The value of sending Sanjay Dutt to jail

…has much declined between 1993 and 2007

Editorials in major newspapers are unanimous—that Sanjay Dutt’s celebrity status should not come in the way of justice, and hence the jail term handed out to him for possession of illegal arms in 1993 was well-deserved. That they had to make such an obvious point reflects an age where the lower judiciary has lost credibility in public eyes, not least due to some high-profile cases where the rich and the powerful have gotten away with murder.

But in focusing on ‘everyone is equal before the law’ editorialists have ignored another, equally important issue. It too comes in a convenient cliche—justice delayed is justice denied. There is absolutely no doubt that the Sanjay Dutt of 1993 engaged in a criminal act for which he deserved punishment. But the Sanjay Dutt of 2007 is a very different person. No, not merely a better actor (we know that sons and daughters of film stars take time to become good actors, at the viewers’ expense), but also a decent individual and a role model for many. What judge P D Kode’s judgement ignores is the change in Sanjay Dutt in the years since his first arrest.

What purpose does a criminal justice system serve? Deterrence, reformation and perhaps, vengeance. How does the Sanjay Dutt case fare against these measures?

Deterrence is most effective if punishment immediately follows the crime. So a long period between arrest and punishment is unlikely to deter potential criminals. The number of criminals going about their business, both inside and outside parliament, supports this argument.

As for the goal of reforming the criminal into a productive member of the society, it is more than reasonable to say that Sanjay Dutt reformed even before he was punished. So punishing him just for this purpose is superfluous.

That leaves vengeance. It’s never too late for society to extract its revenge from a person who wronged it. Dutt’s punishment, therefore, serves this end rather well. Vengeance, however, would have been justified if Dutt had remained unrepentent, recalcitrant or repeated his offence. But what of the Dutt’s positive contributions since 1993? Surely, in a country which takes its movies very seriously, good acting should count. If not, why is the government in the business of handing out Padma & Dadasaheb Phalke awards to film stars, of running academies and honouring artists in general?

No, this is not an argument against the verdict. The judge delivered the correct judgement. The question is what should one make of the behaviour of the under-trial during the long period of delay. This blogger would have not batted an eyelid if Dutt were to have been punished soon after being charged. But fourteen years on, with so much water under the bridge, the morality of the verdict appears questionable. Just as questionable as the morality of leaving die-hard terrorists unpunished. The Sanjay Dutt case highlights how important it is for India to ensure that justice is delivered swiftly.

Related Links: Nita feels sorry for Dutt, while Sakshi Juneja thinks he got off rather lightly.

35 thoughts on “The value of sending Sanjay Dutt to jail”

  1. “Dutts positive contributions since 1993….. Good acting should count”

    did you miss by any chance a Levity tag 🙂

    I would argue that there is too much influence of the screen persona already! Please refer to Justice Kode’s effusive: “you are Actor Number One…I’m only taking 6 yrs, God grant you a 100” or some such declamation.

    regards,
    Jai

  2. Jai,

    No. I’m serious. Here’s what Wikipedia says:

    Padma Shri is an award given by the Government of India generally to Indian citizens to recognize their distinguished contribution in various spheres of activity including the Arts, Education, Industry, Literature, Science, Sports, Social Service and public life.

    Among those who have been given this award are Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Anupam Kher, Danny Denzongpa, Rakhee Gulzar, Bharatiraja, Mammootty, Mohanlal and Amitabh Bachchan. Sivaji Ganesan got a Padma Vibhushan. Lata Mangeshkar and Dr Rajkumar have received Padma Bhushans. The government of India recognises the need to honour film stars for making distinguished contributions to society.

  3. Well I am not saying that he deserved more, what I meant was that it could have been a lot worse. As for your point on “delayed justice”, I totally agree but don’t they say “what goes around comes around”.

    But I highly doubt he will ever serve the remaining 4 years or so, max 1 year and the man will be out.

  4. Prasanna,

    Please unshatter yourself :-). This blog needs its readers in one piece.

