| Bir Singh Mahata being taken to jail from the Purulia court on Friday. A Telegraph picture
Calcutta/Purulia, May 12: Forward Bloc MP Bir Singh Mahata was jailed for 10 years today for a rape committed 24 years ago.
With three associates, Mahata, then a secretariat member of the party's Purulia unit, had gang-raped a housewife in November 1982.
He was chargesheeted the following year, but the case remained buried for over two decades until a fast-track court dug it up last September along with several others pending for inexplicably long periods.
The Purulia district court today also sent Mahata's three associates ' Tipui Kamar, Dhan Singh Mura and Budhu Singh Mura ' to jail for 10 years and fined them Rs 5,000 each.
Another member of their gang, Ghasu Singh Mura, has died.
When acting district sessions judge Subhas Chandra Chatterjee read out the verdict, Mahata had his head down, though it was not clear whether in shame or to draw up in his mind a course of action.
'I shall move the higher court against the order. I've been framed,' he said while stepping out of the packed courtroom and heading for the prison van.
The MP was taken to the district jail, about 2 km away.
Mahata was first elected to the Lok Sabha from Purulia in a bypoll in 1992. He was re-elected in 1996, '98, '99 and 2004.
According to police records, early on the morning of November 21, 1982, Mahata and 32 others had stormed the house of a small farmer, Paran Bhakat, at Parsidi village in Bagmundi, about 350 km from Calcutta, and looted and ransacked it. Five members of the gang, including the Bloc leader, then raped Paran's wife Renubala.
Paran's brother Arjun Chandra Bhakat lodged a police complaint the same day. Medical tests confirmed the rape and Renubala also made a statement before a judicial magistrate on December 11, 1982, but the case did not come up for hearing.
The police today said there was nothing exceptional in that as many other cases were also hanging fire in the district court.
'Mahata's crime is more heinous than murder and deserves exemplary punishment,' the judge said today.
However, hundreds of Bloc supporters, who had assembled on the court premises, refused to accept that their MP was a rapist.
The Bloc leadership told a news conference in Calcutta that the party would move a higher court against the order. 'Our MP has been framed in the rape case and we will combat it both legally and politically,' the party general secretary and MP, Debabrata Biswas, said this afternoon.
Asked if Mahata would be asked to resign, he said 'no'.
Half the fine collected from the four convicts will go to the victim as compensation for her 'mental agony, pain and trauma'.
Paran said he was 'relieved', but would be happier if Mahata is dismissed as MP for 'violating my innocent wife'.
He will plead with the President to throw Mahata out of the House, Paran added.
Mahata is the second politician sentenced to such a long stint in prison in the past year. The former SUCI MLA from Kultali in South 24-Parganas, Prabodh Purkait, was sentenced to life on August 19, 2005.
Purkait, who is now in jail, was convicted of a double murder.