Midnapore, Aug. 10: A CPM leader was sentenced to death today for murdering a bidi worker seven years ago to put the lid on a rape charge that the woman had slapped on him.
The fast-track first court in Contai sent Purnendu Patra, a member of the CPM's branch committee, to the gallows and awarded life imprisonment to his partner in crime Rabin Jana, the party's local committee member.
'The court has given its verdict after hearing 12 witnesses and the accused persons. The court concludes that Purnendu Patra, a prominent person in the locality, is guilty of the crime committed to escape from a rape case lodged by the helpless woman and so he has been sentenced to death. Rabin Jana, another prominent person, has been given life sentence for helping him in the heinous crime,' additional sessions judge Syed Nurul Hasan told a packed courtroom.
On November 28, 1998, Saraswati Guchhait, a 27-year-old resident of Karalda-Nimakbar village in the Marichda area of East Midnapore, 175 km from Calcutta, died on a hospital bed after the duo poured nitric acid on her.
Her four-month-old child died while Saraswati was fighting for life in hospital as the baby was not weaned yet, public prosecutor Amal Ojha told the court.
According to Saraswati's FIR ' lodged at Contai police station in April 1997 ' Purnendu had promised her a government card that offered facilities to bidi workers and taken her to Tamluk for it. On their way back ' darkness had fallen by then ' they were walking across a field when he raped her, she had alleged.
A year later on the midnight of October 27, Saraswati heard Purnendu calling out her name. He was accompanied by Rabin.
'When she came out, they poured nitric acid on her, severely burning her face and other parts of her body. Attracted by Saraswati's cries for help, neighbours came out and seeing the crowd, both Purnendu and Rabin fled,' Ojha said.
Severely scalded, Saraswati was admitted to Contai Subdivisional Hospital. She gave a statement to the medical officer on duty at the emergency ward. Her mentally unstable husband could not lodge an FIR.
'On October 31, 1998, Saraswati requested a law clerk who had come to the hospital to visit a patient to seek justice on her behalf as she had no one else to turn to for help. Joyram Manna sent a complaint by post and the Contai police station received it on November 7, 1998 and treated it as an FIR,' the public prosecutor said.
Purnendu and Rabin had applied for anticipatory bail, while the police started a case. Purnendu used to pressurise Saraswati to withdraw the case, but she refused, the police said.
Saraswati died three weeks after her complaint reached the police, unaware of her baby's death and the clerk's favour.
Ojha described today's judgment as unprecedented in East Midnapore.
The district CPM leadership, however, remained tightlipped. 'We are yet to know the details of the verdict. We are trying to find out,' said Nirmal Jana, the party's district secretariat member.
The rape case is on in the same court, but a different judge is hearing it.