    Seriously, the principal argument in this post is for justice to be delivered swiftly. I’d have made the same argument for a non-celebrity, as long as the person turned over a new leaf in the long years before being sentenced. It just happens that cases like Dutt’s attract greater public attention and are good opportunities to make a point.

    The side point is does a film star contribute to society? The government of India thinks so. I agree.

  5. Sakshi

    Well I am not saying that he deserved more, what I meant was that it could have been a lot worse.

    Sure. That’s what I understood from your post.

    As for your point on “delayed justice”, I totally agree but don’t they say “what goes around comes around”.

    This is the ‘vengeance of society’ bit that I wrote about. But it’s better to net off before “coming around”, which is what a mitigation plea is. But I hope that a lighter sentence for him does not become a case (in the media) for handing out lighter sentences for the real terrorists.

  6. >> No, this is not an argument against the verdict. The judge delivered the correct judgement.>>

    A “correct judgement” means justice has been served.

    >> The question is what should one make of the behaviour of the under-trial during the long period of delay. >>

    From what I read, his behaviour has been commendable and we all appreciate it, just as the J Kode did. Nevertheless, time must be done. I am sure you know these are two distinct issues. Besides, maybe his behaviour was taken into account because the maximum sentence in cases like these is 10 years.

    >> This blogger would have not batted an eyelid if Dutt were to have been punished soon after being charged. >>

    Justice delayed may be justice denied, but punishment delayed is NOT punishment denied. I think this is quite a powerful deterrent that will make would be offenders go, “I can run but I cant hide”.

    On a side note, Madani the prime accused in the Coimbatore blasts case has been released after spending 9 years in jail. There is already talk of him re-entering politics. Rejoice Kerala !

  7. Nitin, your argument sounds reasonable. But I’d reserve judgment till I can read Judge Kode’s judgement in full. Is 6 years the maximum punishment doled out under Arms Act? (I could not figure this out from a cursory glance at this very complicated act with its numerous sections and clauses.) If so, Dutt’s sentencing does seem harsh, because the judge allowed no interpretive latitude. If not, I’d think it possible that he has already taken into account the argument you made: that since the actor is now a reformed man, he deserved a reduced quantum of punishment.

  8. RC,

    Again, dwelling on punishment is about vengeance; as I’ve stressed in my post and in replies to other commenters. But justice is not the same as punishment.

    Judge Kode’s decision is correct because that is the thing he should have done under the letter of the current statutes. However, I think our system does not sufficiently account for the long delays between being charged and being sentenced. As long as it does not, the only purpose the delayed punishment serves is vengeance and retribution. For instance, a judge who convicts gays will be doing the correct thing under the law; but is he delivering justice?

    Perhaps some legal experts can clarify, but I think mitigation pleas are most relevant in the context of the crime being committed (eg, the murderer—a person with a spotless record—was being blackmailed by the victim); I’m not sure behaviour as an under-trial counts for much. The range in this case seems to be 5-10 years, and Dutt got 6. In all likelihood the judge took into account the mitigating circumstances in 1993, and not 1993-2007.

  9. Thanks for responding, Nitin. Now, I understand your position. You might be in favour of making provisions in our law that counts delays in rendering justice as one of the mitigating factors while handing out sentences, good behaviour in the interim could be another.

    On the face of it, this is a very valid suggestion. It would appear that this measure would encourage early disposal of cases by the legal system. I am not so sure in practice, because there is also a perverse incentive to delay justice. The fodder scam is a case in point.

    I am inclined to prefer the current system, where no matter how long it takes, justice will catch up – in full. Good behaviour in the interim can continue to be a mitigating factor, but not delays.

  10. hmm… I agree Sanjay Dutt seems to have realized his mistake. When the Judge concurs that there has been no harm done and that the accused seems to have reformed, I wonder why he didn’t give the least punishment (that is 5 years) under the arms act.

