Free Press Journal

The Dramatic Decade: Landmark Cases of Modern India by Indu Bhan- Review


Book: The Dramatic Decade
Author: Indu Bhan
Publisher: Penguin Viking
Pages: 251
Price: Rs 499

The courts in India are struggling with a huge backlog of cases. As of 2016, there were 27 million pending cases and close to 90 million people still await justice. To the common man these are just numbers but some cases have impacted the collective conscience of the entire nation. The book is divided in to chapters dealing with cases such as the Parliament attack, Nirbhaya rape, 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Babri Masjid demolition, Uphaar tragedy, 1993 Mumbai blasts, bar dancers, etc.

The cases against Ajmal Kasab, Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon, for the Mumbai attacks, the Parliament attack and the Mumbai serial blasts, offer the reader a peek in to the volatile world of war. These cases brought back the debate on death penalty.

The Nirbhaya case (December 16, 2012) in the capital city enraged people. Protests occurred on social networking sites Facebook and WhatsApp, with users replacing their profile pictures with a black dot to symbolise pain and anger. The case shook the entire nation and was instrumental in bringing about amendments in rape laws. Similarly, nurse Aruna Shanbaug was raped by a sweeper in 1973 and died in May 2015 after having been in a vegetative state for over 40 years. A euthanasia plea, made on her behalf, was rejected by the SC in 2011 but a landmark judgment which allowed passive euthanasia, was delivered. However, sexual abuse continues…

When the LGBT community fought for its rights, it was a wake-up call for exhibiting tolerance and acceptance sans prejudice. The Uphaar tragedy (13 June 1997) and the recent Mumbai pub fire are reminders to take safety and security measures – it also highlights how lack of time-bound intervention can be tragic.

The controversy surrounding the Babri Masjid – an unending battle which started with the first incidence of religious violence in 1853 – and its impact will give readers a sense of history since the first civil suits were filed by both Hindus and Muslims in 1949. The twists and turns of the Mumbai bar dancers’ case provide an insight into the vicissitudes of human emotions and values.

This is the spectrum that the book attempts to cover. Also, a lot of what happened inside the courts during these trials have remained hidden from public view – what were the arguments made, which lawyers fought these cases, what was the court’s judgment and how it affected the common man. So the book gives the reader a ringside view of each of these trials and is accordingly structured to be a living testimony. It is a reminder to readers, and to all those who plan to enter the legal profession, to uphold what is right and just.

In summation, mild punishments meted out to offenders and cases that take decades to resolve fail to persuade potential lawbreakers from mending their ways. Also errant companies continue to take advantage of loopholes in the system. After any such incident, furious debates take place for months together, innumerable articles and reports are published, and social activism is at its best, but ultimately the struggle for change is reflected on paper only.

 The country’s lax laws – which punish negligence resulting in death with out-dated penalties and just two years of imprisonment, as seen in the Uphaar case – need amendment. Improved safety standards and an effective regulatory regime are the need of the hour. Since laws deal with the safety and security of citizens, their enforcement is just as important as their enactment.