Public hearings have frequently served as a useful platform for drawing attention to the problems and distress of people. Unfortunately due to lack of follow-up work some of the problems and grievances raised here get attention only at the time of public hearing and not after this. Therefore it should be welcomed that a follow-up effort was made recently on October 5 at Atarra, district Banda (Uttar Pradesh) to find out the fate of those victims of injustice whose problems had been highlighted earlier at the time of a well-attended public hearing on August 13 at the same place. Both the public hearing and the follow up were organized by a voluntary organization Vidya Dham Samiti with the help of a sister organization of women called Chingari. Some of those who presented their serious grievances at the main hearing were invited again to speak about the happenings since then.
Perhaps the most pathetic and distressing case that had emerged at the main public hearing was that of Phoola. She had gone as a migrant worker from her village in this district to a remote part of Hamirpur district with her son Ramesh and her daughter. Here the contractor tried to molest her daughter and when Ramesh tried to protect his sister, he was beaten to death. This traumatized the devastated girl so much that she started fainting whenever she remembered the incident.
In the reporting of this public hearing in mid-August, the case of Phoola was highlighted the most in local newspapers and to the credit of the senior police officers, immediately a message arrived for Vidya Dham Samiti that the process of justice will be taken forward for Phoola. So Phoola, who had been neglected by the police of the area where the crime had been committed, got a better and more sympathetic hearing this time from the Banda district police. However more sympathy and politeness did not lead to any solid results, either in terms of strong action against the perpetrators of the crime or even in terms of compensatory payment reaching the family to which it is entitled.
Thus Phoola became more and more depressed. She is now leading a very lonely and difficult existence with her daughter in their village home. Some relatives who were helping them in all the running around for justice became tired and Phoola, despite all the courage she has shown, cannot do much on her own, as she also has to look after her daughter.
She could not come for the follow-up hearing but attempts were made to find out her latest situation and the account above is based on this.
Justice delayed is justice denied, and a helpless woman who has already suffered so much should not be left in a state of neglect. Instead active efforts should be made by the authorities to take justice to her.
Another important case highlighted at the public hearing was that of an honor killing and the efforts of Gulab Rajput to seek justice and truth in this context. When he came for the follow-up he appeared to be deeply disappointed as the process of justice had not moved much for him too.
Similar was the case of a dalit anti-corruption crusader Vijay Bahadur who had spoken at length about his efforts in the earlier public hearing but instead of action being taken against corrupt persons, he himself is being victimized.
Lalmani Tripathi had complained earlier regarding the path to his farm being blocked by others, and he also complained that he has not received justice yet.
While the idea behind the follow-up was to only call those who had voiced their grievances at the previous hearing, some new cases of injustice also came up at this hearing. Perhaps the most disturbing was the killing of Ram Milan, who is from a poor background, and injuries caused to his relatives in a violent incident which appear to have occurred over a very trivial matter. While three of those who attacked were arrested, but three others have been roaming freely and the victim’s family complained that they are threatening to attack them too. This draws attention to the very unfortunate tendency in this region regarding small disputes or incidents suddenly blowing into serious violence sometimes resulting in killings too. While protection and justice in this case is the immediate need, wider campaigns are needed to stop such resort to extreme violence over small matters.
One also hopes that at least after this follow-up the many serious grievances of people voiced at the public hearing and its follow-up effort will get better attention from the authorities.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. He is a senior award-winning journalist and author. His recent books include Man over Machine (Gandhian ideas for our times), When the Two streams Met (Freedom Movement of India) and Planet in Peril.