    Justice delayed… doesn’t make much sense in India. There is no thing called timely justice here.

  11. RC,

    You might be in favour of making provisions in our law that counts delays in rendering justice as one of the mitigating factors while handing out sentences, good behaviour in the interim could be another.

    Actually, no. I’m simply arguing that there should be no long delays, because the current system (at least in Sanjay Dutt’s case) does not adequately address the issue of the behaviour of the accused during the long trial period.

    (Whether the system must be tweaked to accept that there will be delays and how this should be factored in is an interesting question. But that’s not my argument here.)

  12. While I respect the rule of law and the decision of the judges concerned I am surprised by this ‘phillimi dialog’ of a judge:

    “Act till the age of 100, I have only taken away six years” (script writers take note)

    I remember there was a case against Salman Khan (in 2002) where he got away with murder probably buying the plaintiffs. Where does justice stand?

    Sanjoy served 18 months after the 1993 arrest; he had suffered and repented a lot. I wonder why the judges did not consider that. He is suffering because he did not buy this plaintiff?

  13. Rezwan,

    In this case the plaintiff is the state (criminal prosecutions are conducted at the state’s behest). This plaintiff too can be ‘bought off’ sometimes. But it’s rather hard to do in high profile cases as this one. The public will not have it.

  14. max punishment under the arms act is 10 years, minimum is 5. Sanjay dutt landed somewhere in the middle. In any case, he would probably not spend more than 2 more years in prison before getting a good conduct parole or even discharge.

  15. I am totally agreed that when we talk about justice then one should ignore what rank that person has, but, there is big but here: what will this verdict will positively do?What is the purpose of keeping Sanjay Dutt in jail? Did Sanjay Dutt do good deeds after the 19993 arrest?He also mentioned that he did a big mistake of buying weapons to protect his family.He is trying to pay back to the Indian society that he thinks he owes very much.I think the best way to elevate the value and culture of the word JUSTICE was to let Sanjay Dutt know very well what he did was wrong but he now should do every thing in his life to be positive and help people understand that getting hands on weapons is not a deterrent factor for safety of your loved ones.We have government that will protect us and we must have trust our government fully.I pray for Sanjay Dutt to have the faith in law and in himself to overcome this horrible time.Let us believe in good deeds and never be manipulated by vengeance or recalcitrant act.

  16. The Acorn seems to have missed the phone calls to people close to Dawood that Sanjay made, and were intercepted, just a few years ago. Has he really changed?

    Deterrence is best if punishment is delivered immediately after the crime, but punishment delivered well after the crime is better than no punishment at all.

    As for a “reformed” Sanjay, I already spoke to that point above. The punishment is for the deed done, and while one might redeem oneself through reformation and atonement, it does not erase the reality of the crime done.

    Which leads to the Acorn’s point on vengeance, on which he mixes the argument by bringing in Sanjay’s so-called reformation and redemption.

  17. Can we say it this way – Sanjay Dutt went through a lot of mental trauma for 14 years as he did not know what was in store for him. He finally got 6 years of imprisonment, of which, 16 months have been served as an under-trial. So, is all this mental trauma and the punishment at the end of it, not to mention the financial cost of hiring lawyers etc. worth committing the crime as keeping illegal arms in the name of self-defence? I think this entire case (including the 14 year trauma and the 6 year sentence) should serve as an effective deterrant……. As someone mentioned, I can run for a while, but sooner or later, I will be caught and tried before the law.
    Potential criminals would have had a big boost to their confidence, if Sanjay Dutt would have been left scot-free because he has reformed or he is now a model citizen. SO, I could potentially kill someone and then pay my taxes for the next 10 years so long as the case is under-trial and prove that I am a model citizen, show remorse and state that I have reformed too.
    Putting this in context, I think the judgement serces as an apt deterrant too. Now, I would also like to see the actual murderers receive the death sentence and be actually hanged, rather than receiving a presidential pardon……. That would be another effective deterrant

  18. While your conclusion about delayed justice is with merit, Nitin, I am not sure about your case getting there.

    Delayed justice is bad for everyone, not just for some reformed actor. And BTW, how do you know he is reformed and a nake person now? Can Sibu Soren claim he is a reformed person and try and get out of jail? Can Azfal? Verdict, in most cases, is about deeds, not some soft qualities of an individual. And he didn’t go buy weapons from the black markets – his buddies, the terrorists, who killed 200 people just days prior, gave them to him.

