Failing the witness

Behbal Kalan saga takes a ghastly turn

Failing the witness

The deposition of a witness is the key to the cause of justice. To ensure that the trial is not compromised and the case is successfully prosecuted, it is the duty of the State to take every measure to protect him. Any lapse in dealing with his legitimate fears for his safety is a matter of serious concern, especially if the accused or their accomplices are powerful people equipped with tools to harass and intimidate him. The protection of the witness who risks his life to make depositions before the courts or commissions of inquiry is also essential to get to the bottom of the crime. The death of Surjit Singh, an important witness in the high-profile Behbal Kalan police firing case that claimed two lives in October 2015 and put some cops in the dock, is alarming. Surjit died of a heart attack last month. The case has taken a ghastly turn, with his family pinning the blame on the stress and mental agony caused by tactics employed to harass him for giving statements to the panel. Threatening postures, as also financial lures to pressure witnesses away from the proceedings, are known to be commonly employed.

And when Justice Ranjit Singh, former chairman of an inquiry commission, who recommended that security be given to Surjit, blames us ‘all’ for ‘being insensitive to the plight of this person who suffered at the hands of the police because he had helped the cause of justice’, the matter acquires credence. The authorities must bring to book not only those who harassed Surjit, but also those who had not listened to his repeated grievances and pleas for justice.

The Behbal Kalan saga has dictated the political and religious narrative in Punjab in the past over four years. It has seen two commissions of inquiry, an SIT, a CBI report and court proceedings. But the victims are still awaiting justice even as the forces inimical to them are seeming to ride roughshod over them.

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