Different strokes

Although the Indian Constitution grants citizens equality in the eyes of the law, some seem to be more equal than others, as the special treatment extended to Sahara Group chief Subrata Roy while in police custody suggests.

The Supreme Court ordered Roy’s arrest last week in connection with cases of fraud. However, Roy evaded arrest and failed to show up before the court, pleading he was with his unwell, 92-year-old mother. When he was eventually taken into custody, it turns out that the business tycoon has been lodged not in a cell but in the guest house of the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department. This is located in a popular picnic spot in Kukrail. The ‘cell’ Roy is lodged in is in fact a roomy suite. And to ensure that the tycoon continues to get the comforts he is accustomed to, he is being allowed home-cooked food and comfortable bedding among other things. During his time in police custody, the Sahara chief need not search for good company either as there are no restrictions on the friends and family who can drop by to see him. Measures have been taken to ensure that Roy’s stay will not be disturbed by noisy tourists. Kukrail has been shut off to school children and picknickers. Roy had asked for house arrest. While the local court left it to the police’s discretion where to lodge him, the latter have bent over backwards to ensure he got what he wanted and that his time in their custody would be in a ‘home away from home.’

It is not our argument that detainees should be held in filthy, cramped cells. Indeed, there is an urgent need in India to improve the conditions of its prisons. However, this improvement has to come across the board, for all those in custody, undertrials and those serving time included. Our objection to the fancy treatment being given to Roy is because this is something that only VIPs seem to get. Consider the favouritism that actor Sunjay Dutt enjoys. He has been granted parole repeatedly and over extended periods, ostensibly on account of his own ill health and that of his wife. In contrast, the pleas of non-VIP convicts, many of whom may have stronger cases for parole than does Dutt, are routinely dismissed.

The conditions of our jails must improve. But till that happens, all - irrespective of their wealth and connections - must be treated equally. A system of different strokes for different folks is unacceptable.

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