Adequate witness protection is required if the justice is to be fairly done. However, there have been incidents where the government fails to provide protection to witnesses leading to the case falling flat.
The issue of witness protection comes once again into the limelight post Khairlanji massacre. Siddharth (47) and Rajendra Gajibiye (33)– two eyewitnesses, who were related to the Bhotmange family that was massacred have appealed for protection from the CISF instead of the local police following shattered trust. Besides, the Gajibiyes have also raised a few demands after their voices fell on the ‘deaf ears of the authorities’.
|Siddharth Gajibiye and his brother Rajendra at a press meet on Friday. (Photo: Ritesh Uttamchandani/HT)|
On September 29, 2006, four members of the Bhotmange family – mother Surekha (45), daughter Priyanka (19), sons Sudhir (18) and Roshan (17) – were brutally killed in broad day light allegedly by members of upper caste over property dispute in Khairlanji village in Bhandara district of northeast Maharashtra. All the family members were paraded naked in the village and the mother-daughter were raped before killing them. The sole survivor, Bhayyalal Bhotmange survived as he was working in his field.
Fearing for their lives, the brothers have not tilled their 50-acre land in over two months. "We want protection from the CISF or any other agency since we do not trust the local police. It is due to their inaction that the entire incident took place, so how can we trust them now. We check the fields when the night falls. We fear we may be attacked if we visit the fields during the day," said Siddharth while talking to media.
NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace and Khairlanji Action Committee had organised a press conference in Mumbai to highlight the threat perception to the Gajibiyes and also to lend a voice to their demands. While ordering for a re-trial in the Best Bakery carnage in Vadodara, Gujarat, the Supreme Court had stressed the need for witness protection which set a trailblazing precedent for other cases like Jessica Lall case and Priyadarshini Mattoo case.
Rajendra also said that a CBI officer who identified himself as ‘Sharma Saheb’ had advised him and Rajendra to leave their residence at Dhusada village. "Sharma saheb said that not only the accused but also those of my own Dalit community were against us and there was a definite threat to us," added Rajendra.
"After four of the accused were released on bail on November 30, there was a victory procession in the village. This has further led to creating an intimidating environment in the village," said Rajendra.
Expressing dismay at the fact that the CBI chargesheet has ruled out rape in the case of Priyanka, one of the victims Rajendra said, "her body was recovered in a naked condition with wounds all over her body." If the intention was only to kill, then what was the need to peel off clothes, he questions emphasising that a thorough investigation is needed in the case.
Despite assurance from Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh the two witnesses are unsure about their future. The government has set up a fast-track court for speedy trial in the case, however, the brothers have demanded for a special court. "We have also asked for a public prosecutor of our choice, however, the government did not even consider our demand," Rajendra told Hindustan Times.
Advocate Sashi Bhushan Wahane practicing in Nagpur has also been working with the Dalits for some time now. Bhotmange and the Gajibiyes requested that he be appointed a public prosecutor in the case.
"The Supreme Court verdict in Best Bakery case states that the victims and witnesses must be given a say while appointing a special public prosecutor in sensitive cases," said Teesta Setalvad, secretary for Citizens for Justice and Peace.
Besides Setalvad also insisted that a report prepared by Inspector General of Police Pankaj Gupta regarding the Khairlanji killings should be made public since it would provide an accurate picture of the incident.
The Gajibiyes also said that there had been little support for them from the local Dalit leaders and said they had not received any support from any of the political parties.