they knew that even the Central Government was with them. Why would they, then, be afraid? That's why no one, not one single individual who is rich or powerful has been put into jail in the last 50 years.

That's why no rioter, not a single one has been punished for the communal disturbances that have broken out in our country every few years. And when these killers walk around freely like you and me, a time will come when some of us too will become like them, killers who walk free.

Anil Dharker is a noted journalist, media critic and writer.

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