By Ila Ananya
Senior bureaucrats in Bangalore just woke up to the need for a witness protection programme in cases of violence against women and children that would help ensure that the perpetrators of violence wouldn’t be let off.
The two-day discussion about safety of women and children in cities saw a conversation specifically related to the need for witness protection in cases of violence against women and children. It reminded us of how the Supreme Court in March this year demanded to know why Haryana and Uttar Pradesh hadn’t given security to the witnesses in the rape cases against Asaram Bapu and ordered the government to do this immediately. But this questioning in itself came too late, because out of the 10 witnesses in the case, three had already been killed and seven had been attacked to intimidate them into silence. This of course isn’t the first time this is happening.
It’s true that it is very necessary to have a witness protection programme in place. The discussion in Bangalore said this was particularly important in high-profile cases where the accused has a lot of power. However, while we agree wholeheartedly with this serious push for a witness protection programme, there is also need to broaden this category. As multiple cases have shown, it isn’t only a bystander who witnesses a crime who needs protection, but the victim of the crime as well. We also need well-established protection programmes for those who have survived assault.
For instance, in the Muzaffarnagar communal riots in September 2013, it isn’t only that justice has been delayed for the Muslim women who were sexually assaulted. The women have been repeatedly threatened with consequences if they don’t withdraw their cases against the accused. One woman was offered 15 lakh to withdraw her case, but when she refused, the accused, who lives in the same village as her, threatened to kill her and her family. Another woman withdrew her case after she was denied police protection even though three of the accused men had held a pistol to her son’s head and demanded that she say she had filed a false rape case. More recently, a woman in Uttar Pradesh was also forced to drink acid by two men who gang raped her because the police hadn’t done anything to help her.
So while it’s great that we are beginning to talk about much needed witness protection programmes, we need to do more than just talking about this, and actually implement a protection programme for survivors of violence.