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Brutalised, in death too
Body politics, played by both sides

9.23am: The hearse carrying the body of the girl, which was at the Nimtala Crematorium in north Calcutta till 1.30am on Wednesday but went back to her Dum Dum home because the police did not have the death certificate, returned to Nimtala at 6.45am. One of the first Citu flags made its appearance at 9.23am
9.26am: CPM leaders and supporters shift the body from the hearse hired by the police to a mini-truck
9.32am: The police block the truck that set out for the state Citu headquarters off AJC Bose Road, around 6km from Nimtala. The police say the body should be cremated
9.32am: A policeman removes the ignition key from the truck and asks the person near the wheel to get off
9.33am: After a scuffle between the police and CPM supporters, the person returns to the truck but the key is with the police
10.16am: The police eventually give a key, which does not fit. The real key is given later. The truck is allowed to leave with another person at the wheel
10.36am: The truck heads to the Citu headquarters through Beadon Street
10.59am: The girl’s body is taken to the Citu headquarters. CPM leaders pay their respects. A procession with the body reaches SN Banerjee Road. Most CPM leaders head to Esplanade for a protest while the family takes the body back to Nimtala. The cremation takes place at 5pm. Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta

Calcutta, Jan. 1: Forty policemen, including a deputy commissioner, an assistant commissioner and two officers-in-charge, stood guard at night.

Several CPM leaders and hundreds of party supporters poured out, put their collective might to work and accomplished their mission for the day.

The object of their attention was a lifeless body — of a 16-year-old girl who was gang-raped twice, forced to flee her home, intimidated to withdraw her complaint, found engulfed in flames at home and died on Tuesday.

The macabre show of might played out for 27 hours between two flanks today as police tried to rush through the last rites of the girl and Citu, the CPM’s labour arm, wanted to stamp its symbol on the body. The result: the girl’s body was taken back from the crematorium — for the second time in less than 24 hours — after a melee.

In the 27 hours between her death and her cremation, the body travelled more than 50km — from RG Kar hospital to Nimtala to Dum Dum on Tuesday night and from Dum Dum to Nimtala to the Citu office off AJC Bose Road and back to the crematorium on Wednesday — in a who-would-blink-first contest.

Neither side is known to have shown any such urgency or sense of purpose to protect the girl and her family when she was alive. What was initially considered a suicide bid is now being treated as a murder, based on the girl’s statement that she was set on fire.

The sequence of events makes it clear that the administration and the political establishment failed to step in when they should have.

The police are also having to face a charge that strikes at the root of the cosmopolitan character of Calcutta.

“I told him that the police had threatened me that they would like to see how I drive a taxi in the Dum Dum area (if a quick cremation was not agreed to). The governor said he would look into the matter,” said the girl’s father who called on M.K. Narayanan today.

The family is from Bihar. Six months ago, the girl and her mother had joined the father who has been working in Calcutta for a year and a half.

Last night, a reporter of this newspaper had heard Sukumar Nandi, the officer-in-charge of the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport police station, say: “Ami dekhbo tui ki kore ekhane taxi chalash. Ja, Bihar chole jaa (I will see how you drive your taxi here. Go back to Bihar).”

Contacted, officer Nandi said tonight: “I went there for security reasons. I do not remember having said anything like that.”

At the centre of the storm was who gets to hijack the body — the police or the Opposition party.

“Imagine the plight of the parents who have lost their daughter and are not getting the custody of their daughter’s body. The police and the politicians should have both respected the privacy of the family and left them alone,” said an uncle of the girl after her cremation at 5pm today.

The CPM’s official reason for seeking the body was that the girl’s father is a Citu supporter. Citu wanted to keep the body overnight in a mortuary so that the trade union could march with it today.

However, around 8pm on Tuesday, the police accompanying the girl’s relatives to Peace Haven, a mortuary on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road, diverted the hearse towards the crematorium at Nimtala.

“At Nimtala, the vehicle carrying the body was surrounded by the police in such a manner as if she was a threat to law and order,” said an officer of Calcutta police.

