Ugly political spat overshadowed the cry for justice of the family of a minor who was allegedly gang-raped in Bengal’s Malda district.
A day after the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chairperson Priyank Kanoongo alleged that he was manhandled by Kolkata Police inside the Tiljala police station in east Calcutta, the central child rights panel lashed out against its state counterpart for allegedly trying to stop the team from meeting the abused minor victim in the Gazole police station area of Malda.
Upon reaching the victim’s house on Saturday morning, the three-member NCPCR team was unpleasantly surprised to find the West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR) chairperson Sudeshna Roy, accompanied by the district police, already present at the victim’s house.
During the verbal altercation that followed between the two teams, Kanoongo alleged that the police and the state panel stopped him from speaking to the victim and her family in private. He further alleged that the local administration, in its attempt to suppress facts, never produced the victim’s medical examiner, who tested her first, to face questions from the central team.
The state panel, however, claimed it was on the spot to carry out its own investigation which, as a statutory body, it was entitled to. It rubbished claims of putting up roadblocks before the central team.
In no time the victim’s residence looked like a political clash zone with women supporters of both the BJP and Trinamul Congress attacking each other. Meanwhile, local villagers also staged a protest against both parties for trying to politically usurp an issue which is primarily one of law and order and social justice.
Disappointed and angry with the unfortunate turn of events, the victim’s family said “more shame was added to the shameful predicament which the family is already passing through” at this point of time.
On 18 March, a 13-year-old class VI student of a junior high school in Gazole was allegedly gang raped by three local men, all above 18 with the primary suspect being a 23-year-old married man, at an abandoned classroom inside the school premises. All three suspects were subsequently arrested and are currently remanded in judicial custody.
BJP MLA from Gazole, Chimoy Deb and his counterpart from English Bazar, Sreerupa Mitra Chowdhury, also reached the spot along with their supporters this morning before the central team’s arrival. Responding to TMC allegations of her trying to seek political brownie points from the central team visit, Mitra Chowdhury said: “The NCPCR decided to visit the family based on my complaint before the body. I have come here not as a BJP MLA but as a complainant to this case.”
NCPCR chairperson Kanoongo said: “Ten days have passed since the incident took place and the state child rights panel never found time to visit the victim. They came here half an hour before our arrival to disrupt our investigation. We wanted to speak to the family in private and we don’t want any representative from the state to be present. We aren’t allowed to do that. Our visit has been duly informed to the state chief secretary and home secretary and we are supposed to get state protection as per the protocol which we are not getting.”
“We wanted to speak to the doctor who was the first to conduct the medical examination of the child. Instead, the district administration made us talk to the second doctor who gave the final report. Is the state trying to hide something?” he asked.
WBCPCR chairperson Sudeshna Roy said: “We have come here to follow up on an ongoing investigation. We are here to cooperate with the central team and there’s no question of stopping them from doing their job.”
Taken completely aback at the nasty turn of events where supporters of both parties clashed with each other in the courtyard outside her house, the victim’s mother said: “We are seeking justice for the crime committed on my daughter. She is already traumatized and these clashes have added to her woes.”
“We want to speak to both the central and state teams so that they can deliver justice. But we don’t want the incident to be politically coloured. This was shameful, more shameful than what we as a family are suffering from at this time,” she added.
The central team managed to talk to the family separately for about 20 minutes after the state team left. The members also visited the neighbourhood school, the site of the crime, and spoke to employees.
Political reactions poured in thick and fast from both sides. “Why is @NCPCR_Chairperson being harassed since y’day? He was attacked by Police yesterday at Tiljala. Furthermore, members of SCPCR are creating hurdles for him while he visited the residence of a rape victim in Malda. CM has turned WB into an autocracy,” BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar tweeted.
“The BJP has sent 71 central delegations to Bengal in the last year and 161 teams in two years. They never send teams to BJP-ruled states like Gujarat, UP and Karnataka where crimes of far more serious nature take place regularly. The NCPCR chairman names Mamata Banerjee in his press conference and levels charge against her. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that they are here with a political agenda and not as an independent statutory body,” Santanu Sen, TMC MP, responded.
The dramatic developments of Saturday took place within hours of the NCPCR-city Police face-off at the Tiljala PS on Friday evening where the team had reached to investigate the abduction and murder of a seven-year-old girl on 27 March and whose body was reportedly found inside a gunny bag at a neighbour’s house.
Kanoongo alleged that he was “beaten up” by an officer at the Police Station and submitted a complaint before the deputy police commissioner of the East Calcutta division.
Following up on that complaint, Kolkata Police transferred the probe responsibility to the Detective Department at Lalbazar headquarters and sent OC Tiljala, Biswak Mukherjee on “leave for an indefinite period”.
Unimpressed by the action taken, Kannongo said: “This is no punishment. First, you manhandle me and then ask him to enjoy a leave. I will let matters known to the home ministry.”