Hostile Witnessess - Overly Defiant Peril to Rule of Law

July 2, 2008

One of the faces of those accused, lucidly displayed roguish grins coupled with intervallic winks. As you may have guessed, the solemn "nothing but the truth," was giving way to disconcerting hostility within the witness stand.

Could this be construed to mean that the witness has taken a little freaky, a little repulsive, and a little more dratted stand that is just all-compromise and no rectitude? Whatever!

The fact that an unnerving predicament as such, isn’t confined to flicks like Damini became obvious when activist Teesta Setalvad disclosed on CNN-IBN's India 360 that "witnesses turn hostile in 80 per cent of the cases." And all of a sudden, the unsullied truth appeared all the more stripped in the face of evil.
So who's causing Damini all the hostility?

Oh, there are a whole slew of infamous nominees for "The Chaddha" in a villainous role. And if you will concur with Joseph Joubert that "Power" can even make "women love old men" – then accepting the envy of young men to read out the thank-you speech, shouldn’t stick out to be a choice prejudicial. But what about the other dirty minds that make up the entourage? Well, let's see how they're doing.

Justice delayed is denied, has gotten to be so much of a cliché that even if it were pronounced by a solicitous invitee at a television discussion (and will he so predictably speak of the woes of his middle-class brethren), the usual idealistic fervor ascribed to it though, is like to go unnoticed.

Perhaps one of the primary reasons the aphorism has lost its bling appeal, is the build-up of cases that has already reached its efflorescence. Now there is the rub: Are those cases diehard like Chaddha's taareeks or what?

"Once you start a litigation," said Justice V R Krishna Iyer, "please execute a will, naming the person who will continue the case in court." And for someone who is already in Dutch with intimidations too recurrent, it is devastating.

Ever wondered what would become of Damini were she not rescued by barrister Govind's solid ddhai kilo ke hath, when those hell-raisers tried to gang up on her? It is something like that.

Former president A P J Abdul Kalam recognizes this: "Dispensation of justice becomes a mockery if it gets delayed and becomes long drawn-out, making it patently unjust and unfair to all concerned," said the people's president at the inauguration of a seminar at the Indian Law Institute.

The unbridled pawns of perjury further exemplify dashed hopes that have virtually checked our system, rendering the witness vulnerable to attack. That perjury raises its arm with the zeal of a first-grader to answer the roll-call of our cases, is evident in the words of a judge that find mention in The Sunday Express: "If all courts started taking action against falsehood, perjury cases would outnumber all other kinds of cases."

So how many of the 2.59 crore cases, pending in our country has this creep defiled already?

While the figure is speculative, it brings to light the inevitable question of this column: What could we, the people do, to fend our "eyes and ears of justice"?

The call for increased protection may sound pretty mundane, action, regrettably, is unprecedented. Such ignoble state of affairs could be averted if witnesses were protected by a specialized unit. The way I see it, such a unit should have a high probability of success at reining in the peril we call hostility, a peril, that has grown overly defiant to the rule of law.

Now it wouldn’t take a crystal ball gazer to foretell that the prevalent trial mileage would most definitely, frustrate this object. Actually, that shouldn’t be much of a bother if more judges are added – who on an average, are just 10 for a population of a million!

Perhaps the most crucial point in this regard would be the concern expressed by Bina Ramani (witness in Jessica's case): "He [the witness] needs an assurance from the authorities that he will be protected." – And that folks, cannot, in any circumstance, be taken lightly.

Still, it doesn’t end there. What about those who argue that such measures would exert a strain on our almost-sucked-dry resources?

Look, when a witness can waive his pursuit of happiness for that of an innocent's; can't the system that is supposed to be working toward our welfare, do its part of a little funding? Is justice seen too trivial a thing to deserve monetary attention? Or is it that the unreflective cynic in us has let this one slip away huh?

And speaking of sacrifice, Damini sure did one heckuva job alright. Despite the perpetrators forever barking ab tum kya karoge at her, she held on to her moral conviction of hauling them into jail. But the factor that literally clinched the deal for her was this: She braved the victim's storm to give a new meaning to her life – and ended up giving one to her death.

Nevertheless, it is still not hard to figure out why a hostile witness is just about bereft of the Damini factor; May be because in a way, he is a "coward", who, according to Marvin Kitman, is "a hero with a wife, kids, and a mortgage."

And if that is what he thinks he is, then its time someone tells him to his face, "You know pal, you are not the only one who's got these goodies."

Sajid Ali - Archives:

Sajid Rahim Ali
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