G. L. Batra, Writer & formerly Addl. Secretary, Indian Parliament and Chairman, Public Service Commission of the Indian State of Haryana
Continuing from where I left in my last article on `degeneration of morality’ a fortnight back.
The Institution of Family
Traditionally in India, the family has been the basis of community and society. Our strong family values, embodied in the institution of the joint family, has in the past, provided stability, continuity and security for the individual. Each family member, from the senior patriarch to the youngest members, had their own roles in this institution, and this system has been instrumental in keeping the fabric of Indian society intact. Indeed, the patriarch of the traditional Hindu family commanded great respect and obedience from other family members, not merely because of his position in the family, but because he performed the duty of caring for all family members and looking after their every need. He was indeed, the central pillar of the family, the binding force that held it together. Traditionally, the family members used to have their meals together in the kitchen, where the female members of the family used to cook. The respect and love between members of the family was unquestionable, and a strong bond held them together.
In recent years, after independence, with the influence of Western culture, the institution of family has undergone a sea change. More and more individuals, seeking progress in their careers and jobs, and lured by financial goals, are separating from their joint families, and moving from the traditional family homes, into urban areas. This has led to fragmentation. The traditional emotions of love, respect and care for fellow family members have paled into insignificance before material goals and aspirations. Aged parents and senior citizens are ignored in the process. Previously, the concept of ‘old-age homes’ was alien to Indian culture, but now-a-days, young people who are busy in their careers and personal lives, have no compunctions about leaving their old parents in such old-age homes. They seem to have forgotten the Punjabi saying, “Jinaan gharaan wich maa nahi hondi, unaan gharaan wich chha nahi hondi” which means – “In the home in which there is no mother, there are no blessings”. This is a pathetic state of affairs, a disastrous distortion of traditional values in society. Future generations may be able to take this as a routine affair, but at present, it is intolerable to old parents, when they feel ignored and are thus dumped. Even inter-family relations with members of the extended family, provide no solace to the elderly, as today, no-one seems to have the time to care for their emotional needs. Parliament has intervened by enacting The Senior Citizens (Maintenance, Protection and Welfare) Act, but the State cannot fill the emotional gap felt by the senior citizens.
In the joint family system, the presence of the senior members in the family used to ensure that the young members had the benefit of their care, support and instilling of moral values. With the fragmentation of the institution of family, and the emergence of the nuclear family, the young people today are being deprived of this advantage. As a result, young people today are slowly moving away from the traditional Indian moral and cultural values. This has adversely affected the society as a whole, and will continue to affect us if we do not take remedial measures to correct the situation.
The Education System and Educational Institutions
After the family, the education system is probably the most important institution on which the foundation of society rests. The education system, starting from the primary school, moulds the character of the individual, and prepares him or her to become a positive and contributing member of society, and a true citizen of the nation. The education system in India today, composed of a rigid syllabus, and plagued with problems like insufficient infrastructure, and over-concentration on theoretical and career-oriented subjects, is in need of thoughtful review and restructuring. Since the time of independence, India’s educational system has ignored psycho-cultural and psycho-philosophical perspective, instead adopting a purely western approach. Why should our schools and educational institutions not imbibe in the students, the values of morality and ethics and patriotism, and teach them about the sacrifices and lives of our forefathers, who dedicated their lives for the country? I firmly believe that Education must be aimed at continuously providing the students with necessary inputs for self-renewal.
The Administration of Criminal Justice
It has been seen that the degeneration of morality and moral values has even affected the system of administration of justice. Initially, Judges believed in human faith and the principles of morality, and therefore placed great reliance on the testimony of independent witnesses to an offence, in order to convict the accused. However, the degeneration of morality has affected independent witnesses as well, and judicial experience has brought out the difficulty of convicting criminals because of insufficiency or lack of evidence, even though the judges are often convinced of the guilt of the accused. To overcome this situation, the courts, over the years, have evolved new norms for the appreciation of evidence. Independent witnesses, who are willing to give testimony and stand by their version, are hard to come by either because they were uninterested, or because they were influenced or lured by coercion, fear or gain. Often, independent witnesses do not want to get involved in criminal proceedings, due to apathy. The Supreme Court has observed in a recent case, that “civilized people are generally insensitive when a crime is committed even in their presence. They withdraw both from the victim and the vigilante. They keep themselves away from the Court unless it is inevitable. They think that crime, like civil dispute, is between two individuals or parties, and they should not involve themselves.” To get over this problem, the Court adopted a pragmatic approach and held , “…the prosecution case cannot be thrown out or doubted on that (the absence of independent prosecution witnesses) ground alone…..One cannot ignore this handicap with which the investigating agency has to discharge its duties. The Court, therefore, instead of doubting the prosecution case for want of independent witness must consider the spectrum or the prosecution version and then search for the nugget of truth with due regard to probability if any, suggested by the accused.”