Death certificate

However, the police had made one false assumption: that the death certificate would be with one of the relatives in the hearse. It was instead with an uncle who was accompanied by CPM leaders on a van that was trailing the hearse but had not reached Nimtala with the police.

A group of CPM supporters from the adjoining locality had by then assembled at the crematorium.

At the girl’s home in Dum Dum, the police pressured her parents to go to the crematorium along with the uncle who had the death certificate. The girl’s father demurred and shut himself in the house.

Bereft of options, the police brought the body to her home but it was kept in the hearse in the lane. “Four armed police personnel, along with the officer-in-charge of the airport police station, stood guard near the body as if they were expecting us to hijack the body,” said a relative of the girl. Around 35 other policemen were deployed in the vicinity.

A police officer said the parents did not lay down any demand on Tuesday night when they were asked why they were against the cremation then.

Three pleas

At the Citu office on Wednesday morning, the girl’s father made three requests.

Security for his family

Permission to submit a memorandum to the governor to apprise him of police atrocities

Help from the police to get their belongings back from their Dum Dum home where they did not want to live any longer.

By 5.30am on Wednesday, the police had managed to persuade the parents to accompany them to the crematorium.

By 7am, CPM leaders like Shyamal Chakraborty, former MLA Rabin Deb and former MP Sudhangshu Sil had reached the crematorium and demanded that they be allowed to take the body to the Citu state office off AJC Bose Road.

“Where were these people when our girl was raped, not once but twice? Where were they when the police refused to co-operate? Where were they when our girl was facing immense torture from her tormentors? If they had come to our help then, our girl would not have died,” said one of the girl’s uncles.

CPM explains

CPM leaders today said questions about their delayed intervention were “unfortunate”, adding that they had stood by the family all along.

“When the local SFI, DYFI and the women’s wing of the party learnt about the rape for the first time, they visited the family and also met the local police demanding that an FIR be drawn up and the accused arrested,” said CPM central committee member Md Salim.

According to him, after the girl was raped the second time, a delegation of women from the party met the SP. “As the local police were denying that she had been raped a second time, we were trying to convince the cops that the crime had taken place again,” he said.

Salim added that CPM supporters faced constant threats from Trinamul activists on the ground — a telling statement on the state of the party that once lorded over Bengal.

The district and the state CPM leadership got involved only after the girl was hospitalised with burns. “We did not hit the streets from the beginning as we were busy ensuring a proper administrative response…. Had we made it an issue, we would have been accused of politicising it,” he said.

“The government has been trying to suppress the tragic incident and we are protesting,” Salim added.

Trinamul leader Mukul Roy said: “The Opposition is trying to make political capital out of a tragedy to mislead the people. This is unfortunate.”

Police give in

Around 10.15am, the police allowed the leaders to take the body to the state Citu headquarters as they realised they could not have their way once again in the absence of the death certificate.

Once the body reached the Citu office, the parents were taken upstairs and the body was placed on a slab of ice on the ground floor. “Do not worry. We will take care of you. You are safe here,” Rabin Deb, a CPM state secretariat member, assured the girl’s father. The family is spending the night at Shramik Bhavan, the Citu headquarters.

Later in the day, the father met the governor and named the police officers who had instructed him on Tuesday to cremate his daughter’s body “at once” and return to Bihar.

The governor told the family they were free to live wherever they wanted, the father said.

Collapse all around

The information available so far suggests that no one helped the family when it mattered the most. Every side has its reasons — the police say they were not aware of the threats, a clerical reason that sounds callous since the girl was raped the second time because she had dared to lodge a police complaint. Such a charge alone should have resulted in immediate protection to the family.

The political system also failed. The ruling party’s aversion to acknowledging crimes against women is well known. The Opposition is citing intimidation by the ruling party — and indirectly confirming its disconnect with the people.

The last straw appears to have been the one-month deadline set by the landlady on the family to move. Bela Sil, who let out the Dum Dum house, told The Telegraph today: “I’m not aware of what caused her death. But since I earn a living from letting out my rooms, I feared that any ill reputation might deter future tenants. Now my son has been falsely indicted in the case.”