Fear and Loathing in Ahmedabad

P  A  R  T       T   H  R  E  E

As I write this, I am wondering if I am living out some macabre version of the American drama series – `The House of Cards.’ I’ve spent the last week fighting an order made out by the head of the Sabarmati jail in Gujarat which released a convicted felon Suresh Richard Jadeja from prison for an annual two week leave. I fought hard, saying this man broke his promise to the jail authorities the last two times he was on leave, by raping his wife, then attacking me. That should qualify for the prison authorities thinking very hard before granting him leave again. I wrote to the local police, to the Inspector General of Prisons, but it changed nothing. Then on Friday, after both those options failed, I decided it may be best to take my petition to the Gujarat High court. Only, I needed someone well versed with criminal law who would also agree to draft the petition and argue it in court for free. I have no money.

 

I was recommended the very well known High court lawyer H L Sayeed. He agreed to meet me and I met him in his plush office in the New York Tower in Ahmedabad. He heard me out and agreed to take the case.  “Mr Rahul Sharma will fight your case, brief him, I’ve called him. He works with me,” said Mr Sayeed, smiling from behind his desk.

Rahul Sharma has made a transition from a senior police officer to practicing lawyer but he is better known for his bold, unafraid investigations into two key 2002 Gujarat riot cases. He is meant to have looked into and got the mobile phone records of police officers which seemed to implicate them and several political leaders in playing a role in instigating the lynch mobs in Gujarat.  Would my case, trying to petition for a 2002 riots convict be something that would be in a familiar zone? Would it make the courts automatically make my case seem like it was about 2002 when actually it is more about a dangerous man violating his parole? These were some of the thoughts that ran through my head when a thin, balding man entered Mr Sayeed’s room, and Mr Sayeed introduced us.

“Revati, this is Rahul Sharma.”

I told him what I was there for and we went to Rahul’s cabin. He took detailed notes and asked me if I had a copy of the papers of the criminal charges filed against Suresh by his wife. I did.

We spent hours going over them and the sequence of events. I had made it clear that the case needed to be presented before the High court soonest. That Suresh being out on the loose meant his wife and I were both in danger. Especially since the jail authorities had not sent the order to the local police. So the local police had no orders to keep a vigilant eye on him. I had this from the police in writing. A letter they sent in reply to my questions, signed December 2nd. “We have not received any written order saying that Suresh is out on a furlough.” Signed by the police inspector for the police station from the area Suresh lives.

This was a coup I thought.  How will the court react when they see what the jail authorities have done? Isn’t this a major argument in favour of the list of lapses that make Suresh’s leave dangerous? No accountability by the local police? Yes, Rahul Sharma nodded. It did.

But he also very calmly and rationally explained to me how the system works. “Law is about balancing the interests of the accused or the convict with that of the victim. Both have rights,” he reminded me. “It cannot be argued that for the remaining 26 years of Suresh’s jail sentence, that he won’t get any leave. That would be unconstitutional.”

I agreed. “I am not making out that kind of case, Sir,” I said, very impressed with his quite, reasoned statement. “I would simply like to ask the court to make the conditions under which he is granted leave again very, very tight. For instance, the jail authorities must send prior notice to his wife and me, as people he has attacked while on leave from jail, so we can get protection from the local police. There must be a restraining order so he cannot enter parts of the city we live in or frequent. The conditions under which he is granted leave cannot be routine since he has shown that he doesn’t care about fulfilling the basic promise he signs onto when he gets leave. And the jail authorities must be made to explain in writing how they neglected to inform the local police of Suresh’s release.”

“That’s fair,” Rahul said. He would draft an application by Monday, have Mr Sayeed go over it and we would file the same day.

I left the New York tower building that evening a little lighter, in the knowledge that this battle would now reach a point of culmination. And then on Sunday, Rahul Sharma started to sound a bit distant. “Mr Sayeed is out of town on Monday. He will be back late evening and I want him to go over the papers once, before we take it to court. So we can’t file on Monday.”

“Tuesday then, right?” I said, sounding a little worried.

“Let Mr Sayeed read my draft and then we will take it from there.”

On Tuesday, Rahul didn’t answer my calls. Neither did Mr Sayeed. By the afternoon I was frantic. Days were going by and now just five days of Suresh’s leave were left. Would the court admit a petition to cancel his leave so late in the day? We needed to press on. Not just for now, but so that the rules get much tighter in the future. And lapses in information passing from the jail to the police do not recur.

On Tuesday afternoon I finally got a call from someone who is a common friend to Mr Sayeed and me.

“Hello Revati, Mr Sayeed asked me to tell you that he and Rahul Sharma are already embroiled in cases from 2002 and cannot take yours on.”

I gulped hard. The last few words pierced through me like fresh stab wounds. I went numb. And then i got very, very angry. White hot anger and disappointment that left me with absolutely nothing to say. We had been working on the draft from Friday to Tuesday. Now there were only five days left until Suresh’s leave expired. And I would have to start from scratch. I would have to look for another criminal lawyer who believed in my petition and was willing to argue it for free. That would take a day to find and then another day to make her or him go over all the documents and write a new draft. That would potentially take us to Friday and then by Monday Suresh’s leave ends.

It was late afternoon and the time of year when it gets very pleasant. Winter is just around the corner. But my face was burning hot. I decided I had to drop this fight. Never mind about feeling more secure. For now, this delay by people who paint themselves as the vanguards of the law and of judicial accountability and good governance and the good fight had dropped me. This is what it can feel like to be fighting the system with no money. Some fights you have to just drop. For now.

The war via words carries on. That is a battle I know and it what I do best. The courts and the police, well that is something I have to wait for another day, to fight.

……………..

Revati Laul is an independent journalist and film maker, currently based out of Gujarat; where she is working on a book on the perpetrators of the 2002 riots. She is the creator of this site. She tweets @revatilaul

 

 

 

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