Law and order is surely not merely a question of perception. But in West Bengal, a rise in every kind of violent crime has still not made a significant dent in the state’s image of itself as a haven of safety. Paradoxically, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s dual identity as chief minister and the person in charge of the home (police) ministry does not help matters in this respect. Speaking up for his state as the former, particularly to potential investors, often leads him to elide or evade his continuing inadequacies as the latter. The recent robbery at Rajarhat — a formidably armed affair with one brutal killing and a major loot — keeps up the grimness of the state’s law and order profile. In this, Calcutta and its suburbs are no exception, although the villages throw up their own crime profile. The Rajarhat episode saw the use of double-barrelled guns and bombs by a gang of ten. The police response — two constables in a van — was obviously no match to this, both in promptness and equipment. Neither the killing and burgling, nor the escape of the gang could be prevented, in spite of the fact that a mega-city project was just round the corner from the burgled house.
This is not the only kind of crime that makes West Bengal a radically unsafe state to live in. First, crimes against women, the most brutal cases of rape and gang-rape, have been on the rise, even as women out on the streets in the more urban areas are being subjected to other forms of harassment and violence. What is disconcerting about these incidents is, of course, the willed and publicly projected oblivion of the political parties about this reality, especially when the involvement of party cadre is the common feature in many of these episodes. Second, the run-up to the panchayat elections in the state has unleashed an order of violence in the rural areas which is inextricable from this larger picture of brutality, either actively condoned or denied by the state, across the entire political spectrum. There are two major and perennial hurdles to remedying this scenario. First, the inadequate police infrastructure in the rural and suburban areas, in terms of personnel as well as communication systems. Policing remains concentrated most efficiently within metropolitan areas, leaving the suburbs and villages in an outer darkness of crime. Second, the link between criminals, party cadre and the police sustains the rot in the law and order machinery of the state. Looking away, providing false comfort or the upbeat rhetoric of an increasingly investor-friendly state will not alter the actual brutalities the state is showing itself capable of.