    And really? Sanjay Dutt is a good actor? Have you seen the same movies I have 🙂 GOI medals have little to do with talent, especially when it comes to actors, which Sanjay did not get one yet anyway.

    Your case would be lot stronger if one was found innocent after the delayed justice.

  19. Chandra,

    Delayed justice is bad for everyone, not just for some reformed actor. And BTW, how do you know he is reformed and a nake person now? Can Sibu Soren claim he is a reformed person and try and get out of jail? Can Azfal?

    Exactly. It is the delay that introduces these questions. As I pointed out in my reply to RC, it’s a much better idea to get rid of the delay than to try and find answers to these questions.

    Your case would be lot stronger if one was found innocent after the delayed justice.

    You mean like this guy?

  20. Somewhat unrelated to this post. Edmund Burke in his address to the electors of Bristol had this to say –

    My worthy Colleague says, his Will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If Government were a matter of Will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But Government and Legislation are matters of reason and judgement, and not of inclination; and, what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one sett of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?

  21. I agree Sanjay Dutt ought to be punished. To let him go free is clearly the wrong message, even if there are more culpable terrorists out there.

    But I think a sentence of 6 years is a bit too harsh. This is where your point about reformation comes in. Even two-three years would have been fine. Though I don’t think the Supreme Court is going to let him go, but maybe they can reduce the sentence. But as Sakshi pointed out, he might get out sooner – for “good behavior” or whatever.

  22. “You mean like this guy?”

    Mahdani and Mr. Q are example of how Indian justice system can easily be derailed by the powers in charge. I don’t think that’ll boost your case either.

    Too bad Sanjay Dutt is not a pure-blood Muslim with a proper name (and not in politics). Maharashtra would have withdrawn his case long time ago and with media (and communists) signing praise for justice served for a minority.

  23. I am hereby advising the government of India to hang the culprit Sunjay Dutt for the series of crimes he has being committing.

  24. >>> That leaves vengeance. It’s never too late for society to extract its revenge from a person who wronged it. Dutt’s punishment, therefore, serves this end rather well. Vengeance, however, would have been justified if Dutt had remained unrepentent, recalcitrant or repeated his offence.

    Nitin,

    Do you mean that we should not have jailed Sanjay , and waited till he indulges in another crime.. What about the lives that may be lost due to a future possible crime committed by him? Wouldnt the courts/government face the public ire regarding – Why did you let him go free ?

  25. I being a star myself can only say one thing, this 6 years is too much for him. I personally think that 1 year imprisonment is the max one should give to Sanju, my dear friend.

    Anyways, pls Indian People, protest against this. I am in Namibia now for my movie shooting so cant do much from here.

    Love all

    Aamir

  26. if the point is solely about the lop sides of ‘justice delayed’, then it makes perfect sense.

    otherwise, i feel this conviction weighs more on the deterrence perspective and that it did serve its purpose well. good conduct can qualify one to get a relax in the sentence, (which I feel would surely be done in this case too, once the fuss about it settles down.. -i seriously hope they don’t do that!) but it wouldn’t qualify for an acquittal or pardon. had something of that sort been done, you bet in the days to come, there would be more criminals turning gandhians on record to avail the same benefits!!

  27. Aamir,

    Can I have an autograph please? An electronic autograph would do very nicely. And why 1 year? Sanju baba has been carrying a gun in the movies for ages; no one objected. What’s the big deal if he borrowed a real Ak 47 from his chums?

    I demand his immediate release. And an autograph.

Comments are closed.