Repeat offender West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been receiving flak from different quarters since yesterday when she raised questions on the alleged gang rape of a minor in Hanskhali of District Nadia earlier this month — a decade after she had shocked the nation by calling a rape victim in Kolkata’s Park Street area a “prostitute”. But Banerjee slammed the media for reporting the incident as a case of alleged gang rape. She said the police still did not know for sure what happened, but the media was constantly broadcasting that a minor had died after being raped.
“Has she been raped? Or was she pregnant? Or was it a love affair? Has the media enquired? I heard it was a case of a love affair,” Banerjee said at an inauguration event in Kolkata. She addressed Director General of Police Manoj Malviya who was on the dais at the event, asking him whether it was a fact that the minor who died following the alleged rape and the accused the son of a local Trinamool Congress leader were in a “love affair”.
“Going by the information I have, the girl died on 5 April and the police were informed on 10 April, but there was no complaint (before 10 April). Why was the police not informed the same day?” asked the chief minister. “The body was cremated on the same day, and (as) a layperson I am saying this, where will the police find evidence?”
Drawing parallels with other states, Banerjee remarked, “If a girl and boy fall in love, it’s not in my control to stop them. This is not Uttar Pradesh where I will start a love jihad programme,” she said, in reference to the BJP-ruled state’s law against forceful inter-faith conversions for marriage.
The statement from Banerjee was reminiscent of her dismissing the gang rape in Kolkata’s Park Street in 2012 as “sajano ghatona” (choreographed incident) — five people were convicted in the case later. The latest comments drew criticism from opposition leaders as well as activists who termed it a case of “victim-blaming”.
“What can be more shameful than a woman chief minister protecting the culprit because he is a TMC leader’s son and trivialising the rape of a girl in Hanskhali?” West Bengal BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar wrote on social media.
West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar has sought an urgent report on the case from Chief Secretary HK Dwivedi, latest by 13 April, after he received a deputation from Leader of the Opposition Suvendu Adhikari at Raj Bhavan last evening. In a tweet Tuesday, the governor said the investigation in the case is “tainted and compromised when people in authority & constitutional position indicate judgmental stance”.
The family of the victim says the Class 9 student had visited the house of local Trinamool Congress leader and Garapota Gram Panchayat member, Samar Goala, to attend his son Braja Gopal Goala’s birthday party. “Our daughter was bleeding profusely and had severe abdominal pain after she came back from the party and before we could take her to hospital, she died,” the minor’s mother said.
“From the sequence of events and after talking to the people present at the party, we are sure she was gang-raped,” the mother said, adding that she had rushed to a local quack for medicines when she found her daughter’s condition deteriorating, but the girl died by the time she returned. Her body was cremated on the dawn of 6 April. The family alleges that locals forced them to perform the last rites quickly.
The father’s account, as lodged in the FIR, says more or less the same thing. According to the FIR lodged on Saturday by the victim’s father, the Class IX student had gone to attend the birthday party of Trinamool Congress panchayat member Samar Goala’s son Sohel in Hanskhali’s Gajna on Monday, 4 April. She returned home in the early hours of Tuesday, feeling severely ill. Her father took her to a local quack but she died in the afternoon. The victim was cremated in haste on the same day at a local burning ghat, allegedly at the insistence of the Goala family.
There are mutually conflicting reports on whether the girl attended the party alone or was accompanied by an adult woman. It was alleged that she was given alcohol. The minor’s father claimed that she was dropped home by a woman and unidentified men.
The victim’s father alleged that Sohel had threatened and intimidated the family against taking the child to any government hospital or reporting the matter to the police.
West Bengal Police says no postmortem was done
An FIR was filed on 9 April on the basis of a complaint made by the minor’s father, invoking Sections 375 (rape), 302 (murder), 204 (destruction of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), as well as provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, police said.
Police in Nadia arrested Braja Gopal Goala the next day and produced him in court on 11 April. The 22-year-old has been sent to 14-day police custody. The cops then arrested one of the friends of the suspect, Prabhakar Poddar today, based on Goala’s statement.
Superintendent of Police for Ranaghat Sayak Das told reporters yesterday that the cops have recorded statements of five witnesses under Section 164 of the Indian Penal Code. “We have recorded the secret statements of the victim’s mother, her relatives, a crematorium worker and a doctor today. There is no death certificate or any postmortem that was done. But we are examining witnesses,” he added.
‘Victim-blaming and victim-shaming’
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Banerjee has invited condemnation for questioning the victim. “By saying the victim was pregnant or had a love affair, she kept an exit route for the administration and the perpetrators. As a chief minister, she knows the law of the land better than we do and I am sure she knows even if the girl was in love with a boy or even if she was pregnant, this counts as aggravated sexual assault under (provisions of) the POCSO Act,” said activist Ratnaboli Roy.
“Most importantly, the culture of consent seems to be completely absent, paving way for toxic masculinity,” Roy said, calling it a case of “victim-blaming and victim-shaming”.
Filmmaker and activist Anindita Sarbadhicari recalled the 2012 Park Street gang rape case, which the chief minister had then called a “fabricated case to tarnish the state government’s image”.
“The chief minister has once again put the victim in the dock. The message that goes to the preparators of crime against women in this state is that there is no cost of crime. She is the chief minister and home minister of the state, and this kind of statement is extremely disheartening. And if she’s saying action is being taken, it is only lip service after such a depressing comment from a woman,” said Sarbadhicari.
Trinamool Congress’s local leader issues statement
Senior Trinamool Congress leader Kallol Khan said: “This issue has been brought to our notice. We are ascertaining the details. The party will not tolerate such criminal acts. Appropriate legal action will be taken against perpetrators of such heinous crime.”
The suspect’s father Samar Goala is on the run with the rest of his family. Locals, who did not wish to be identified, said Samar and Sohel had been indicted for several illegal acts earlier. They alleged that Samar had earned the ill-repute of a local strongman.