Karam teaches his children to believe in the justice of the Indian courts, though he privately understands that it all comes down to bribes. Still, he sees the courts as one place in Indian public institutions where a Muslim might make his voice heard. Fortunately, the Husain case is assigned to the Fast Track Sessions Court, rather than being relegated to the normal system which can take up to ten years for a verdict and cost ruinous amounts of money in the process. This trial only considers Karam and Kehkashan’s involvement in Fatima’s burning, as Abdul will be tried as a minor.
Karam also perpetuates the myth that India is fair to the poor, though he understands that money controls all the public administrations. Still, he trusts in the legal system not to carry on the discrimination he sees elsewhere in Indian society. Boo suggests that the court system is improving, even if it is still far from perfect in the way it handles these small trials.
Kehkashan, and Karam take the bus to the courthouse in a Mumbai neighborhood called Sewri. The judge is impatient for the trial to start, as she has over 35 trials going simultaneously and at least nine hearings to hold today. Kehkashan and Karam sit on a crowded bench of the accused as the evidence of their case is parceled out. The prosecution calls many “witnesses” from Annawadi who hadn’t actually seen the event. Kehkashan sits in her burqa and sweats, grateful that no one can see her ashamed face.
Though it is a progressive achievement in India that the judge is female, Boo still points out that the court system is set up to make judges care little about the outcome of any one case. With so much work to get through, judges care more about whatever is fastest rather than whatever is true. Kehkashan, in her burqa, is essentially erased from the legal process, though she is somewhat glad for this invisibility as the trial is not actually considering anything that she did anyway.
The special executive officer who took their statements right after the event asks again for a bribe to ensure that no new evidence of malicious intent appears. Karam refuses, preferring to pay his lawyer and trust that the judge will see the truth. Priya is the first Annawadian called to the stand, which worries Kehkashan because Priya and Fatima were close. But Priya tells the truth on the stand, saying that she hadn’t seen the actual event but that Fatima started many fights in Annawadi. Another witness whose evidence was rumored to be damning for the Husains also says that he wasn’t even in Annawadi during the incident. Kehkashan begins to feel more optimistic.
Bribes seemingly never end for the Husains, as everyone wants to milk as much money from them as possible without caring for the hardship this family is facing. Kehkashan is surprised that people are actually telling the truth on the stand, as truth is rarely a concern in the corrupt Indian courts. The trial becomes a waste of time for all involved, as “witnesses” who did not see the event refuse to offer false evidence against the Husains.
The trial drags on until April, with short hearings on random days spread over the weeks. The judge becomes fed up with her stenographers’ poor Hindi skills and eventually just starts telling the stenographer what to record in the official record. It becomes clear that the judge considers this whole affair a petty problem not worth her time. But Kehkashan and Karam are still facing the possibility of ten years in jail. They lean forward in their seats, trying to hear what is happening in the court room over the sound of traffic in the street.
The random schedule of the trial keeps the Husains from fully returning to work, another factor that discriminates against the poor who often do not eat on days they don’t make a profit. The judge, again caring more for speed than accuracy, erases the words of the slum dwellers. Their testimony does not truly matter when the judge wants the simplest explanation instead of grappling with the nuance of the slum dweller’s lives.
Fatima’s husband finally takes the stand. Kehkashan remembers how the Husains had celebrated the holiest Muslim celebration, Eid, with Fatima’s family this year. Despite this appearance of solidarity, Fatima’s husband is angry that his late wife’s word is being questioned in the trial. He wants to blame someone for his wife’s death, and the Husains are the easiest target. He doesn’t care if the Husains are innocent, since he is concerned that his daughters will grow up motherless. He removed them from the orphanage after seeing bruises on their arms, and he now brings them to the trial to see their mother avenged.
Fatima’s family continues to compete against the Husains even though they are supposedly bonded in their Muslim faith. Concerns of profit and pride trump any collective feeling that these neighbors might feel through their Muslim brotherhood. Fatima’s husband has to protect his daughters above all else, even more than he has to do the right thing and admit that the Husains were not at fault.
Fatima’s husband is sworn in, but he quickly becomes flustered at the prosecutor’s questions. After stumbling through his name and address, Fatima’s husband insists that Fatima told him on her deathbed that the Husains had beat her with a large stone. Fatima’s husband is so elated at getting this “evidence” out that he doesn’t notice that the defense brings up Fatima’s two previous attempts to burn herself with kerosene after the death of their youngest daughter.
Fatima’s husband makes up even more lies about the Husains, completely ignoring the evidence that his wife was in intense emotional turmoil. Fatima’s previous burn attempts attest to her sadness over her daughter’s death even though she tried to put up a brave face in front of others. It is another example of how personally the Annawadians grieve in a world that is not set up to allow them to mourn in peace.
The next witness is Fatima’s friend Cynthia. The Husains refused to pay Cynthia not to lie about the fight right after the incident and have been dreading her vengeance for months. Cynthia prepares her appearance carefully the day of her court appearance and readies herself to bring down the Husain family that she has been jealous of for so long.
Cynthia, while acting out of loyalty to her friend, also has feelings of personal competition with the Husains. The Husain family’s good fortune in Annawadi earned them many enemies who saw their success as the reason that others, like Cynthia, failed.
Yet when the judge calls Cynthia forward, it’s not like the movie trials that Cynthia has seen. The prosecutor does not give her enough time to tell her made-up story about how she tried to save Fatima. During the cross-examination, Cynthia gets tripped up in her own lies and the judge throws out her testimony. Cynthia yells at the court to wait, but the judge pays no attention. Closing arguments for the Husain case will come in two weeks.
Cynthia has grand dreams of her day in court, expecting life to be like the movies that convinced her she would matter in court. The judge and prosecutor do not care about Cynthia’s words, speaking over her and eventually erasing her from the official record because it makes the trial easier.