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Gaffe more telling than million letters

NCW chief Mamta Sharma tries to console the father of the girl. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, Jan. 7: The National Commission for Women (NCW) today confused the father of the girl who died after being raped twice with that of another girl gang-raped in the same district in Bengal.

The callous mix-up is not only a pointer to the relentless replay of crimes against women in the same zones but also a telling statement on the mechanical response that rolls off the statutory conveyor belt.

When commission chief Mamta Sharma met the father of the girl who was brutalised in Madhyamgram in October and lost her life on New Year’s Eve, she took notes. Since Sharma had rejoined after a break, it was assumed that she was familiarising herself with the details of the case.

Later, Shamina Shafiq, the NCW member in charge of Bengal, asked the father while recording his statement in her office: “Wasn’t your daughter deaf and mute?”

Taken aback, the father, who had already broken down, replied that his daughter could hear as well as speak. The father then left to meet the President at Rashtrapati Bhavan, where he demanded death penalty for the accused.

Soon after, Shafiq said: “I am confused. This must be some other case.”

It was.

Shafiq was referring to another gang rape in another place in North 24-Parganas, the district where Madhyamgram is also located.

On October 31 — five days after the 16-year girl was first assaulted in Madhyamgram — a deaf-and-mute girl, also aged 16, was allegedly gang-raped at an autorickshaw stand in Baduria, around 50km from Madhyamgram. She was admitted to a nursing home in Calcutta and discharged after a fortnight while the other girl was allegedly set on fire in Dum Dum.

“There have been multiple cases from there, and now when the father in his statement to us said that the girl was not deaf and mute, I am confused. We take suo motu cognisance of cases that we get from newspaper reports compiled by our team,” said Shafiq.

The NCW member then listed what appears to be the standard operating procedure: writing letter after letter. The commission is a statutory body with an annual budget of around Rs 9 crore and has the powers of a civil court in summoning people and seeking information but cannot do much beyond making recommendations.

“Based on newspaper reports, we first sent the letter after news of her gang rape broke, then we sent another letter after it was reported that she had attempted suicide. It was only on January 1 that we came to know that she was murdered,” Shafiq said.

NCW chief Sharma also said her team had written a slew of letters to police in Bengal.

However, Shafiq could not readily confirm what she had written in the letters and whether they were about the girl who survived or the one who died. The cabinet where the file with the letters is kept could not be opened as the employee was on leave, Shafiq said.

But she added: “The West Bengal Commission for Women has been completely callous in this case.”

Contacted, Sunanda Mukherjee, the chief of the Bengal commission for women, said she was one call away for the NCW to seek information on the Madhyamgram assault. “The NCW did not contact me. I visited the girl after she was hospitalised and spent an hour with her in which she explained what had transpired. I assigned a psychologist to talk with her,” Mukherjee said.

She added that burdened with cases of domestic violence, rape and trafficking, she had not been able to follow up the case. “I am shattered by her death. I can’t tell you how I regret not following up the case. I handed over the case to the Child Welfare Committee in the district because the girl was a minor.”

Today, the NCW chief assured the father that another letter would be written and a delegation would be sent. “I will write a letter to the chief minister and will send a team to West Bengal by January 24,” Sharma said.

The letter will demand monetary compensation, police protection and medical aid for the family — the format similar to dozens sent to chief ministers by the NCW almost daily, said a source in the commission which has no control over state panels.

According to a report of the National Crime Records Bureau, 30,942 cases of crime against women were reported in Bengal in 2012 — the highest in the country. State officials had earlier said the figure suggested that more people were summoning courage to file complaints, which need not be the case in all states.

A rights activist said the NCW response was more the rule than an exception. “In most cases, the NCW relies on newspaper reports to take cognisance of incidents such as these. Only in cases that become big, they send teams that file perfunctory reports, which are sent to the state government for action. No one follows up from there,” said Rishi Kant, an activist.

“These statutory bodies are useless and they sit in Delhi and pass judgement,” the activist added.