It pays to keep your mouth shut
At the end of this piece, one may well ask the question, “Whom does one trust?” If one feels that the police are to be avoided, by the innocent and the not-so-innocent, there is no misgiving. Worse, any involvement with the cops, outside one’s constitutional duties, is fraught with danger. A Gujarati saying goes thus: ‘doorthi doonger ralyamna’. It means that mountains are best seen from afar.
There are clauses, in almost every Romanesque form of law, against self-condemning and self-convicting evidence. In short, it pays to keep your mouth shut. We have invalidity of confessions, except before designated magistrates. And even then, a judicial authority will ask for concrete evidence. Why? We will touch on that at some later date. Right now, we see the hazards of hobnobbing with the cops. Invitation to danger!
One hears of informers. In local parlance, they are called, ‘khabris’. They are the ones who pass on the ‘aaj-ki-taaji’ news to the cops. Since no one does it for free, neck-in-noose being the aftermath, it requires compensation. Payment in cash? If funds permit and accounting is possible. Otherwise, the modus operandi is implied blackmail: arm-twisting, threats, pressures on family members or worse. To the honest citizen, it may seem fair play. Is it?
No country will have such a system as open policy. It flies in the face of democratic institutions, governed by the rule of law. Yet, it exists almost everywhere; and the cops are ingenious. They go after the soft underbelly.
Zaraukas was an informer for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). His brief was to tell-tale on smuggling of contraband into the USA. The operative words being, “… into the USA.” Cross-border stuff, not native transport. He was persuaded to be the eyes and ears of the FWS. He lived in Maine, in the north-east of America. A border state, it shares a common boundary with Canada. And therein lies the rub.
One bad apple spoils the others. More infectious than AIDS or Zika or Ebola, the virus of monetary greed took hold of Zaraukas. Proximity to easy cash, and the presumed shelter of being hand-in-glove with the law enforcement agencies, put our man over the line. This is how it all ended. The FWS men met Zaraukas at the Café Vivaldi. Prophetic name for a man about to sing. No opera star, Zaraukas realised that the meeting was a trap. Prevarication seemed in order. Was he there to inform or be interrogated? He was arrested on charges of smuggling and allied violations. The matter went to trial. He was convicted. He appealed.
Americans are, correctly, fond of their Constitution, and also in quoting its amendments. In over 200 years, they have had 27 amendments. (By contrast, we have had almost two a year!) The Yanks are especially fond of the first and the fifth amendment and rely on them incessantly. Zaraukas ‘… took the Fifth’, American lingo for relying on the law against incriminating oneself. He complained that he had a right to remain silent and the jury was prejudiced against him for that very fundamental right.
You be the judge. Would you allow his appeal? Or dismiss it?
After some convoluted reasoning, the judges kept Zaraukas locked up for 33 months. Guilty, as charged. But the questions that were never asked, raised or thought about were these: Did the authorities suspect Zaraukas of smuggling and take him on as a khabri in order to trap him?
Most informers have their problems with the police; otherwise, they would not take the risk. Did his closeness to a thriving trade, suck him in? His claim to have dealt in non-imported stuff was nullified by his emails and the volume of business he had conducted. Yet, he was not caught with the goods at the border, trafficking and transport being two different things. They were hidden in his home. Above all, was the jury prejudiced by the prosecution harping on Zaraukas insisting on keeping quiet? The judges remained unaffected by his pleas.
Whistle-blowing is a hazardous occupation. Zaraukas was lucky. In India, one pays with one’s life. Khabar (information) and kabar (grave) seem synonymous. Adjacent plots?