‘Think of how many you don’t even know about’. Bill Bradford, to the jury that sent him to the death row, holding him guilty of double rape and murder.
The chilling message was not lost on the investigators of Los Angeles though who set out scouring the past of the deadly killer. The album containing images of 50 raped and possibly butchered girls recovered from his possessions renewed interest in unsolved missing persons and murder cases dating back to the 1970s. Investigations resulted in identification of a couple of ill-fated victims, not more. In a desperate attempt to unravel the fate of the entire lot, the authorities released the photos in 2006 hoping for leads to their identities and disappearances. Unfortunately, a lot may have changed within a span of three decades and the victims were long gone and forgotten.
Back to our Incredible India, where the police and the investigating agencies are prone to assisting the financially and socially upscale criminals, can you even start thinking of the many you don’t even know about? The unfortunate case of Priyadarshini Mattoo is a scintillating specimen of the decay our nation is headed to. Lest we forget, Priyadarshini was stalked, hounded, threatened and molested for nearly two years by Santosh Kumar Singh, a determined criminal, and the son of an Inspector General of the police. Singh had set his heart on outraging the modesty of Priyadarshini and had made it amply clear to her that he was going to rape and kill her someday and that, nothing on earth could stop him. Her repeated desperate appeals to the police to provide protection to her drew a blank as Singh fulfilled his gruesome promise on the fateful evening of January 23, 1996 by raping her and thereafter brutally battering her with a motorcycle helmet and then strangulating her to death with a wire.
The intensity of cover up operations launched in the aftermath by the Delhi Police in favour of the rapist-killer forces one to ponder whether they had foreknowledge of the gruesome incident too. The case was soon transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation who, sadly, not only withheld the fingerprints report and other critical evidences from the judiciary but also fabricated documentary evidence in favour of Singh. So much so that even senior scientists from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology were roped in for ‘fabricating DNA technology’. The blind-folded lady holding the scales trembled as the presiding judge wrote an elegy on the death of justice. ‘The unfairness of the CBI is glittering like gold from the records’, he observed. And, ‘though I know he is the man who committed the crime, I acquit him, giving him the benefit of the doubt.’
Immense public outrage and media pressure landed the case in the High Court of Delhi where the blind-folded lady holding the scales smiled briefly, 6 years later in 2006. The bench of judges reversed the acquittal of Santosh Singh with an aptly worded judgement:
“We are therefore of the estimation that for an offense of this nature which is dedicated deliberately and in a brutal way that criminal fragrance deserves no other sentence but death.”
The Dead Man Walking had nothing to lose but everything to gain as it would turn out, in his appeal to the Supreme Court challenging the verdict of the High Court of Delhi. The apex court upheld the conviction of Singh but commuted the death sentence to life on October 06, 2010.
The Supreme Court is the loftiest pulpit of justice in the Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic of India. It is beyond the prowess of ordinary citizens to cast doubts on its jurisprudence. Yet, it is difficult not to reflect on the pliable state of ‘life imprisonment’ in this nation where the convicts are soon out on parole or medical grounds. And it is difficult not to reflect on the message sent out to the cold-blooded criminals at large by granting clemency to an unrepentant killer like Santosh Singh.
Let us mourn then, the death of Deterrence, that that the Supreme Court’s easing the noose off the throat of a brutal and determined rapist-cum-killer has led to. Let us mourn then, the rape and death of many a blooming girl that we will never even know about.