At one time, West Bengal was considered the intellectual hub of India. Today, it has a more dubious distinction. The once progressive state has had the highest incidence of crime against women for two consecutive years, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
In a Taliban-like diktat, a 20-year-old tribal woman was allegedly gang-raped at the behest of a salishi sabha, the state’s equivalent of khap panchayats which have earned themselves notoriety for being a law unto themselves. And what was the woman’s ‘crime’?
She dared to choose her partner from a different community and eventually failed to cough up a Rs. 50,000 fine that was imposed by the salishi sabha. This case comes barely three days after a fitness centre employee was gang-raped in a moving vehicle in Kolkata.
The fact that four years ago a teenaged tribal girl was paraded naked in the same district, Birbhum, home town of President Pranab Mukherjee, for her alleged affair with a boy from a different community, shows that little has been done to clip the wings of such extra constitutional bodies.
Though 13 persons, including the head of the salishi sabha, named in the FIR by the woman who is still in the hospital in a critical state, have been arrested for the barbaric act, as long as such extra-constitutional authorities have the endorsement of lawmakers, there won’t be any let up in such institutionalised atrocities.
By stigmatising inter-caste marriages, they not only infringe upon a woman’s right to choose a life partner but also restrict her mobility and her other fundamental rights like the right to work, to education, etc.
It’s time West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee who saw a conspiracy in almost every incident of violence against women — from the Park Street gang rape case to the Madhyamgram gang rape — ensured that strict action is taken against the culprits and sent a strong message that such parallel courts have no place in democratic society.
Ms Banerjee, who is quick to take umbrage at the slightest insult to herself, seems quite cavalier about such grave violations of women in her state.
In some cases, such incidents have either involved or have had the sanction of people from her Trinamool Congress. With each passing incident, and the spectacle of the powers-that-be displaying such colossal apathy, miscreants are emboldened to increase their attacks on women.
It would send out a good signal if Ms Banerjee were to unleash her infamous temper on this salishi sabha and others like it. This would at least restrain them from sanctioning further violence against women.