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Sankaracharya Acquittal: HAS JUSTICE BEEN DONE?, By Syed Ali Mujtaba, 3 December, 2013 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 3 December 2013

 Sankaracharya Acquittal


By Syed Ali Mujtaba


The exoneration of the Kanchi Sankaracharya, Jayendra Saraswathi in the A Sankararaman murder case has ignited a fresh debate on the way justice is being delivered in India. The debate does not question the Kanchi seer’s exoneration from the crime, but concerns the record number of witnesses that turned hostile during the trial, leaving the prosecution with little evidence to try the guilty.     


The case goes back to September 2004, when manager Sankararaman was found murdered in the premises of the famous Lord Varadharaja Swamy Temple at Kancheepuram. It was alleged that he sought to expose the malpractices and misuse of funds in the Kanchi mutt. The needle of suspicion fell on the Sankaracharya and his deputy Sri Vijayendra Saraswati. However, at the end all 22 accused were acquitted by the court.


The story doing the rounds is that the witnesses were bought over a period of time by the accused having financial clout. Of the 180-odd witnesses at the initial stage, 83 turned hostile at the end, which indeed is a matter of grave concern. Whether there is any truth in such allegations needs to be investigated. But it doesn’t deny the fact that in many such cases convictions fail to take place due to lack of evidence. 


In fact, the long duration of such trials provides enough time to the accused to use its influences over witness/witnesses and lure them with money or other incentives to do a U-turn on their original stand. One such example is the Best Bakery case post Godhra riots, where money and other incentives were reportedly doled out following which some witnesses changed their stand.   


Sadly, there is no mechanism in place to check such injustice in the country. Such loopholes need to be plugged for disbursal of fair justice. Further, for the Kanchi seers, it has been a journey of sorts in this murder case. Arrested and now acquitted, the seers were as the case fanged up were reduced to the level of criminals. The saintly figures’ image was battered and bruised as all kinds of allegations were hurled at them. One purported tape was aired on the local TV alleging the senior seer had physically misbehaved with a woman. The latter in question had actually come on TV to make the accusations against the pontiff, the media trail began and the seer was reduced to being a rapist. 


Following the exoneration the question that also emerges is who will gun for those who formed a demolition squad and went on a character assassination spree.  Will those who had hurled abuses get away under the licence of freedom expression or will they stand guilty of such crime? 


Again there is no mechanism in place to check such insinuations each time such case break out. Perhaps, all those indulging in misconstrued campaigns should be held accountable and if found guilty, be made to pay a price.  


Then again, the big question who murdered the manager remains a mystery. Exoneration of the Kanchi seers, does not solves the murder mystery, rather it leaves the case in a limbo. The family members of Sankararaman are too poor to defend the case. However, when the case broke out, the then AIADMK government took huge interest in it. Police officer C Premkumar, who was appointed to investigate the case, came into limelight the way he went about investigating it, giving an impression that it was at the behest of the ruling regime.


After the change in regime, the incoming DMK placed Premkumar under suspension. Some criminal charges were slapped on him and the Court ordered him to undergo imprisonment. The police officer later died a natural death during the course of the trial. 


The instance brings to the fore another malady i.e. favouritism and witch-hunting of officers with a change in the political regime is common in the country. Premkumar, like many others, was just a cog in the wheel of the State apparatus. It was alleged that he was instructed by the then ruling government to follow a certain line of action in his investigation and he had no other option but to carry out the orders. The new Government had a different stand on the case and Premkumar at the end was penalized for investigating the case!  


Such instances are a dime and dozen in our country. Sadly, political bosses remain supreme whereas the officers who are favoured by one regime are oft haunted by the other. The officers evidently often find themselves in a tight spot while carrying out their duties. If they refuse, they fear suspension and if they yield, they have little or no protection against a new regime. This phenomenon is prevalent in almost every State and the question that needs to be addressed is what mechanism is there to set such anomalies right?      


Further, the Kanchi case was a very high profile one. The case hogged the lime light for weeks together in the national media, which unfortunately concentrated more on the Kanchi pontiffs rather than the murder. The focus apparently seemed to have been more to prove the guilt or innocence of the Kanchi seers. There was an overtime involvement to nail or exonerate the high profile accused. As a result, the basic point of reference appeared to have got lost. The case appears to have gone in some other direction without giving justice to the aggrieved party.


The fact is that a murder took place and that someone is the murderer. The questions remain unanswered: who is the actual murderer and what was the motive of the crime? These answers are equally important. The exoneration does not bring any cheer to the family of Shankaraman, who still await justice. It’s a case of a murder most foul. When will this murder mystery be solved? Let the case not become an ideal pot boiler for film makers. A high profile murder mystery script being lapped up by Bollywood cannot be ruled out. Sadly, it will only add insult to injury. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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