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Neither seen nor heard

india Updated: Nov 11, 2008 21:08 IST

Hindustan Times
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In any civilised country, bail for a man accused of raping a minor would have evoked outrage. Not so in India. Rohit Monserratte, son of Goa’s powerful Education Minister, has been charged with raping a minor German girl, yet the police did nothing to oppose his bail. His partners in crime were allegedly Warren Alemao, nephew of the Public Works and Urban Development Minister Joaquim Alemao. To make matters easier for Monserratte to get off scot-free, the mother of the child has dropped all charges after being intimidated and harassed by powerful people. The mother expressed fears that her daughter may go the way of Scarlett Keeling, a British teenager who was raped and murdered in Goa earlier.

In both cases, influential people appear to have pulled strings to obfuscate the investigations. In the Scarlett case, there was a witness who claimed, and perhaps with justification, that he was too scared to speak out. Justice is so often subverted here because witnesses fear to come forward or are bought off by the accused. The Law Commission has done sterling work on the modalities of a credible witness protection programme for India which, of course, must be mouldering in some archive. It had recommended protection for witnesses even at the investigative stage, elaborately detailing how court proceedings could be conducted without the accused and witness coming into contact with each other.

In the US, so many cases have been successfully prosecuted thanks to witness being able to speak without fear or favour with the law-enforcement agencies going as far as to give them assumed identities and facilitating relocation. Here, the practice seems to be tarnish the reputation of the victim as seen in the Scarlett case and bury the real issue, that of murder or rape, in an avalanche of trivia. Another worrying fact is that while such delicate investigations are on, the police think nothing of revealing all to an eager media thus encouraging a national debate on the matter.

In the German minor’s case, from the efforts of the minister and his cohorts to get Rohit off the hook to details of the girl’s medical examination, there is nothing that has not been made public. Hopes that the sensational Scarlett case would bring about much-needed changes in investigative and judicial proceedings have been dashed as the German child’s case falls apart.

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