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On September 10, 2010, Rima Dawn’s body was found in a paddy field in Burdwan. The 21-year-old had attended classes in Burdwan town and was returning home to her village. She was believed to have been raped before she was throttled. But after a few initial reports, Rima’s case was forgotten by most newspapers and their readers. It is not known whether her killers were apprehended and it would be safe to say that the authorities remained unperturbed by the incident. According to reports, 3,029 cases of rape were filed in West Bengal in 2010, at least till October that year. Rima soon receded into this nameless, faceless number.

But some names strike at people’s minds like a whiplash. A few months later, in Barasat, Rajib Das would be killed while trying to save his sister, Rinku, from being molested. Within days of the murder, a policeman was suspended and a suspect arrested. A compensation package has been offered, the chief minister has visited the bereaved family, public demonstrations have been held. While such empathy is admirable, one cannot help wondering — why this case? Why Rajib and Rinku, not Rima? What makes certain names and faces stick in the public consciousness while others fade away?

The murder in Barasat seems to be encased in a set of fortuitous circumstances. For one, it happened when it did: in a politically charged atmosphere, with the assembly polls round the corner. It also happened where it did: in Barasat, on the outskirts of Calcutta. Reports saying that 69 FIRs, involving about 500 deaths, have been filed in West Midnapore since September 2010 failed to create a stir. For the average Calcuttan, such deaths occur far away, on the peripheries of the consciousness. There is nothing immediately relevant or threatening about them. Rajib’s death, close to the state’s capital, can’t be ignored. Yet, two months ago, when they found the body of a 17-year-old who had been bound and raped in Dadpur, just 45 kilometres away from Calcutta, nobody paid much attention.

But the attack on Rinku and her brother is not just another instance of violence. It cannot be discussed in isolation, without mention of the fact that the district magistrate’s bungalow was yards away, that Rinku banged on his gates to ask for help, that she was turned away. Although satiated with reports of violence, people were jolted by this criminal indifference. The policemen who refused to help and the magistrate, Vinod Kumar, who claimed that he had held an inquiry and found the allegations to be false, were as culpable as the attackers. During the famous Rizwanur Rahman murder case, public anger broke out when senior police officials were found to be in collusion with the accused. A similar anger has surfaced now. The forces of law failed Rajib that night — beneath the anger, people are also frightened by this.

Maybe the impact of the murder lies closer home. For many Calcuttans picking up their newspaper in the morning and switching on their television sets, the attack throws up some uncomfortable questions. Questions that confront policemen and civilians alike. Rajib died while his sister pleaded for help. The attack happened in Barasat, not far from our homes. Rinku might have been knocking on our doors. What if she had? Would we have helped her?

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