The Telegraph
Thursday , June 13 , 2013
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State splits hairs on women safety

Calcutta, June 12: The Bengal government today split hairs on crimes against women in the state, drowning a “zero-tolerance” message in the wake of successive brutality on two students within a space of three days.

State police chief Naparajit Mukherjee painstakingly differentiated crimes against women to contest the picture portrayed by national figures that put Bengal at the top of the dubious table.

The table — compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) — listed 30,942 incidents of crime against women in Bengal in 2012. Accounting for 12.67 per cent of the all-India total, Bengal topped the list.

Mukherjee, along with chief secretary Sanjay Mitra and home secretary Basudeb Banerjee, held a news conference at Writers’ this afternoon to clear the air.

The police chief took care to explain that crime against women looked high because the figures on the NCRB website were mostly about cruelty by husbands and relatives on women. “Most of the cases relate to those lodged under Section 498A of the IPC. But in other crimes, for instance rape, figures would reveal how crime against women has come down in Bengal,” Mukherjee said.

Such hair-splitting struck an incongruous — if not insensitive — note at a time every parent’s worst nightmare has come true in the shape of the alleged gang rape and murder of two girls who were returning home from college and school in Barasat and Nadia, respectively.

“To say that only 498A cases account for the rise in figures from Bengal is not true. If more such cases are being registered, it means women are subject to some form of violence and, hence, the complaints,” said Sunanda Mukherjee, the chairperson of the West Bengal Commission for Women.

The NCRB uses the same parameters — rape, molestation, cruelty by husbands and relatives, sexual harassment, trafficking and dowry death among others — across the country to arrive at the figure on crime against women in a particular state. NCRB sources said that cruelty by husbands and relatives accounted for 43.4 per cent — the highest compared to other forms of crime on women in 2011 — all across the country.

“The numbers don’t reveal everything and that’s why we had sent some disclaimers to NCRB requesting them to include them along with the numbers. But they were adamant about not including them,” Mukherjee said.

An NCRB official said Mukherjee had sent a letter each on May 27 and June 4. The first letter said restoration of democratic norms in the state had allowed citizens to exercise their rights, which resulted in police stations recording more cases compared to that in the past. The other letter said that often some of the complaints turn out to be fabricated.

Mukherjee’s explanations at the news conference ensured that the attempt by the government, especially by chief secretary Mitra, to instil confidence among women in Bengal got drowned in the din.

“This government maintains zero tolerance about crime against women. We will fast-track these two cases and ensure justice at the earliest,” Mitra said.

The state police chief said the government was taking action. “In Nadia, three persons have been arrested and in Barasat, we are in the process of taking certain steps towards bifurcation of the police station,” Mukherjee said.

Although the officials said at least five rape cases had been fast-tracked leading to life sentences in the past six months, one that drew national attention has not made much headway. The prime suspect in the alleged assault of a lady in Park Street on February 5 last year is still at large. “A fast-track court has already framed charges against three of the accused but conviction will take time,” an officer said.

The alacrity with which the top officials reacted to the NCRB numbers betrayed the government’s discomfiture.

Mamata Banerjee did not comment in public but sources said what Mukherjee underscored at the news conference was more or less repeated behind closed doors when the chief minister met her cabinet colleagues this afternoon.

A source said the government suspected an “organised attempt” to malign the administration ahead of the panchayat polls. All ministers have reportedly been asked to “counter the malicious campaign”.

Although the political leadership blamed “apoprochar” (malicious campaign), a meeting was arranged at Writers’ between Mamata and relatives of the Barasat victim after realisation sunk in that a job offer to the girl’s brother had not gone down well with the residents.