Mechanism at Fault

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

This is an old nursery rhyme. What is a nursery rhyme doing in a blog for the legal fraternity? Patience, dear reader, I'll be there in a few moments.

We have tons of law books, arrays of investigators, reams of procedures, batteries of lawyers, benches of judges, labyrinths of courts. Ultimately, the Apex Court. What has prompted a bench of the Supreme Court recently to express its helplessness in giving justice to an Ahmedabad girl aged all of six years? She was lured by a man to a field, raped and then killed. He then severed her feet to facilitate easy removal of her anklets. The accused was set free due to lack of evidence. Probably, for want of a nail the battle was lost.

The credit (rather discredit) goes to the investigator. This person is a cop, a very small cog in the machine. He need not have much by way of qualifications. His job is the simplest, yet his mishandling of the investigations renders all the legal brains, books and paraphernalia useless and helpless. This is not an isolated case. There are thousands of them. On the other hand, there are also cases where the wrong persons get convicted, thanks to the false evidence crafted by the investigators.

There are stories of King Vikramaditya's throne of justice, and the famous one about King Solomon settling the dispute between two women by offering to cut a baby in half and dividing it between the two. The women were quarrelling as to who was the mother of the baby. The real mother quickly gave up her claim as she didn't want the baby to come to any harm. Thus Solomon found out the truth.

There is another story, this one about King Vikramaditya. Indra wanted him to judge which apsara was the better dancer: Urvashi or Rambha. Vikramaditya gave a flower to each, in both of which a bee had been concealed. He asked them both to dance with the flower in the hand. Rambha soon began looking uneasy, fumbled in her steps, then threw down the flower, her hand swollen. Urvashi continued to dance normally, and was judged the better dancer. Indra was intrigued and wanted to know what happened. Vikramaditya answered: “Urvashi is a natural dancer. While dancing she did not hold the flower very tightly. She just held it gently but firmly. Such was her grasp that the bee was undisturbed. Rambha on the other hand, clutched the flower tightly. She unknowingly squeezed the flower. The bee in her flower therefore stung her.”

Modern day judges cannot use these unorthodox methods to deliver justice. They are parts of an elaborate machinery which, when all is said and done, depends on how the cop did his job. I am tempted to compare this system with a big, expensive limousine, a marvel of engineering and elegance, but with the fuel pipe blocked at the tank end. What good all the complicated gears, pistons, multiple valves, electronic gadgets, air bags, soft seats, hard glass, belted tyres and what not – if the thing doesn't do what it was primarily supposed to do in the first place? Namely, move you from Point A to Point B.

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