Police arrested two people on Thursday in connection with the gang rape of a 71-year-old nun in a West Bengal convent nearly two weeks ago, in the first breakthrough in a case that shook the nation and triggered widespread protests.
Officials said one of the suspects, a 40-year-old man named Sikandar Shaikh alias Salim, was arrested in a Mumbai slum while the other, an illegal Bangladeshi migrant named Gopal Sarkar, was nabbed in North 24 Parganas district on the outskirts of Kolkata for harbouring the attackers.
Authorities used cellphone records to track down Shaikh who sources said has links with a top criminal in Bangladesh, although they did not officially comment on the identity of the members of the gang.
“Salim used to work in Mumbai and would shuttle between the city and West Bengal. He was staying in a rented place and was arrested from there,” said Mumbai police commissioner Rakesh Maria.
He was handed over to West Bengal Police and whisked away to the scene of the crime in Nadia district’s Ranaghat. He was sent to judicial custody for 14 days by a Nadia court with no lawyers willing to represent him.
“Originally from Bangladesh Sarkar was staying illegally from the year 2002. He gave shelter to the miscreants prior to the incident," said a West Bengal’s Crime Investigation Department (CID) statement.
The arrests are a major relief for the state detectives who faced intense criticism for failing to arrest anybody despite CCTV footage showing four of the eight suspects.
Speculation has intensified over the past few days that the gang, which looted Rs 12 lakh and vandalised a chapel on the convent campus, split into groups and fled to Bangladesh. The Ranaghat railway station is a mere 10-minute walk from the spot of crime and has direct links with border towns such as Bongaon and Gede.
Despite the two arrests, West Bengal’s CID did not have details about the motive for the attack, which caused major embarrassment to the state government and forced chief minister Mamata Banerjee to hand over the probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation. The national agency, however, is yet to formally take over the probe.
After the chief minister’s announcement, CID sleuths intensified search operations. The agency’s pride was hurt, senior officers told HT, as the message embedded in the communication was that the head of government did not have enough trust in the state detectives.
The rape came against the backdrop of a string of attacks on Christian churches across the country that prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi to express concern over the incident.