A certain amount of post-acquittal exuberance, edging perhaps towards a nascent-belligerence, is understandable: the Trial Court’s decision to initiate proceedings under section 194 of the Indian Penal Code- i.e., “giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of capital offence”- against a former college mate, Reginald Jeremiah, must therefore be seen in this context. After dealing at considerable length with his deposition, the hon’ble Court finally arrived at the following surmise in paragraph 452 of its mammoth Judgment:
“[In this way,] the evidence of Reginald Jeremiah (PW-85), who is an approver against a co-accused, is extremely evasive and contradictory. In all important facts, he is not corroborated either by circumstantial or any other evidence. His evidence is suspect, weak and false. After careful scrutiny of this evidence, it cannot be said that the charge against accused Amit Jogi, Chiman Singh, Yahya Dhebar, Abhay Goyal and Firoz Siddiqui that they conspired to kill Ram Avtar Jaggi at the hotel Greenpark on 21st May 2003, is proven relying on the sole testimony of this co-accused approver. [These other co-accused have been convicted of having conspired at another location. It is therefore ironical that they should be sentenced on a charge for which they did not face trial- AJ] The statement of this witness is extremely weak and full or errors. Witness is not reliable. Hence, it will not be judicious to hold the accused liable for conspiracy on the basis of his evidence. Everything that has been stated by Reginald Jeremiah in his evidence, is untrue. Nothing he has said in court is true. There is no doubt he has said all these things against Amit Jogi because of personal enmity, because after being fired from Akash Channel, he expected Amit Jogi to recommend his name for reinstatement to Rohit Prasad [the Director of the said channel], which the latter did not do…Hence, it does not seem proper to rely on any of this witness’s utterances.”
Accordingly, the Court has summoned him to appear tomorrow, the 5th of July, 2007, to face Trial for the aforementioned offence, punishable with life imprisonment.
The Ides of March
I recall, vividly, the catharsis that was Reginald’s testimony. It was the day after the festival of colors, Holi (which Reggie, the self-professed puritan of Scottish descent, deems a heresy). He entered the witness box at 4:30 p.m. sharp, half an hour before closing time. Armed personnel of the state police’s crime squad encircled him. He didn’t once look me in the face; not even when the then learned judge asked him to identify me.
Upon his return to Delhi, he was celebrated as a “hero”- the ideal prosecution witness in the Age of Zaheera Sheikhs- most enthusiastically by the NDTV correspondent, Sunetra Choudhary, who was enticed by her ‘sources’ in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to do a primetime story on him: “At a time when witnesses in high-profile criminal cases are turning hostile," Ms. Choudhary proclaimed, "one young man has withstood threats to testify in the (Ram) Avtar Jaggi murder case”. Finally, justice had been done to the Mafiosi-son of a high-profile politician: “Jeremiah’s statement is enough to nail Amit.”
Indeed it might well have been so. Fortunately for me, we were able to establish beyond a shadow of doubt that everything he uttered that day in the packed courtroom was nothing but lies, dictated to him by certain officials at the Bureau. For the record, the meticulous demolition of his evidence has very little to do with oral testimonies (or as the popular expression goes, ‘with witnesses turning hostile’); on the contrary, it is based exclusively on unimpeachable “documentary evidence”: Passports- verified by the Indian High Commission at London in pursuance of information received from Her Majesty’s Home Department- proved that atleast three persons who had allegedly played a pivotal role in the conspiracy according to Reginald on the night of 21st May 2003 at the hotel Greenpark in Raipur, weren’t even in India; Telephonic Call Details (obtained unwittingly by the CBI, no less) and Newspaper Reports disproved Reggie’s claims on other material points; even the Bureau’s Case Diary did not come to his aid. With every word that escaped his lips, Reginald willfully perjured himself.
Even now, I cannot say why he did what he did: lying when he knew only too well that his lies might well become the noose around my neck? Was it fear; possibly greed; or a bit of both? I will never really know. One thing is for certain: Reginald’s actions have forced me to question everything I thought I knew- and cherished- about Human Nature: the things that make us ‘human’. However, there have also been extraordinary kindnesses, too many to recount here, that are more than enough to heal this most unkind cut.
Under the circumstances, what can I do? For me, one of the most difficult things about this Trial has been to come to terms with Reginald's act. As a Christian, I feel myself bound by the following passage, not from the retributive prophesies of his namesake (the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah) but from that most humane of Gospels, Matthew:
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”
Tonight, when I go to sleep, I want to do so with a clear conscience: having forgiven Reginald, I now leave him to God’s- and the Court’s- Judgment. May the Lord give me the strength to do so.