Abha Singh has set a blistering pace for herself after she resigned as Director of Postal Services, Maharashtra and Goa, in November 2012 to take on assorted wrongdoers. The writer meets the activist-lawyer as she gears up for Round Two of the Salman Khan case in the Bombay High Court.
A coffee mug in her office warns you: ‘Don’t mess with me, I’m a lawyer’. There’s proof enough of that claim: Mumbai’s Adarsh housing scam, in which she helped husband Y.P. Singh bring a bunch of greedy politicians and bureaucrats to account; the controversial AIB Roast case; and of course, the Salman Khan drunk driving case, which she hauled out of the deep freeze three years ago. Excerpts from a free-wheeling interview with activist and lawyer Abha Singh:
You’ve had some mixed results, like the Salman Khan case. What do you count as your victories in this case?
That we’ve got a result, a judgment, after 13 years. That we have brought up the issue of Kamaal Khan, the one living eyewitness who could testify if Ashok Singh or Salman Khan was driving that night. That the police has started doing its work.
Thanks to our efforts, Salman Khan’s status has changed. He is no longer an accused; he is now a convict. He is convict Salman Khan. If we (petitioner Santosh Dhaundkar and her) had not come into the picture, this case would have stayed buried for the next 10 years or more.
Dhaundkar is the petitioner in many of your cases; is he part of your team?
Yes, we have a number of activists who file the petitions because it is difficult to be both petitioner and lawyer, though I do that, too, in some cases.
You’ve declared that you will ensure that Kamaal Khan is brought back. How do you plan to, when nobody seems to know where he is now?
The point is that nobody wants to know where he is. The police and the prosecution don’t seem to, or they would have issued a red corner notice. There are provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CRPC), Supreme Court guidelines and a Jharkand High Court judgment, by which the High Court can ask for a crucial witness to be produced.
In October 2002, seven days after the accident, Kamaal Khan’s police statement was recorded (pulls out a copy of the statement), in which he says Salman Khan was driving the car, Ravindra Patil was sitting next to him and he was sitting behind.
His name was on the witness list; (pulls out another paper) here he is, Witness No 47 out of a total of 64. He gave the court an indemnity bond asking for permission to leave the country, saying he would return whenever called. Why were contempt proceedings not started against him?
What if the police don’t manage to find him or, worse, botch it up?
With the media hue and cry around the case now, it will be difficult for them to do so, because it has become a public movement. I think that is my greatest contribution to this case: to expose how the rich and famous exploit loopholes in the law with the connivance of the police and prosecution.
Even if Kamaal Khan becomes hostile, he can be cross-examined; we have to bring him back.
You’re in for a long haul — first in the High Court, then perhaps the Supreme Court. How long do you think Salman Khan can avoid going to jail?
It all depends on how the prosecution argues its case. He could get a respite, because everyone has the right to go to the Supreme Court. But, like Sanjay Dutt, he will have to go to jail one day; he cannot avoid that. Even if he serves a one-year sentence, justice would have been meted out.
Do you see this case as your biggest victory?
Yes, to the extent that I could pressurise the police. At one stage they said the papers were lost and such was the media pressure that, all of a sudden, the papers were found.
The judgment also means a lot to me because I was accused of being a celebrity chaser though I also fight many cases involving the aam aadmi. Remember, when I took up the Salman Khan case in 2012, it had been almost forgotten. Even in the Adarsh housing scam, who knew about the blatant violations before my husband Y.P. Singh (an ex-police officer) helped expose them? It became famous only after he picked it up. What you could say is that, if we touch a case, it becomes famous.
Have you ever met Salman Khan?
I’ve seen him in court many times, but there has never been a one-on-one interaction.
Have you seen any of his films?
I’ve seen quite a few of them; I enjoyed Dabangg.
And what do you think of him as an actor?
He dances very well (laughs heartily).