Whilst there are no prizes for guessing that most of Marcellus’ clients come from the most affluent strata of Indian society, it is actually touching how much faith many of us have in the judicial machinery of the Indian state. Whilst the recent brutality in Hathras might have awakened us city dwellers to the grim realities of law & order in India, what this editorial in the Telegraph highlights is a more surprising development: “…the State’s passivity is evident in the fact that no system of witness protection is operative although a scheme for it was evolved in 2018 — astonishingly late, especially compared to many other countries.”
The editorial goes on to lay out the series of events leading up to the creation of the witness protection scheme: “A law against criminal intimidation of witnesses was introduced in 2006: it has not stopped murders, abductions and threats to witnesses, as in the Asaram case — they led to the formulation of the witness protection scheme in 2018 — or in the 2017 Unnao rape case, or the murder of the rape survivor of 2019, when she was going for a hearing.”
The fly in the ointment seems to be the fact that the protection has to be provided either by the police or by paramilitary forces. As many would expect, these organs of the state are dominated by the higher castes: “Threats to life and property, and imprisonment of witnesses on some charge or other, are easiest when the criminals come from dominant castes or sections of society and the victims are marginalized or underprivileged. A Human Rights Watch report of 2017 confirms this in the case of sexual crimes. Had the State wished to correct this imbalance of power and ensure justice, a witness protection programme would not have been lacking.”
So there you have it. Even if the courts are speeded up, even if the judges are straight, if you cannot have witnesses who will speak up in court, you have a legal system which will struggle to dispense justice: “India’s unequal society and the links of many politicians with criminals demand investment in, and trained manpower for, witness protection. The State’s lethargy in this matter cannot be regarded as innocent.”
It is because of this many perceptive commentators believe that what India needs urgently is not economic reform – the favourite bugbear of foreign investors – but legal reforms.
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