Many a time, the accused in a criminal case came to be acquitted because the only witnesses against him were perceived to be ‘interested witnesses’, for example, relatives of the victim, and due value wasn’t being given to their testimony. To remedy this situation, the courts started placing due reliance on the evidence of witnesses, even if they happened to be close relatives of the victim. The Supreme Court has explained the rationale behind this principle in the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v. Jagdeo , by holding that, “Most of the times eye witnesses happen to be family members or close associates because unless a crime is committed in a public place, strangers are not likely to be present at the time of the occurrence. Ultimately, eye witnesses have to be persons who have reason to be present on the scene of occurrence….The law is long settled that for the mere reason that an eye witness can be said to be an interested witness, his/her testimony need not be rejected. For the interest which an eye witness may have, the Court can while considering his or her evidence, exercise caution and give a reasonable discount if required. But this surely cannot be the reason to ignore the evidence of eye witnesses.” In a case where the eye-witness was a brother of the deceased victim, the Supreme Court held, “The fact that the witness is the brother of the deceased would add to the value of his evidence, because he would be interested in the apprehension of the real culprits responsible for the murder of his brother.” The Courts have thus started relying on the assumption that , an eye-witness to the crime, even if he is closely related to the victim so as to be called an ‘interested witness’, is a reliable witness inasmuch as he would be the last person to let the real criminal off the hook and implicate an innocent person.
The evolution of these judicial principles of appreciation of evidence underlines the falling standards of morality and ethics in our society. The judgments of the Courts reveal that initially, the judges were of the view that each witness would have to be individually put to judicial scrutiny, and if they stand this test, then they could be relied upon, and the accused convicted on their evidence. Thereafter, however, the judges found that independent judicial scrutiny was not fair enough a principle as the witnesses did not stand the test of judicial scrutiny. As a result of this, the judges laid down the principle that if individual witnesses do not stand the test of judicial scrutiny, the Court may go to the very substratum of the case and if they are convinced that the accused has committed the crime, they would convict him. It was felt that this course of action is necessary in cases where witnesses are unreliable, so that the Court could delve deep into the case to reach the true conclusion as to the guilt of the accused. This degeneration of morality and moral values, when witnesses knowingly spoke falsehood, made the task of the judges very difficult as the surmounting principle of the law is that it is better for a hundred guilty men to go unpunished, but under no circumstances, should an innocent man be wrongly punished. The judges of the higher courts, in the best of their wisdom, have laid down appropriate principles for the circumstances of each case. It is not right or fair to callously criticize or point fingers at the judges as they have an uphill task to perform, guided by their judicial conscience.
Investigation of the commission of a criminal offence is an art. It involves an honesty of purpose, to go into depth to reach the truth. The commission of crime always involves reasons accompanied by events. The motive of the commission of the crime is the most prominent. It may be lingering or even for at the spot. It involves different techniques and is scientific. It involves preponderance of probabilities, to reach conclusions. Different disciplines of science are involved – physics, chemistry, medicine, psychology, economics and sociology etc. to get to the reasons as to what led to the commission of the crime. Sometimes, the reasons for committing the crime may be beyond the control of the offender. There is a lot of progress in forensic science. These have become necessary because when we are developing, the accused try to destroy evidence or remain more cautious in spite of the fact that the accused always leaves traces behind. It depends on the competence and honesty of purpose of the investigator, to reach a conclusion. An investigator surely requires eagle’s eyes and a lion’s heart.
Another area of concern is the tremendous delay that occurs in most criminal trials. Paucity of time at the disposal of the courts, inadequate infrastructure and a shortage of judicial officers, are only part of the problem. The judicial system however, cannot be solely to blame. Even though the legislature has effected amendments in procedural laws to expedite the judicial process in both civil and criminal matters, people still try to circumvent these provisions and come up with devices to delay the proceedings. It is seen that all sorts of means are adopted by the accused, in order to win over witnesses and reach some compromise to settle the case against them. Delay caused in a criminal trial often results in the witnesses’ memory of the incident to fade, weakening his testimony, and the case against the accused. Long delays also result in the witnesses becoming uninterested and apathetic. All this has resulted in a situation where the distinction between compoundable and non-compoundable offences is getting blurred.
To be continued………..
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