Appreciating Evidence!
By Maxwell Pereira

One learns she never lies – believes no one should. Is spiritual, but not religious because religion can be misinterpreted. Her soul, or atma, keeps her on an elevated plane and helps her see goodness in others to love them for what they are. The very atma that helped through her deepest spiritual journey during a recent sojourn in Tihar jail.

Claims she tells the truth, always. But as it turned out, possibly not all the truth, leaving that little room for benefit of doubt when it’s crucial. Like when she deposed in court while recording evidence in the Jessica Lall murder case. The little act that at one stage resulted in her becoming a targeted pariya when the trial judge acquitted all the accused at the sessions stage.

Widely written about already, she burst on Delhi’s social scene with her restaurant ‘Once upon a time’ in Haus Khas village, opened in 1988. Running into controversy, changed its name to ‘Twice Upon a Time’. Came along the daughter’s discotheque ‘No Exit’ which attracted complaints too for entertaining the rich and influential into the wee hours. Her open-air bar ‘Tamarind Court’ soon became the most sought after for those with moulah and the powerful – a favourite haunt of businessman, bureaucrats, policemen and politicians who patronised it.

A perfect filmy set to attract sensation, intrigue and melodrama – and invite crime too, as it happened! Jessica’s unfortunate and gruesome death at the hands of politician brat Manu Sharma at this her unlicensed bar. The murder in full view of hundreds of ‘guests’ shot this ‘hostess-with-the-mostest-in-town’ into the media lap yet again.

At various stages she has been accused also of other things. Of being an ace manipulator and schemer, distorter of facts, and of using connections to further her interests; and of tampering with evidence in Jessica’s murder case.

In the aftermath of the trial court’s acquittal, the police let it be known that this main witness whom they had relied on most, had a history of breaking rules. That she got the premises for Qutub Collonade in the vicinity of Qutub Minar despite the Archaeological Survey of India’s ban on commercial activity near the monument. That the bar she ran at Tamarind Court had no license. And according to sweeper Surinder Garhwali at Qutub Colonnade, it was she who instructed him to clean up the bloody mess on the floor even as Jessica was rushed to hospital after the murder.

Even so the police did not deem it fit to prosecute her then, as she was their star eyewitness. Little did they suspect that she would retract her statement in court. Yes, not only the trying sessions judge, but also the police thought she did not depose correctly at the trial. In fact, government prosecutor Satinder Baweja discounted the importance of her testimony before chief metropolitan magistrate Kamini Lau, as she had failed to “conclusively identify” Manu Sharma during her trial court testimony, that she was not fully sure he was the very person that shot Jessica – she only thought “he looked like the same person”.

Ironically, the police appeal filed soon after the acquittal relied heavily on her testimony, that of her daughter, and of her husband – which, they pointed out, the trial court “failed to appreciate”. The high court actually accepted this argument. During the appeal hearings, it categorically observed that this lady’s controversial trial-court-testimony was the police’s “best bet” to reverse Manu’s acquittal – sending out signals and indicating even before judgement day, the court’s own mind and the likely outcome of the appeal.

Now this outcome is history with the conviction of Manu Sharma and others for the murder, the acquittals in which had shaken the conscience of the nation and propelled an enraged and media-backed middle-class to campaign “Justice for Jessica”. One is constrained to also wonder: was there after all an agenda here? An agenda to acquit at the trial stage for various reasons now being openly voiced? And an agenda to convict at the appeal stage, catering to pressures of popular sentiment? Somehow, it seems so!

Overnight, our worthy is catapulted into a celebrity again – the very paraya of yesterday is today’s belle of the ball; the star witness who rescued justice and put it back on rails to appease the vengeful retributary pangs of the milieu. Feted and felicitated as a heroine all over the country – for none less than the justices have showered on her praises for her gutsy deposition which they found quite sufficient and direct enough to nail the guilt on the accused. Stricturing in the process the sessions judge (who, since elevated, is now also a brother judge of the same high court!) too.

What was new from this celebrity now than what she had said before? Was there a word more at the appeal? And/or any other new evidence? The answer to both questions – NO! Just the same testimonies, the same evidence – only the “packaging was better” – the jubilant police said later. And obviously, “proper appreciation” of evidence by a different set of judges placed on a higher plane, who found her very trial court deposition sufficient enough to convict the earlier acquitted accused.

Humans after all. What’s meat for one need not be, for another! And if it’s interpretation and ‘appreciation of same evidence’ by more ‘humans’ that’s in store, one shudders to think what will happen when the inevitable appeal reaches a third set of appreciating or non-appreciating ‘arbiters of fate’ at yet another higher plane for maverick Jetmalanis to confuse and confound. Will our worthy celebrity remain one even then, or be cruelly dashed to the ground? Time will tell! I believe the chapter on this our celebrity has not closed yet!

31.12.2006: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira; 3725 Sector-23, Gurgaon-122017; 0124-2360568
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