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Posted at: Apr 19, 2017, 12:40 AM; last updated: Apr 19, 2017, 12:40 AM (IST)

Truth be told

P Lal
PANDITJI, our Sanskrit teacher in school, read out loud and clear from the textbook: Satyamvad, priyamvad; na vad, satyamapriyam. He explained: ‘Speak the truth, speak that which is pleasant, but don’t speak the unpleasant truth.’

Only a week earlier, he had taught us a verse from Mundaka Upanishad in the Atharva Veda which laid stress on the absolute truth. The opening line was: Satyameva jayate, na anrtam (Truth alone triumphs, not untruth). Panditji mentioned  that the aphorism Satyameva jayate had been adopted as our national motto. That made us feel proud. Asked to explain the dichotomy between the two, he smiled but kept mum.

As I grew up, I learnt stories from the Mahabharata. Those relating to the killings of Jayadratha, Jarasandh,  Dronacharya, Karna, Bhisma and Duryodhan perplexed me, as in all of them, some form of deception or falsehood had been employed. The justification offered in the commentaries that for establishing dharma, the Lord could employ any tactic did not register on my impressionable mind.

As luck would have it, I joined the police to earn my bread and butter. The profession brought me in contact with people of diverse occupations. In none of them, I could find adherence to the absolute truth. Survival required cutting corners.

The lessons in ‘practical police working’ during my training period were replete with  tricks and tactics of giving short shrift to  ‘truth’ with the avowed objective of securing conviction of the accused, and maintaining law and order at all cost. Thus the knowhow imparted on keeping the daily-diary of the police station ‘suspended’, so as to admit ante-dated or pre-timed entries. And the ways and means of keeping suspects without formal arrest, with utmost secrecy. Also, when to eschew the ‘first degree’ and the ‘second degree’, and resort to the ‘third degree’, without leaving traces of torture!

The story told by a senior police officer, however, took the cake. As a member of a committee for the selection of constables for a promotion course, he asked a candidate: ‘In a police station, where a suspect has been held without formal arrest, a search party arrives under the orders of the High Court to recover the person. How will you salvage the situation?’ The constable didn’t know how to respond to the dilemma. Nor did I when I heard the story!

‘Very simple,’ elaborated the officer, ‘just call any police station and tell the clerk to make back-dated or pre-timed entry of the arrest of the  person concerned in the daily-diary which is kept routinely incomplete, followed by an entry of temporary custody of the person to the staff of the police station where the suspect has been discovered. The honourable guests from the court can then be told that the suspect had just been brought from the other police station!’

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