It is really sad for Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to accept that as per the latest figures released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) West Bengal recorded the highest number of crimes against women for the second year on the trot.
The NCRB statistics said West Bengal recorded 30,942 cases of crime against women in 2012 — of which 2,046 were rape cases.
Senior administrative and police officials of the state have gone into a tizzy claiming that despite the ‘fact’ that rape cases had indeed come down ‘considerably’ in the state dropping to 1,978 in 2012 as against 2,317 the year before, the NCRB authorities did not take note of the state ‘disclaimers’.
Are we to assume that the Union home ministry is using the NCRB to ‘malign’ her government?
Conspiracy theories have been a feature in Bengal’s political climate for a long time now. If terming the rape case in Park Street as a fabricated story was not enough, Mamata went about espousing quite a few sexist theories on the possible causes of rapes.
Earlier this year, she said that rising incidence of rape and crimes against women were directly linked to the increase in population as well as the tendency of the youth to adopt modern views.
She also expressed her bitterness over a section of the media for ‘targeting’ her government by dishing out “canards and exaggerated and negative news items” to show the administration in a bad light.
According to a Kolkata-based daily quoting a source, the government suspected an ‘organised attempt’ to malign the administration ahead of the panchayat polls and all the ministers have reportedly been asked to ‘counter the malicious campaign’.
One could ask that whether Banerjee’s almost maniacal paranoia in divining that almost everybody is trying to cook up a conspiracy, whenever there is a negative publicity, is a sign of her siege mentality.
While the NCRB report sent the state into denial mode, the reports of a 20-year-old girl being raped and killed near Barasat on June 7 and a 12-year-old girl on June 11 in Nadia being raped and killed came in.
What is worse, the Kolkata Police detained a group of peaceful protesters who had turned up in front of the residence of CM to seek assurances of action over the deteriorating safety conditions for women in the state.
A CM who touts herself as unusually ‘rough and tough’ has, albeit, determined a rough justice earlier. Last year she said that Rs.30,000 would be given if the victims of rape were minors and R20,000 for adults.
The next of kin will receive Rs.2 lakh if the victim dies during the assault, Rs.50,000 in the case of ‘80% disability’ and Rs.20,000 for ‘40-80% disability’. Such monetary quantification of rape did not go down well with everybody.
The family of the Barasat rape victim would have none of the money, demanding nothing but stern punishment for the culprits.
In 1993, Banerjee — then a Union minister and youth Congress(I) leader — storm-trooped into the Writers’ Building with a hearing- and speech-impaired girl, who had been raped, and was pregnant, allegedly by a CPI(M) man. Her three-hour demonstration in front of the CM’s chamber led to the demolition of the Press Corner.
While she was being violently dragged out of the corridors of the Writers’ Building, she vowed to never return to it — perhaps except only as CM. This happened 18 years later.
In 2006, her role in seeking justice for the rape and murder of Tapasi Malik, a participant in the peasant uprising in Singur, made one almost think that Banerjee — should she ever come to power — would prioritise the safety of women over everything.
The labour wing of the CPI(M), the CITU, circulated a propaganda film, made on Tapasi Malik’s death, based essentially on the premise that her murder was not political, but the result of a family feud.
Tapasi thus became a victim of propaganda. Perhaps, every rape in West Bengal is propaganda in Mamata Banerjee’s eye also.
Prasenjit Chowdhury is a Kolkata-based commentator
(The views expressed by the author are personal)