The dominant ethos of civic life is most acutely manifested among the underprivileged. Women still remain the largest single underprivileged segment in India, across castes, classes and regions. And there can no longer be any doubt about the ethos of violence in West Bengal. As a result, the field examination of the recent incident in Goaltore by members of the national women’s commission has evoked the kind of criticism that no state can boast about. It is not unexpected that they should find that of the five minor girls hauled away by the robbers who had looted the wedding-party on the bus they halted, three were raped and two molested. But the sharpest criticism by the NCW members was reserved for the police. The long delay in even acknowledging that rapes had taken place, the efforts of two police stations to pass the buck to each other, the lack of first information reports, the neglect in having the girls medically examined on time, were all separately remarked upon. The chairperson has gone as far as to say that the commission might ask for Central intervention because of the state government’s “negligence” in activating the law enforcing agencies.
It is easy to make a political issue out of this, but it does bring out two very serious problems in West Bengal. The police in the state seem to have become strangers to the word accountability. Nothing could be worse than a politicized police force, and terrible warnings of what it is capable of have been coming thick and fast in the last few years, even months. The police’s closeness both to politics and to criminals has not only bred violence among members of the force, but has also made them completely inert whenever a crime involving followers of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is concerned. That this situation has not been corrected is an index of that party’s interest in keeping it unchanged. The other problem is an allied one. Women in West Bengal, once considered one of the safest states with Calcutta one of the safest metros, are perhaps now as insecure as any in the less praised states. The camaraderie with criminals that the police enjoy is bad enough, but the protection given to criminals by local political leaders is also a genuine source of frustration for dutiful policemen. The accused are often in and out of police stations in a jiffy. Improving this larger situation will not be achieved by Central intervention. Unless the West Bengal government acknowledges this as an independent issue and a shocking state of affairs and takes proactive steps to fight it, nothing will change for the women here.