Who is hanged without trial?

Who is hanged without trial?

The civil society and media are raising doubts and serious questions like: Whether Ramsingh was hanged or he hanged himself? Under any circumstances...

The civil society and media are raising doubts and serious questions like: Whether Ramsingh was hanged or he hanged himself? Under any circumstances it should not be a trial by media, where the powerful communication of probable untruth might influence the 'objective' status of the judge's mind. But trial by police is more harmful as that will not even lead to any trial by judiciary. And, above all, the execution by jail authorities without procedure established by law will be a serious violation of rule of law. The spontaneous worldwide debate about ghastly gang rape in moving Delhi bus on December 16, 2012, has been so pervasive that it is almost impossible for the accused to come out of bail and for courts to decide in a neutral manner. All accused suffer serious loss of face everywhere perhaps that problem has motivated Ramsingh to end life. Presumption that the accused as 'innocent till guilt is proved' is essential principle of criminal justice system which suffered a severe jolt in this case with unprecedented and overwhelming public opinion reflected in candle lit rallies and protest marches extensively covered by print, electronic and social media. This also reached a level of trial by media. Every one doubted whether it would be possible for anyone to defend them, argue their innocence, if any, or bail them out as per rules of criminal procedure. In several TV shows on reforms of law of rape in this context, the common question was when everyone knew that these six were culprits, what else proof was needed, and why not they be hanged, instantly? The brutality of the offence made people so emotionally surcharged that they were even demanding utility of trial by judiciary. As an anti-climax to so called 'trial by media', Ramsingh, prime accused tried and hanged himself. However the state cannot absolve its responsibility in facilitating trial by accused himself. If the State is negligent, it might be termed as trial by the police and execution by jail authorities. A The very fact of unnatural death of a prime accused in a grave crime raises doubts against the state. It may not be possible to link it to 'criminality' of state like finding proof of abetting Ramsingh to commit suicide. Though difficult to prove, charging the state with 'abetting Ramsingh to commit suicide' is not ruled out.
Breach of duty of care to secure the lives of the prisoners including avoiding suicide-prone situations will certainly make the state tortuously liable. Through several judicial decisions it is established that the state will be vicariously liable for 'causing' death of an under-trial prisoner in such circumstances as those of Ramsingh's death. Technically the trial is not affected by his death but certainly a key witness is eliminated from the court scene. He should have been alive for the purpose of justice and the constitutional governance. Ramsingh if lived might have helped in establishing each aspect of his confession, background story of the gangsters or involvement of any other culprit, if any. That chance was removed totally. After failing to secure the life of accused Ramsingh, the state started 'post mortem', i.e., formal inquiry into custodial death as prescribed in Code of Criminal Procedure. The Union Minister for Home stated that it was a 'miserable failure of security in jail'. A magisterial enquiry into this incident, etc was ordered. But the magistrate who is supposed to enquire will be from the executive and he will not be a judicial magistrate. Hence, official bias is not ruled out. Like many such enquiries, this also will be just a formality. A Hanging of Ramsingh, thus, amounts to an imposition of capital punishment, without trial. He was killed in his own hands. Procrastinated trials and reviews are not needed now. Parents, friends and huge public who are sympathizers of the victim feel that it was 'natural' justice. The system mandates a full-fledged trial to prove the guilt beyond reasonable doubt, followed by several layers of appeals, confirmation of death penalties, rejection of clemency, judicial review etc. Ramsingh does not need all of this. Meanwhile the media plunged into action to invade the privacy of the parents of Ramsingh to capture wailings of the poor parents, which is totally against all kinds of ethics. The police in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, shot dead three young men for throwing acid on two college girls on December 12, 2008 in an alleged 'encounter' allegedly under the direction of the State. People stood in long queues to offer bouquets and welcomed the instant penology. It was difficult to believe the 'kahani' of the police, as the culprits surrendered the previous day thanks to persuasion by parents. Saying that they were hiding acid stocks in forests, attacking to escape, which necessitated police to fire in self-defense, was not convincing! (The Telegraph report says; Details of the "encounter" remain sketchy. The police claimed they had taken the accused � who were not handcuffed � to the Mamunur forest, 30km from Warangal, to seize their acid stocks and getaway motorcycle when the trio attacked them with acid. No policemen suffered acid burns.) This unconvincing explanation was never put to proof as there was no prosecution. No one demanded booking of a criminal case against the police as there was tremendous support from the people. Perhaps it is a case of trial and punishment by police, people and media together. (From left) Sanjay, Srinivas and Harikrishna speaking to the media in Warangal, a few hours before the encounter. Telegraph picture accessed on 12.3.2013 When this writer criticized the killings in Warangal, the cameraman of a TV channel asked: 'Would you say the same if your daughter was the victim of acid attack'? I said, "Certainly not". Then I countered him: "What would you say if your son was killed like this, without any trial"? He was silent. Right answer is that neither father of the victim nor that of accused should decide the guilt and quantum of punishment. Civilization, democracy and system of objective adjudication of guilt evolved over a period of time, which we spoiled and now consider as useless. This is the essence of right to life in Article 21 of our Constitution, which is violated with incidents of instant guilt pronouncements and immediate extra-judicial executions. The media's power remains in its influential information-spreading function, while the police wield 'real' physical power as realized in Warangal type of encounters. The shades of suspicion of the role of executive in the 'suicide' of Ramsingh will indirectly strengthen the possibility of trial by executive, if not by police. The writer is Professor and Coordinator, Center for Media Law and Public Policy, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad OPINION
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