Tuesday, April 16, 2024

What foreigners get and Indians don’t: A translator in judiciary

Riding trains and buses, spending time at bus terminals and railway stations, are one way to figure out what the Real Bharat is doing whilst India worries about mundane issues like the working hours for bars and service tax in restaurants. This is even more of an education when going multi-lingual.

One recent interaction brought out something which was so blatantly visible but not really addressed as yet. In a throwback to the pre-Independence years, a foreigner who is detained or arrested by our Justice Delivery System, is almost always entitled to a translator at State expense. But an Internally Displaced Indian Citizen who does not know the language of the part of India that he finds himself in trouble in, has to fend for himself or herself, often at great cost.

There is something very wrong with this, 75 years after Independence, especially when an ordinary smart-phone can enable all the parties concerned to communicate with reasonable efficiency. But no, lack of knowledge of the local language, along with an inability to provide a local surety – who also speaks the local language – is ample reason to be refused bail it seems. What could be a brief detention and subsequent release now becomes a long tenure in that dreaded world known as “under-trial”.

Should not the Government, Union or State, be able to do for Indian Citizens what they so easily do for foreigners, who find themselves in trouble away from home but in their own country? 

This is something that I find very difficult to explain to my educated, upper middle class friends, as I observe what happens to poor people from other States, detained for all sorts of minor offences all over the country. But it is what follows which is even more thought provoking.

A detained person who is unable to raise a property (money) as well as a surety (local person) is left with no alternative but to contact someone from his or her native place. Relative, sibling, spouse, friend. That person then needs to travel all the way to wherever the detainee is being held, and then “make arrangements”, with the same issues of local language and complicated procedures therein.

There are some specific communities, which are well networked all over India, which manage to secure their own people. But for the rest?

Take an example – an Internally Displaced Indian Citizen (IDIC) finds work in another part of the country. Three months later, he makes bold enough to ask for his wages, or part thereof. For whatever reason, this impertinence is enough for the IDIC to be accused of a minor crime – being accused of stealing a mobile phone which was actually given to him, is just one example.

I have heard what happens next – the life of an under-trial in our jails is certainly not easy. Help comes, but at a cost, which is often a long-term debt repayable in different ways. It may be repaid by becoming an underling or foot soldier of the criminal underworld; it may involve lifelong bondage for extended family; it could be anything from flesh trade to being recruited as a “mule” or worse.

Is that the historical reason, then, for this differential behaviour by the Government towards their own Citizens? Some sort of neo-Colonial remnant scenario generating a permanent prison enabled slavery system?

Of course, I heard about a lot more gory truths, about how certain specific sects and communities are past-masters at this game and how they get their recruits through their networks. And how these networks trace their history as well as antecedents to Moorish slave trade eras.

But we are in 2022, 75 years after 1947, surely a solution should have emerged by now? Is it too much to expect that with Artificial Intelligence, Bio-Metrics, Aadhaar Card, Gramin Card, Voters Card and other documents – often available online – our own Internally Displaced Indian Citizens will be entitled to the same facilities when in trouble in India that foreigners manage?

(Veeresh Malik was a seafarer. And a lot more besides. A decade in facial biometrics, which took him into the world of finance, gaming, preventive defence and money laundering before the subliminal mind management technology blew his brains out. His romance with the media endures since 1994, duly responded by Outlook, among others.)

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