On October 31, 2018, Supreme Court gave its verdict on the 1987 Hashimpura massacre case and sentenced 16 former policemen of the 41st Battalion of UP Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) to life imprisonment. The massacre is the case of the targetted killing of May 1987 where policemen picked up and shot 42 Muslims in Hashimpura, Meerut. The bodies were later thrown into a canal.
In 1988, UP government directed CB-CID to probe the matter. CB-CID, int their 1994 report, held 19 police personnel guilty of the targetted killings. After 31 years of the tiring judicial process, during which three police personnel died, 16 accused were found guilty and slapped with life imprisonment.
There is another famous case of Delhi’s Uphaar Cinema fire mishap in June 1997, where 59 people died due to suffocation. Later an inquiry committee, in its report, revealed that the owner of the cinema hall was responsible for the mishap. It took 18 years to get justice. The Supreme Court gave its ruling on this case in 2017.
Third and the worst example of judicial failure is a case of Machal Lalung. Twenty-three-year-old Lalung belonged to the Tiwa tribe in Morigaon, Assam, and was arrested in 1951 on the false charges of “causing grievous harm”. The Court gave him a jail term of ten years. But due to health issues, he was transferred to a psychiatric institution in Tezpur, where he was forgotten. In 1967, the doctors certified him as fit, and he was moved to a jail in Guwahati, where he spent nearly four decades. He was released in 2005 after the local human rights groups brought his case to the attention of the National Human Right Commission. It was found that he was punished for the crime which he has not committed. When he released from the jail, he was of 77 years old. The apex court ordered the Assam government to compensate him and provide him with a monthly assistance amount. He was not able to speak Assamese, Hindi or English. He knew only his tribal language. That’s why he was not able to communicate with police and other officials. Lalung died in 2007.
So when we look at the above examples, then one question arises that “did they really get justice?” Few optimistic people may call it justice, while few may differ. But for me, it is quite confusing. I mean when someone commits a crime he should be punished accordingly but what if an accused got punishment after 10 or 20 or 30 years after the incident. Can we call that justice?
In such a situation, the tiring judicial process often becomes mentally and financially torturing for the victims. The victim side feels a double burden on them. This becomes all the more difficult when the victim belongs to a vulnerable section of the society. Many get discouraged to continue the legal battle fearing that they will exhaust all their savings and may still not get justice. In such cases, sometime victim compromises with the accused.
However, even when a victim belongs to the privileged segment or middle class and shows their belief in the process, waiting 20 or 30 years for justice doesn’t bring them any relief. There may be chances that accused may be dead by the time died by the time verdict is declared.
The delays in delivering justice highlight the challenges of our criminal justice system. If we look at the data, it tells that there are only 19 judges per 10 lakh people in India. There is a requirement of 50,000 judges across the country, but there are only 18,000 are serving presently. There are approximately 30 million pending cases, 60,260 in SC and 38.68 Lakh cases in different high courts of India. Apart from this, there is the inadequacy of staff attached to the courts.
It’s a big challenge for a democratic state like ours because when we talk about our constitution then it says that there should be equal protection of law and equality before the law but the reality seems contradictory. This problem can only be solved with political will. So, the government should consider this as an issue which needs a major reform in its infrastructural level because it affects the lives of people and makes them worst.