The intriguing title of Vish Dhamija’s latest crime fiction, Unlawful Justice, immediately puts forth a moral conundrum by alluding to something that is most definitely outside the realm of law but must be undertaken to deliver a higher moral objective. Dhamija has previously written five works in the same genre.
This one narrates the tale of the rape of Baby, the minor daughter of Vansh Diwan’s household help. Diwan, a top-shot lawyer, fails to stand up for the girl on realizing that the accused is his biggest client Maninder Singh’s only son, Maheep. He is afraid of losing his business and of inviting the wrath of his client. Vansh’s lack of scruples causes a rift in his marriage as his wife Priti supports Baby in her quest for justice. Priti approaches the only other lawyer in the city, who is more skilled than her husband – the couple’s college buddy, Akash Hingorani. The city’s most eligible bachelor, Akash takes up the case. But just when you begin to think the book reads like any average Hindi film, the plot thickens. The accused in Baby’s rape is found dead and now Baby’s mother faces murder charges.
The drama, as it unfolds in the courtroom, is the better part of the book. Some of the arguments are impressive and do look like the work of a seasoned criminal lawyer. This is especially so of the professor’s testimony in court.
The question that deals with the title of the book crops up in the light of a subsequent murder. While the incident may hold some retributive quality for a layman, it is a rather barbaric notion on closer scrutiny. The conflict here is the same as between those who support capital punishment and those who insist on taking a reformative approach with convicts. Also, the fashion in which the murder is carried out and the person who executes it border on the absurd.
Most of the characters in the book are typical and there is little development. In fact, some have been left completely unexplored. The reader gets almost no insight into the minds of the victim, Vansh’s daughter, or Maheep’s sister. Therefore, though the book deals with a sensitive subject, the reader is not emotionally drawn into the narrative. Unsurprisingly, all the characters that have been left unexplored are female. Even the ones that do get some attention aren’t given any great treatment. Whether it is Priti, who takes a firm stand for Baby or the female judge presiding over the case, women of strength and power come across as little more than objects of fantasy for the men who are at the top their game, such as Akash. His interest in his friend’s wife is a little too apparent as he continuously cracks risqué jokes. At other places, women have been completely relegated to the margins or written off as subhuman, just as Maninder does with Baby and his mother.
Class differences are easy to spot in the story and Vish Dhamija could have built on the theme that justice comes at a huge price for the poor and often at the convenience and mercy of the rich. The writing is not sparkling and the author also continuously spells out details for the audience. Consequently, the reader wonders if she should continue with the book just for the plot.