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Monday , February 20 , 2012
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Tigress who won’t be swayed by the mighty

Mrs Damayanti Sen, thank you very much. You have been a tigress and champ and I will be indebted to you all my life for believing in me, as a woman.

That was how the 37-year-old lady who had been assaulted and raped on the night of February 5 saluted the joint commissioner of police (crime) in an interview to STAR Ananda on Sunday.

She was grateful to Sen as much for cracking the case and identifying the “real culprits” as for standing by her, as a police officer and as a woman.

This despite the chief minister having dismissed the complaint as “concocted” and the police commissioner having echoed her line that there was an attempt to malign the government and the police force by those highlighting the woman’s trauma.

So, who is this “tigress and champ”?

Damayanti Sen, the face of Lalbazar in the probe into the impersonation and rape of the mother of two in a moving car between Park Street and Nandan, is the first woman boss of the crime wing of Calcutta police.

A slip of a lady, with a boyish haircut and a no-nonsense air about her, the 42-year-old Capricornian hardly fits the stereotypical look of a top cop. But cross her path — or even try small talk with her — and you’re sure to feel the steel.

In the absence of authoritative material, Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs appears to know this trait better: “Never be fooled by the feeble appearance of a Capricorn. Capricorns can look and act as harmless as a feather quilt, but they’re as tough as a keg of nails.”

Sen would, of course, play down the “first-woman” label when it comes to her pride of place in Lalbazar. “I don’t think that women are better or worse off in a job. The only reason people ask a lot of questions related to my gender is because there are fewer women in my profession now than men. But as that changes, people will stop being so interested (in my gender),” she had told The Telegraph a few years ago.

Sen joined the police force in 1996, after doing her bachelors and masters in economics from Jadavpur University, both with a first-class first degree. Married to Rajat Shubhro Sen, a teacher, and mom to young Arjun, a student of Calcutta International School, Sen is known to juggle cooking for her son’s school picnic with busting the most demanding crime cases in town.

She keeps a low profile by choice — no personal questions please, is something reporters attempting to pen a profile of her are bound to encounter — and is known to have an eye for Bengali literature and a ear for Rabindrasangeet.

But it is as a tough cop that the city knows — and needs — her. She has served in the detective department for years and risen to the top — again, the first woman chief of the intelligence wing.

In all these years, the case of the mother of two accusing three youths of assaulting and raping her in a moving car on the night of February 5 would figure among her toughest.

First, to wrestle with the discrepancies in the woman’s initial account. Then to be stumped by the complainant’s identification of three men who were not at the scene of the crime and not take the easy way out of arresting them just on the basis of the complaint.

Finally, to get to the truth of impersonation and rape and in the process contradict Mamata Banerjee’s “concocted… conspiracy” dismissal at Writers’ Buildings followed by R.K. Pachnanda’s statement partly backing the chief minister’s stand at Lalbazar.

“Policing and politics often overlap. There are many examples in Bengal of senior officers having toed the line laid down by the political bosses and compromising the truth,” said a retired top cop, refusing to cite examples.

“This investigation team did a commendable job by protecting the innocent men despite some pressure to arrest them and then digging out the truth despite that being embarrassing for the chief minister who had clearly jumped the gun. And let me tell you, this would not have been possible without the chief minister and the police commissioner giving the team a free hand between February 16 and 18,” he added.

Sen, as the leader of this probe team, spent over 15 hours in Lalbazar every day from February 15, standing by the woman and yet not going blindly by her complaint. “Something had definitely happened that night. But we are still not sure what exactly happened and who all were involved in the incident,” she told a news conference on February 16.

After two days of intensive interrogation and investigation, Sen made public the conclusion on February 18. “It was a case of impersonation. Two of the men involved in the assault that night have been arrested and the hunt is on for the rest.”

Was the woman raped?

“Yes,” she said, jaws set.

What evidence of rape had the police got?

“In this case, the victim’s statement is the most important,” said Sen, with the same steely look.

At the end of the day, Sen and her team’s unflinching pursuit of the crime investigation process paid off.

Let’s bring in Linda Goodman again: “Capricorns hammer away persistently, relentlessly, managing to digest pressures, disappointments and duty calmly.”