Insensitive government in West Bengal

Highlights

Insensitive government in West Bengal, Nilotpal Basu. Alas! It was not to be. Her world of innocence was rudely shattered on 25th of October.

To what lowest depths human savagery can degenerate became apparent with what a 16-year-old girl had to bear – alive and dead – could be one of the darkest deeds that society would ever witness! The teenager–the only daughter of a Bihari migrant from Samastipur–had brought her to Kolkata barely six months back despite his modest income as a taxi driver to realise her yearnings for pursuing better education than what was available in native Samastipur.

Alas! It was not to be. Her world of innocence was rudely shattered on 25th of October. A group of half a dozen goons forcibly took hold of her young body and mercilessly gangraped her for two hours. The police charge sheet now reveals that they had penetrated her 16 times.

The girl, brave enough and despite the family’s modest and rather helpless migrant status, pulled up courage to go to the local police station and filed a complaint clearly mentioning the name of the perpetrators. But little were they aware what were in store for them! In the killing fields of Mamata raj in Bengal today, such normal acts were construed as a terrible crime; more so, if the perpetrators happened to be associated with the ruling party. On their way back to home from the police station, the hapless girl was snatched from her parents and subjected to another round of gangrape. The girl lay unconscious near her home.

Shocked and anguished - response of women and human rights organisations to visit their home was met with resistance by the same hoodlums. The clear attempt was to deny contact with those who wanted to express solidarity. The media was also denied access to the victim while the police remained mute spectators to this thuggery.

The ordeal of the family did not stop there. Given the atmosphere of terror and intimidation in the locality, the family had to move out of that neighbourhood. But, the long hand of the criminals too powerful. They could trace the parents and the girl. These associates unleashed a vicious vilification campaign against the gangrape survivor.

December 23, 2012 was the fateful day when in the wake of mass upsurge against the horrific incident in a Delhi bus where the young girl who has come to be widely recognized as `Nirbhaya’ had to suffer and who subsequently succumbed to her injuries while she was brutalised, when the Government of India had instituted a committee headed by Justice J S Verma to come up with a comprehensive report on not only the circumstances which is resulting in an atmosphere of growing atrocities against women; but also a set of measures to rectify the situation. On the anniversary of Nirbhaya incident, this young girl on the outskirts of Kolkata was rescued from her home with 65 per cent burns. The initial information provided by the police suggested that the girl attempted suicide. But subsequently, two days later, in her statement to the police and doctors and which is now being treated as her dying declaration, the victim claimed that it was the goons, associates of her initial tormentors, who had set her to fire.

The last eight days of her life were also of struggle. The government hospital in which she was being treated did not have any special burns unit to treat the condition that she was in. The repeated pleadings of the family to the hospital authorities to shift her to an institution where facilities for such specialised treatment were available fell on deaf ears. She succumbed on the last day of 2013.

But, more tyranny was in store. The police, which in Bengal today, move only at the behest of the topmost political leadership, apprehended widespread protest. Consequently, they acted with rare insensitivity. Contrary to the family’s wish of cremating the girl the following day, they hijacked the body and took it to the crematorium for disposing it the very same evening. They were not even aware that they did not have the death certificate! The whole night the body remained under police custody in the open. But, forced that they could not do anything, police brought the body back to her poor father and put him under pressure to part with the death certificate. The whole night the poor man was tormented. They attempted the same thing early next morning and which was met with resistance.

But by now the simple migrant taxi driver from Samastipur was a man of steel. His fear evaporated with the loss of the perhaps the dearest thing of his life – his only daughter. He refused to go ahead with cremating the body before he met the Governor to register his protest and seek justice. He withstood all pressure from the administration to go back to Samastipur till he gets justice for this rarest of rare crime that her daughter has suffered.

It is really a grotesque commentary that even though the Government of Bihar to which the family belongs have come all the way to find out facts and console the inconsolable, the West Bengal Government – neither the political leadership nor the police and officials – have for once visited them with a word of sympathy. And, on top of that, the Chief Secretary of the state has come up with a stunning claim that police and the hospital authorities and, of course, the entire state administration had done everything possible to cooperate with the family! Protest over this horrific development is ‘politics over dead body’ which he strongly deplored.

While crimes against women show no signs of relenting; the state of West Bengal has shot ahead of all others in this field. Justice Verma is no more. His seminal report –submitted within a record one month – also seems to have been given a silent burial.

While it is true as somebody in course of discussion in Parliament described this a result of a lethal combination of ‘feudal patriarchy and neo-liberal consumerism’ in society, and which, indeed, needs a sustained struggle to be weeded out, more immediate and implementable recommendations on police reforms of the Verma report cry out in wilderness.

The report stated, “Government agencies must be duly compelled to perform their legal obligations and to proceed in accordance with the law against each and every person involved, irrespective of the height at which he is placed in the power set up. This is vital to prevent erosion of the Rule of Law and to preserve democracy in our country….” and ensure that this spirit is followed with “relation to the filing of each and every complaint by an individual and investigation of the complaint irrespective of the social and economic status of the complainant”. Kolkata’s Nirbhaya, as a national daily in its Editorial named her, lies dead and cold. Delhi ‘Nirbhaya’ did not give us a chance to save her. But this girl suffered for more than two months. Can we, as a society, people and nation allow this gruesome process to go on?

nilotpalbasu@gmail.com

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