The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Molest victims avoid probe

Goaltore (West Midnapore), May 4: Residents of Omrapota, the small village that hit the headlines on April 26 when five minor girls were allegedly violated by a group of men, seemed to have gone into hiding today to avoid an investigating team from the state women’s commission.

None of the victims and eyewitnesses, who formed the group of guests who were waylaid by a gang of criminals while returning from a wedding in another village, was available to recount the nightmarish experience to commission members Rama Das, Bharati Mutsuddi and Gairika Ghosh.

“It’s as if the entire village went missing on Sunday. Anyone we spoke to said ‘I am not from this village. I am a visitor’,” the members said.

At the end of their day-long visit to the troubled village, the three members told reporters they were “unhappy” with the “complete” absence of victims and witnesses. During the day, they had managed to speak to only two relatives of victims.

Rama Das, vice-chairperson of the commission, said the team might have to visit the village again.

“The villagers are terrified about the way the parties are pressuring them and about the way the media has reported the incident. This raises serious concern about the future of the victims,” she added. Even the handful of villagers present during the team’s visit were tight-lipped about last Saturday’s incident.

“It might be true that the molested girls are afraid to speak, but what about the other witnesses' Why are the rest not speaking up'” Das said.

The members clarified that the minor girls were molested, not raped. “We have examined the medical report of the victims where two medical officers have said the women were not raped. They were taken out and molested. However, the incident was reported as rape in the media,” Mutsuddi said.

The commission is not taking the incident lightly despite the “technical” difference between molestation and rape. “The punishment of the culprits might be less severe because it is molestation,” Mutsuddi said.

The commission members grilled the officer-in-charge of Goaltore police station, Shyamal Das, one of the police officials facing a departmental inquiry. They asked him why a case was not started immediately despite an FIR being lodged on April 27, why he did not intervene despite the Chandrakona Road police outpost informing him of the incident and whether he was not clear about the area under his jurisdiction.

The commission members questioned that if the incident took place outside his jurisdiction, how he could later take up the case. They wanted a clarification on whether a complaint could be lodged at any police station other than the one where the incident took place.

The commission will submit its report to the chairperson soon.

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