It was time. Soon the courtroom clerk would come to me, open my arms with a creak, which has developed over a period of time, and withdraw the required documents from my belly.
From the time, many years back, when I was brought here fresh from the Godrej factory, I have hardly moved from the corner. But this corner offers me a vantage point and an uninterrupted view of the entire shenanigans which go on, inside this spacious though dark room, in the name of justice. So what if my legs are wobbly over a period of time.
Slowly people started filing in. The case had been in the news once again since the last few months, and not without reason.
Mr. Sinha, the state prosecutor started, “Mr. Prakhar Singh stands accused of murdering his wife, the late Mrs. Sheeladevi, 17 years back and Mr. Salil Singh, his son is the sole witness to the vile murder.”
“I would now like to call, Mr. Salil Singh to the witness box.”, Mr. Sinha continued.
The judge, Mr. Harbhajan Singh granted him permission.
“Mr. Salil Singh, you have accused your biological father of the grimmest crime. What do you have to say?”, queried the state prosecutor.
I could see, all eyes in the courtroom following the young Mr. Salil, as he stared at his father for a long time.
Then turning towards the judge, he said, “Your honour, my father is a murderer. He murdered my mother as she was planning to leave him, tired of his continuous beatings. She had made all arrangements, but…”
“Objection, Your Honour.”, Mr. Shivdasani, the defence lawyer interrupted. Though small in stature, his hawk-like features and the baritone granted gravitas to his personality. Even the Judge was in awe of this cunning man.
“This young man is accusing my client without any proof. He has already grabbed the ancestral property from his father with the help of some unscrupulous relatives, but it is not enough. He now wants to totally destroy my clients name, nay, finish him off totally. if you grant permission, I would like to cross examine him”
“Objection granted, please proceed.”, the Judge acquiesced.
“Mr. Salil, you accuse your father of the most heinious crime, the murder of your mother, Mrs. Sheeladevi who disappeared 17 years back. Did you not yourself say that she was planning to leave him, due to the alleged continuous beatings by your father?”, said the defence lawyer, as he moved towards the witness box.
“Mr. Salil, may I ask you your age.”
“I am 20 years old, Sir.”, replied Salil.
“Please note, Sir”, Mr. Shivdasani addressed the judge.
“20 years old. Which means, you were just 3 years old when this occurred. Mr. Sheeladevi abandoned you, her only child, due to some alleged beatings which were never proved. For all you know, she must be in the US of A, enjoying herself, married to some American. And your father took care of you and raised you till you connived with your mother’s brother to grab the property and drove out your father.”
A gasp went round the court, as people started talking amongst themselves. Even I was confused; who was speaking the truth and who was lying. But Mr. Salil himself looked at peace with himself.
“Sir, I am not accusing my father now, after all these years. When I was a three year old boy I had said, ‘Baba thho…thho maa’, but I couldn’t do anything else at that time…”
As Salil said this, I was transported to the past, in these very premises, when a small boy was crying and saying, “Thho…thho, Baba thho…thho maa’, but nothing could be proved.
Mrs. Sheeladevi’s disappearence was a much talked about subject that time. Her brother, Ramniranjan, had accused Mr. Prakhar Singh of killing his sister. His accusations were based on the complaints of regular beatings from his sister and of course, the accusation by Salil.
Prakhar Singh maintained that she had simply left the house and disappeared.
Her empty purse had been found in the garbage bin outside their house, empty. Their car had been found in the city airport parking lot. But after a long trial, with Mrs. Sheeladevi still missing, the case went unsolved and was closed due to lack of evidence.
Suddenly a hand entered my belly and I was brought to the present.
“When I was a three year old boy, I had cried ‘Baba shot maa’ but I couldn’t do anything else. But there is a new development due to which I am now determined to see the harshest punishment for this man, I regret he is my biological father”, Salil said, his eyes watering up.
“Cut out the emotional blackmail, Mr. Salil. Whatever it is, place the facts before the court, don’t waste everyone’s time.”, the defence lawyer exclaimed.
“6 months back, I decided to renovate the ancestral home. After finishing the interiors, I started the re-construction of the swimming pool. It was emptied out, the tiling was removed, the digging started and…and…”, and Salil went silent.
“My Lord, the accuser is now certainly wasting our precious time. Mr. Salil, why are you bent on taking us through this convoluted construction process. Please come to the point”, Mr. Shivdasani thundered.
“And I found human remains.” A hush descended on the room. Suddenly all went quiet. I could see sweat running down the temples of Mr. Prakhar.
“I called my uncle and told him, ‘Mama, I think I might have found my mom.’
A flustered defence lawyer was combative, “Isn’t it your ancestral property? Isn’t your clan one of the martial clans of India? The human remains could have been any of the past enemies of your clan. We are not here to try your long dead ancestors, are we?”
“Objection, your honour.” Now it was the turn of the State Prosecutor.
“My learned friend is not letting my client speak. He is interrupting at an important juncture.” Mr. Sinha, who had been an observer for quite a while, was now suddenly active.
