"You heard of honest Socrates
The man who never lied:
They weren't so grateful as you'd think
Instead the rulers fixed to have him tried
And handed him the poisoned drink.
How honest was the people's noble son.
The world however did not wait
But soon observed what followed on.
It's honesty that brought him to that state.
How fortunate the man with none." - Bertolt Brecht
L’affaire Salman Khan was deconstructed in different, even discordant ways by various groups of people, depending on their particular socio-economic situations. A large section of Bollywood declared it as a triumph of justice and a vindication of their peculiar ethic that claims special privileges for celebrities who entertain the nation, who spend so much on charity, who keep the industry going (several hundreds of crores are said to be riding on Salman Khan).
Those who are not star-struck, nor are rich and famous received it as yet another confirmation of their belief that the law of the land cannot chastise the rich and the famous. Still others – commentators, anti-corruption activists etc. – saw it as an endorsement of the “truth alone triumphs” motto. As a former IPS officer who has put in forty years in the organisation – I see it quite differently. To me, it is yet another stern warning that the perils of honesty and commitment to the rule of law come with an unacceptable risk – for the policeman.
Society has evolved considerably from its earlier identification with courageous and conscientious upholders of law as heroic figures; achievers and the successful are the new role model. In a time when even directors of CBI have been seen to be puny foot-soldiers of the rich and powerful, characters like Ravindra Patil seem to be chasing illusory, quixotic goals. As a lowly constable, he had the temerity to stand for truth, equality before law and a determination to bring the powerful to justice. In doing so he went against the organizational culture. He was a turncoat of his profession. No wonder the Mumbai police force excommunicated him.
(Ravindra Patil was a commando from Mumbai police who was assigned as bodyguard to Salman Khan in the wake of threats to him from the Mumbai underworld, and was with him on the fateful night when the superstar ran down pavement dwellers and ran away. Patil was the lone eyewitness, who stuck to his account that Salman Khan was drunk and drove rashly despite being cautioned. Repeated threats, inducements and pressure from his own department did not dissaude him, and he paid the price with his eventual dismissal, and ultimate death, alone in a hospital. Newspapers report his statement to a friend a mere two days before his death: "I stood by my statement till the end, but my department did not stand by me. I want my job back, I want to survive. I want to meet the police commissioner once.")
The system wreaks punishment in great detail to those who stand for truth in contemporary society, and the utter futility and pointlessness of such a gesture would be evident if we plot the life of the individual in history as opposed to the timeless image of the hero. Satya Harischandra’s insane commitment to fulfill a promise made in a dream cost him his kingdom, and his son. He sold himself into slavery of the worst kind, and even felt duty-bound to ask his wife to part with a portion of the saree covering her modesty. He passed the test and the gates of heaven opened for him. The gods themselves anointed him. Those were the days when gods and men were on equable terms of association - reward, and punishment, redemption and retribution followed close at hand.
Patil was similarly seized by a delusional notion called commitment to rule of law; he believed in the grandiose promise of law made grander still by the Latin it is couched in. Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum (Let justice be done though heavens fall). We have rarely seen the heavens fall, but the fall of those who try to bring the powerful to justice is an everyday occurrence. When it confronts the powerful, the law of the land reads itself differently from the way it initially wrote itself. So he had the devil to pay for his naïveté. He was subjected to physical threats, he had to go in hiding, he was deprived of his job; his family deserted him, he contracted the most virulent disease that can afflict a human being, was reduced to begging and died an anonymous death. Patil’s victory was both pyrrhic and pointless. The powerful man walked free in a few hours .The policeman’s prolonged suffering, disgrace and ultimate death did not sanctify any cause because no such cause exists today and the just gods who in mythical times rewarded the virtuous and punished the wicked have departed long back, leaving no addresses.
But there is cold comfort at hand. Media, the nearest equivalent of God in our godless world, have woken up to him as if he had been incarnate yesterday. Perhaps if it had taken some notice earlier Patil may still have been alive. But no one, it seems, wants martyrdom interrupted because the deaths of these suckers serve a very utilitarian purpose. They help derive a very comforting moral: fighting injustice and corruption in the system is beyond the realm of an ordinary man's effort. So while in principle the society may continue to endorse the values of probity in public life, it can merrily go about its business in the usual manner.
India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Patiliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.