The new year celebrations in Kolkata were cut short with the city witnessing protest marches condemning the Trinamool government’s failure in ensuring women’s safety. A young gangrape victim, set on fire by her tormentors, had succumbed to burn injuries in a city hospital on December 31, triggering outrage. The girl was pregnant. Even though the two men, whose names were mentioned in the victim’s dying declaration, were arrested, the turn of events from the beginning of this gruesome episode points to the police’s incompetence.
The teenager was raped twice, first on October 25 in Madhyamgram, on the city’s northern fringes, and again on the very day she had lodged a complaint in the local police station. Her family had no option but to change residence because their daughter’s safety was at stake. They were scared even after six members of the gang were arrested following protests from local residents. The girl was found with critical burn injuries on December 23 — the day, a close associate of the gang leader turned up and threatened her to withdraw the complaint.
This is the third gangrape in the state to have attracted fierce criticism for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s dispensation — the other two are Park Street and Kamduni rapes. In the first two incidents, the CM’s callous remarks — dubbing these crimes as the CPI-M’s efforts to malign her government — had shocked even her supporters. In spite of the arrests of all the accused in the Park Street and Kamduni crimes and the cases being tried in courts, the people are still enraged.
And they have reasons to be so. Banerjee cannot deny the fact that under her watch, the state has become increasingly unsafe for women and girls. The NCRB data show Bengal topping the list for two successive years (2011 and 12) with 29,133 and 30,492 cases, respectively, of crimes against women.
To be fair, it wasn’t that the previous Left Front government’s rule was a shining example of women’s safety. The Bantala rape during Jyoti Basu’s tenure still lingers in public memory; as do several others among the countless unreported cases of CPI-M cadre and police-sponsored brutality. The brief Congress rule preceding the Left’s was equally horrific. But that doesn’t absolve the current government of its failure in instilling the fear of law among criminals and ensuring police accountability. December 16 Delhi gang rape was a watershed for many reasons. Among other things, it propelled women, till then wary of social stigma, to seek justice. Banerjee, a woman Chief Minister, should have got the cue and put strict measures in place to stem the rising incidence of crime. After all, she rode to power on the promise of poriborton (change), all the more reason for public disappointment with her and her government.
In this latest case the treatment meted out to the victim’s body shows the desperation of the police as well as the opposition parties. In his meeting with Governor MK Narayan, the girl’s father complained about the tyranny of the police being in a hurry to cremate the corpse before the affair snowballed even further. Failing as a constructive opposition, the CPI-M was quick to exploit the incident by taking out a procession with the body of the deceased.
The writing is clear for the people of Bengal. They have to learn to live in fear. Neither the government nor the opposition are sincere about ensuring the safety of women and girls.