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Home > Dissident Left Archive > Insult to Injury | Dilip Simeon (June 2008)

Insult to Injury | Dilip Simeon (June 2008)

by Dilip Simeon, 21 July 2010

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(This article, appeared in Mail Today, June 17, 2008)

On June 13, I was reminded that the past never leaves us. The newspapers reported an ‘HC clean chit’ of the Ramjas ex-Principal in the 26 year-old case of an assault on a college lecturer named ’Dalip’. Since I was the person assaulted, I was deeply perturbed by this judgement. I had no idea that the state had approached the High Court. Where does this leave me, as a law-abiding citizen?

The bare facts are as follows. I joined the Ramjas History Department in 1974. In October 1981 I went on hunger-strike to obtain the salary of Sita Ram the head mali, who had been wrongfully denied it without an inquiry. My actions were part of a campaign that I did not initiate. The backdrop was an autocratic regime, allegations of administrative corruption and divisions amongst teachers. Efforts to secure a just procedure had been scornfully turned down. After a nine-day strike joined by teachers from Ramjas and SRCC, we resolved to pursue the struggle by other means.

Ramjas remained extremely tense in the new year. On February 18, my scooter was intercepted near ISBT by six young men who had followed me in a car. I was beaten with iron rods, my left leg broken in two places and my upper jaw permanently damaged, with five teeth lost. But for my helmet, I might have suffered severe skull injuries. I was picked up by a kindly couple in a car and taken to Bara Hindu Rao Hospital. The Vice Chancellor, colleagues and friends arrived, and that evening I was taken to AIIMS. The subsequent agitation brought about the Principal’s suspension. I was removed to Bombay for surgery, and needed nine weeks to walk again.

We knew who had instigated and carried out the deed, but the public prosecutor could prove nothing in court. When I appeared as witness, the magistrate treated me as if I were a defendant, rather than the victim of a crime. In acquitting the accused, he implied that I was using an opportunity to implicate certain persons on account of personal enmity. There was no curiosity as to how I came to be so grievously injured, or whether my injuries were compatible with a traffic accident. There was no effort to get at the truth.

The High Court judge has observed that my failure to speak to the police “at the first opportunity” indicates that my statement was ‘tutored’, and hence he upholds the acquittal. How fair is this reasoning? Medical records will show that I lost five teeth, my upper jaw was damaged and my left leg broken in two places. I lay in Hindu Rao the entire day, during which time stitches were applied inside my mouth without anaesthesia. I was unable to speak, and needed pencil and paper to state my identity. Even the application of plaster took place after 10 pm. Owing to the severity of my condition, the police recorded my statement the following day: this was not my personal decision. Is this an adequate reason for the trial court and the honourable judge to impugn my honesty? Would it not have been reasonable to conclude that the delay in recording my statement was due to my medical condition?

The prosecution did not have the courtesy to inform me of the appeal in the HC. Surely as the victim I would have been most interested in pursuing the matter? Had it done so, I might have asked for representation, and prayed for the infirmities of the judgement to be overturned. The recent news report came as a bolt from the blue. And it is misleading, for I never accused the principal and physical training instructor of assaulting me. I only stated my suspicion of their being implicated in the assault. I had this intuition at the moment of the attack and have not altered it since. Of course, intuition is not evidence. But the investigation and framing of charges was the job of the police. Incidentally, in October 1982 I was introduced to my assailants in a police station. They said they had been misled and asked for forgiveness. One of them visited my house to ask me not to give evidence.

The events of the 1980’s had many repercussions. Teachers launched a campaign for democratic functioning. A movement against goondaism was undertaken by students. In 1988 I was elected to the university’s Academic Council and chaired the DUTA Committee on Accountability. Our college became the first to set up a staff committee to maintain academic standards. All that energy was not expended in vain.

We often come across the term “judicial conscience”. Where exactly does this entity reside? The CJI has observed that the judiciary is the ultimate defender of citizens’ rights. Who will defend these rights if the courts fail us? One of the most twisted problems in legal theory is the assumed neutrality of judges. Not to mention the distinction between forensic and narrative versions of truth. What is the guarantee of this neutrality and how is it manifested? Truth is surely not a mere technical or formal detail. The idea of justice is antecedent to the emergence of constitutional systems or governments. Otherwise we would not speak of natural law. But does justice reside exclusively in the utterances of courts? Law is the basis of an orderly society. It represents the need for a fair resolution of conflicts. Although democratic governments may exist only upon public approval, judges cannot be subject to the whims of electorates. What then, can ensure that those entrusted with the care of justice will fulfil their charge? Ultimately the social contract is a historical gamble. It depends upon the alertness of the citizenry and a public ethos that respects the ideals that lie behind the phrase “the rule of law”.

Homer’s Iliad describes a dispute in a market-place between two men over the blood-price for a victim of murder. The crowd asks the elders to arbitrate whilst they keep the antagonists in check. “Between them, on the ground lay two talents of gold, to be given to that judge who in this case spoke the straightest opinion”. The public stands in judgement over the arbitrators. Here is a clue to the mystery of the judicial conscience. It is a circular thread that runs through all of society’s constituents, the ones that are wise and the ones who accord them the status of being wise. There is no exclusive judge and no exclusive witness - all judge and are judged. When this thread is broken, we are on the brink of disintegration. The circle of public conscience points to the true meaning of law and judgement in a democratic society. The seat of law is not synonymous with the person occupying it, nor are judicial decisions always coterminous with justice. In 1982 I became the victim of a violent crime. But in the eyes of the justice system no one is guilty. All that it has done is to suggest that I made a ‘tutored’ accusation. The crime has now become invisible. I expect no recompense for that murderous assault on me 26 years ago. I still respect the law. I cannot say the same for those to whom I turned for justice.

Dilip Simeon