COURTS MARTIAL HUMOUR – PART I

Do you recall the time when we used to study Algebra or Trignometry in school? After battling with such arcane and complex formulae, we used to wonder if we would ever require them later in our lives. I for one never had the occasion to use any of these even once.

The same, however, cannot be said of rig-changing that we used to do as cadets in the Academy. We had to appear before our seniors in one rig or the other, the complete thing taking not more than 60 seconds. This had great meaning for us in later lives when suddenly the Navy expects you to change over from one role to the other. Many times, the Navy expects you to be dual or multi-roled and you have to take them in your stride. COs of frontline ships, for example, are often multiroled as masters of ceremony and event managers.

In the year 2003, I was made the Director of Maritime Warfare Centre (MWC) in Mumbai. Since earlier, I had been Director of MWCs at Vizag and Kochi too, this made me the only officer in the Navy who was made Director of all three MWCs of the Navy.

Even before I took over, I was involved in a major one man investigation concerning illegal gratification taken by many officers in Materiel Organisation (Mumbai). As per the Navy Order itself, such major investigation should be handed over to the CBI. But, the Navy, mindful of its image, thought of Captain Ravi achieving what a team of CBI operators would have achieved. So, there I was, with scarcely any resources at my disposal, trying to unearth a gigantic scam and bring to book the culprits.

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The Navy is sometimes right about media avoidance because media is used to scandalising everything

To give you an example of how much the Navy helps you once it gives a task to you; I must relate this anecdote. I had dozens of witnesses deposing before me everyday. Now, you can’t get the truth out of witnesses by show of authority. You have to make them feel at home. So naturally,  I would offer them tea and snacks and often lunch; all at my personal expense. When this was going on and on, I wrote to Command HQ requesting them for Rupees 2000 to defray this expense. A month later, a reply was received, signed personally by CSO (P&A): “Your request for a grant of Rupees 2000 is being processed at this headquarters. In the meantime, please forward a daily expense of number of cups of tea served and snacks”. (Read: ‘Three Things I’d Like To Change If I Were To Join The Armed Forces Again – Part I’, wherein I brought out how the command headquarters mandarins can be even more bureaucratic than the babus.)

Anyway, I kept up with the investigation. When I submitted my report within a month, the Navy decided to Court Martial six officers. In the next two years, I undertook the CM of four out of six officers. The Materiel Suprintendant (MS), one Commodore Pandit, was tried under the difficult Prevention of Corruption Act, 1982. It was in the media at that time that out of 3000 bureaucrats tried under this act, in the last two years, not a single case had resulted in conviction. However, I became some sort of lawyer by studying the intricacies of POCA. My homework and court work ensured that the MS was given 18 months of Rigorous Imprisonment. The others were thrown out of the Navy and given other lesser punishments.

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Entrance to INS Angre which houses the Navy's Court Martial Room. This entrance was built in 1686 and is amongst the oldest structures in Mumbai

I did all these whilst commanding an operational training institute and conducted major exercises and debriefs during this period. That itself is great humour; in the Navy, we don’t ask; we just do it.

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One of the best known court cases involving navy officer

Here are some of the CM humour. The list is long but I shall give you this in posts of manageable length:

CM Humour #1. Just retired JAG (Judge Advocate General) of the Navy, Commodore Sukhjinder Singh, was the Defence Counsel for one of the accused. His long ‘submissions’ about me were not just irrelevant but getting on my nerves. Most, if not all, were only to waste the time of court and frankly intended to prepare for appeal in a civil court at a later date. One day, after a long submission by him that took almost an hour, I intervened to respectfully ask the court to remind my learned Counsel for Defence that it was the Accused who was on trial and not the Prosecutor. This had a sobering effect on him for the rest of the day. But, he was back with a vengeance the next day trying to prove the Prosecutor guilty.

CM Humour #2. Some of the language used in the court is preposterously funny. For example, whilst referring to each other, both the Prosecutor and the Defence Counsel call each other ‘My Learned Defence Counsel/Prosecutor’. But, the body language and tone of both leave no doubt that they are referring to duffer and ass of very high order who should have been in a rehabilitation centre for retarded and mentally challenged people rather than let loose in an honourable court.

CM Humour #3. Outside the court room, especially over tea, snacks and meals, there is an atmosphere of false camaraderie, put-up joviality and artificial sincerity; the kind that you see between BJP and Shiv Sena. During such periods you crack jokes and amuse youself with pointless banter. In the course of one such break, I asked my Learned friend as to how did he decided to become a lawyer. He said he was in his college in Patiala. One day, a dear class-mate of his and he were whiling away their time in the college canteen when his friend ruminatively said, “Yaar Sukhjinder tu law kar lai” (Friend Sukhjinder, you should do law). When Sukhjinder enquired from him why, this was the innocent reply he received: “Yaar main apne gwaandi da murder karan di soch reha haan” (Friend, I am thinking of murdering my neighbour). That’s a typical Punjabi way of thinking. They brush aside serious things and consequences. A typical saying in Punjab is: “Jaada tonh jaada ki ho jaayu? Phaansi ho jaayu? Oh, aseen jhall lawange.” ( What is the worst outcome? I will be hanged? Well, I shall get over that somehow)

CM Humour #4. One day, during one of these breaks, I told Sukhjinder something. To my shocked surprise, he quoted this inside the court in the defence of the accused and in his relentless attempt to prove the Prosecutor guilty. This gave me an opening towards using him to build up my case! It was somewhat similar to the jail scene in the movie Sholay in which Viru and Jai whisper loud enough for the jailor’s spy to hear: “Jail mein pistaul aa chuka hai.” ( A pistol has been smuggled into the jail). Court Martial or for that matter any court is a mind-game finally; you have to remain ahead of the other guy.

Okay, enough for the first part. Remain tuned in for the remaining parts.

© 2014, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.

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