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Dirty Tricks, Anyone?

December 08, 2004 20:58 IST

An international film festival is being held in Goa, and it seems only appropriate that two films are a hot topic of discussion even a thousand kilometres up north, in Delhi. These are, however, two films that I hope you shall never find in any retrospective.

I pleaded last week for a fresh look at what passes for 'education' in Kerala today if we are to stop the degeneration in civic values. It seems that the situation is little better even in elite public schools in the national capital. A few weeks ago, two students from one of Delhi's most renowned institutions were caught in a bizarre escapade. A girl, by all accounts a brilliant student and whose father is an officer in the armed services, stripped for a classmate, a scion of a wealthy family, in an effort to be 'popular'. He taped her on his camera-phone, and then sent off the film to his buddies. The film spread like wildfire, and the school authorities were alerted to the situation. Both students were hauled up before the principal; both were singularly unrepentant which resulted in their expulsion.

The film was transferred to a disc by some enterprising soul. It is now apparently available on sale for a few rupees in Delhi's Palika Bazar under the title X Dhamaka. 'X' is the name of the unfortunate school to which both belonged. Several crocodile tears have been shed about the values being imparted by this particular institution, which I find to be rather harsh. The entire escapade, please remember, took place outside school hours and in a private house. Surely the families of both students are at least as much to blame, both for leaving them unsupervised and for trying to compensate the lack of attention by showering their offspring with expensive gifts. (Camera-phones are not all that cheap.)

The youth and inexperience of the two students is some explanation of their stupidity, but there is nothing whatsoever to excuse the behaviour of the adults who are responsible for the second film I mentioned. As you may recall, on Monday, 29 November, K T S Tulsi, the counsel for Tamil Nadu in the Shankaracharya case made the sensational disclosure in court that Jayendra Saraswati had confessed. This 'confession,' he said, had actually been taped by the Tamil Nadu police.

Also read: 'For them, a Brahmin is above the law'

The claim was immediately and indignantly denied by the attorneys appearing for the Shankaracharya, but that is not the point. K T S Tulsi is a lawyer of considerable experience, and he knew perfectly well that any such 'confession' is of no value in a court of law unless it is made in the presence of a magistrate (not just policemen). In other words, it leads one to suspect that the announcement was made for purely dramatic effect, for the benefit of the reporters rather than for the learned judge. (In some countries such an announcement would be sufficient ground for a mistrial.) Expectably, this has led to a media battle.

The Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham responded by releasing full-page advertisements in several newspapers across India, offering what it claims is a detailed rebuttal of all the prosecution's claims. K T S Tulsi, in turn, responded by deploring the move to a trial by media -- which seems a little hypocritical under the circumstances. I have no wish to comment on the merits of the case, and only pray that the courts order a trial to settle the mess as quickly as possible. Frankly, I would not even be writing about it were it not for a further development -- a private viewing of the so-called 'confession' to select journalists in Delhi. (It might have taken place elsewhere, but I have heard only of Delhi for certain.)

This has sparked off another round of controversy. Some of the privileged ones who were shown the tape say it could be a doctored concoction. It is no secret that the Tamil Nadu police have taped some of the sessions where Jayendra Saraswati was interrogated. How difficult would it be to dub a seeming confession? That is a quagmire I shall not step into!

It is, however, a moot point. Whether false or authentic, the screening of any such film is a blatant attempt to whip up sentiment by extra-legal means. Worst of all, it is being rumoured that the tape was sent to Delhi to score a political point, after the prime minister wrote to the chief minister of Tamil Nadu reminding her that she should be mindful of Jayendra Saraswati's stature and age. In other words, the suggestion is that the tape was leaked by someone close to the prime minister, not by anyone in Tamil Nadu.

Dirty tricks are nothing new in Indian politics. But this, coming on the heels of Laloo Prasad Yadav's attempt to smear mud on L K Advani courtesy his former daughter-in-law, seems even dirtier than the norm. It puts the efforts of those two students cavorting for the camera in perspective, doesn't it? They were harming only themselves, their elders and betters seem bent only on ruining the reputation of others.

T V R Shenoy