A lesson to be learned

The Nooriya Haveliwala case attracted public attention to the cause of drunk driving as it touches the lives of so many in Mumbai. She was a young, wealthy, NRI, liberal, Muslim woman. She had crashed into a lower-middle class man, and an on-duty police officer — thereby sealing her own fate.

At the time of the crash, then-Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Himanshu Roy had assured the media they would do everything they could to make a watertight case. Such diligence has been less than consistent in the drunk driving cases of actor Salman Khan and Manish Khatau, son of industrialist Mahendra Khatau.

But Haveliwala’s case touched Mumbai’s social fabric in other, unexpected ways. The case she filed at the Bombay High Court asking for the return of her passport led to a landmark decision. While rejecting her request, the court held, “The fact that the foreigner is staying in India for a long time or has deep roots in society cannot inure higher rights in him than any other foreigner staying in India for a brief period.”

The other was a journalist’s application in the High Court to be permitted to cover Haveliwala’s case, which was subsequently allowed. The Metropolitan Magistrate, on Haveliwala’s application, had barred the media from covering proceedings, violating their fundamental rights.

As the trial draws to a close, it would do well to remember the observation of the Supreme Court in Kartar Singh v/s The State of Punjab. The court had held, “The most fundamental principle of justice is that justice must not only be done but seen to be done. Publicity of court cases serves an important public purpose. It enhances public knowledge and appreciation of the working of the law and the administration of justice. It is not only in the public interest in seeing fairness and proper conduct in the administration of justice, but more importantly, there is a therapeutic value to the public in seeing criminal laws in operation, purging society of the outrage experienced with the commission of crimes.” 

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