“I would now like to cross examine Dr. Rebello.”
I couldn’t understand the role of a Doctor or his significance to the case at hand. All the documents held in my belly did not add anything of value to my thinking. Neither my presence in the court for such a huge period of time has given me any inkling of how a lawyer’s mind works.
So here I was, just an observer to the proceedings. Just like so many others who were not so handicapped.
Dr. Rebello, though an old person with shaking hands, seemed jovial. When prompted for his name, he replied, “The name is Rebello, Julio Rebello”. Perhaps a fan of Bond, James Bond.
“And what is your area of expertise, Doctor?”, asked the state prosecutor.
“A Forensic Pathologist and Anthropologist. A Forensic Pathologist is one who studies the dead and the reasons they die. While a Forensic Anthropologist is one who works with skeletons and decomposed human remains and analyses the remains to get information about the victim and the cause death…”, the Doctor would have gone on and on, but was rudely interrupted by Mr. Shivdasani.
“I object, your honour. With all due respect, the honourable state prosecutor is doing everything to delay proceedings by bringing in witnesses who ramble on without reaching any conclusion”, he thundered.
“Objection overruled!”, for once the Judge overcame his admiration of the defence lawyer and asked the public prosecutor to continue.
“Doctor, please stick to the questions being asked and please reply to the point. We have spent enough time in this profession and know the difference between a Forensic Pathologist and an Anthropologist. So what do you have to say about the skeleton found in the property of Mr. Salil and which was brought to you by the Police?”, asked the State Prosecutor.
This time the Doctor did not waste any time and answered, “The skeleton was of a female who died in her young age, about 25-30 years old, she had already given birth before she died, she had been shot through her head and all this had occurred between 15-20 years back.” Everyone sat back as they processed this information given at breakneck speed.
“Whoa, whoa, Doctor you went too fast this time. I agree all these details can be determined by your fraternity but that she had already given birth before her death…I mean, do you take us to be fools”, who else, Mr. Shivdasani questioned.
His booming baritone did not have any effect on the Doctor who replied with a straight face, “You have put me in a quandary. If I agree with you, I will be put in jail for contempt of court, but if I disagree, I would be committing perjury.”
The court erupted in laughter at this quip from the Doctor. “Order, Order!”, I saw the judge indulge in his favourite dialogue and saw him hammering the gavel. Oh, how I envy Mr. Gavel, who is much more actively involved in the court proceedings!
The good Doctor then proceeded to enlighten, “When a woman gives birth, her pelvis is dilated. And this is how I deduced that the skeleton was of a woman who had given birth before she had been murdered.”
“Ok, this is all very well, but how does this prove that the skeleton was of Mrs. Sheeladevi? The court accepts nothing but proof to convict someone”, the defence lawyer was still defiant. For once, I agreed with the cunning lawyer.
“Yes, you are right. I cannot say whether it was the skeleton of Mrs. Sheeladevi or not”, the Doctor went silent, for once.
“Don’t worry, Sir. My next witness is the Forensic scientist, Dr. Paneerselvam.” The State Prosecutor was now in full flow.
I was now totally immersed in this case.
“Dr. Paneerselvam! What have you deduced on this case”, the prosecutor asked.
“Sir, I extracted the DNA from the tooth of the skeleton. I processed it and I took a comparative DNA sample from Mr. Salil here. There was a hundred percent match.”
“That’s it, My Lord. That conclusively proves that the accused, Mr. Prakhar Singh is guilty of murdering his wife, the mother of his son. Her only crime was to think of leaving him, of escaping his daily beatings and think of building a new life for herself. He deserves the strictest punishment, he should be hanged until death.” So saying, the State Prosecutor occupied his seat.
Happy that now justice will be served, I was keenly observing the judge, when that man, Mr. Shivdasani thundered, “Ok, it seems it is certainly proved that Mrs. Sheeladevi was murdered, but it doesn’t at all prove that my client, Mr. Prakhar did it. Where is the proof and the court accepts only proof before convicting any accused.”
Considering Mr. Shivdasani’s reputation, I was ready for this legal battle to drag on for days, when, “It’s alright, Mr. Shivdasani. You have fought well but I am now tired.”
Trying to understand who was talking, I saw Mr. Prakhar Singh getting up.
“Please come into the box, Mr. Prakhar.”
“Yes, it is true that I killed her. Yes, I did it in a fit of rage. I loved her, I wanted to possess her but she…she wanted to leave. And she never told me. When I came to know, I confronted her but she was adamant. I lost my cool, I shot her in front of Salil…I am sorry, Salil.”
That day, I was convinced, ‘Sins can be buried away but can never be forgotten’.
Authors note –
- Inspired from real incident.
- No laws referred
- Court functioning mostly sourced from Bollywood movies.
- Few legal terms Googled.
- Doctor’s joke googled.
- Written from the point of view of a cupboard, always seen in the background in any filmy court.
This is an entry for #TheTrial, a Claws Club exclusive event for #Legends-4.
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