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Predators on prowl in protector's garb

Calcutta, Aug. 13: Sakina Bibi had gone to Haroa police station to bring her abusive husband to book. But the the long arm of law reached out only to harass her some more.

The 27-year-old has alleged that she was repeatedly molested by sub-inspector Sukesh Ranjan Pal at the police station.

'Whenever I went to the police station' an official behaved indecently with me,' she told reporters today.

Sakina, a resident of Haroa on the city's northern fringes, lodged a complaint with the North 24-Parganas superintendent of police yesterday.

Trouble started brewing eight months after Sakina tied the knot with Saiful Mollah in 1997. She walked out of his home and filed a case in the Basirhat subdivisional court, accusing her husband of physical and mental torture.

'The court order went in my favour and my husband was ordered to pay me Rs 26,001 as compensation,' she said.

But Saiful refused to pay and Sakina decided to turn to the police for help. She soon realised that the help would come for a price.

'Whenever I went to the police station ' which must have been over 10 times ' I would be asked for sexual favours or some bribe if I wanted by husband to be arrested for not following the court order,' she said.

However, Sakina added, she had to continue going there because she could see no other way to make Saiful cough up the compensation. 'I would always be stopped by some officials whenever I wanted to meet the officer-in-charge,' she said.

Things came to a head last Wednesday when Sakina went to Haroa police station in the afternoon. Pal asked her to wait in a separate enclosure next to the waiting room.

'There, he handed me a bunch of keys, asking me to go to his residential quarters (which is on the premises),' Sakina alleged. When she refused, 'the officer molested me and said I would not get justice unless I gave in to his demand'.

Sakina then knocked on the doors of CPDR, an NGO in Calcutta, which took up her case ' she is too poor to fight for justice on her own. Her family of five, including her blind father, lives on land leased for farming and by sewing clothes.

Pal denied Sakina's charge point-blank. 'This is a conspiracy against me. I have already told my superiors whatever I have to,' he asserted.

Officer-in-charge of Haroa police station Animesh Sinha Roy said: 'I am aware of such a complaint. However, Sakina Bibi has never approached me.'

Hinting that the charge could be cooked up, he said that with only one woman home guard at Haroa police station, incidents such as this have 'scared many officials', including him.

'I am not getting into the argument of who is guilty in this case ' the woman or the sub-inspector. But anyone can make false allegations when there are hardly any women officials to register cases from women complainants. We would feel a lot more secure with more women officers around.'

However, Praveen Kumar, the North 24-Parganas SP, said the sub-divisional police have been asked to inquire into the case. 'Stern action would be taken if the official is found guilty,' he said.

This is the second such incident at this police station. A similar allegation was levelled at another Haroa officer last September. A case was booked against him and he was suspended from the force. However, he is now out on bail.

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