West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee must be given credit at least for one thing — consistency. Anyone opposed to her is instantly labelled a CPI(M) activist or a Maoist. So when she turned up in a village where a college student had been gang raped and murdered and found herself facing some women protestors, she immediately asked them to shut up and called them CPI(M) supporters.
But this does not mask the fact there have been several brutal attacks on women and children in West Bengal. The college student in the village Mamatadi visited was gang raped and murdered by six men in broad daylight. Her story is very similar to the unfortunate Delhi victim who lost her life after being gang raped in a moving bus. The Kolkata victim, the daughter of a daily wage labourer had made it to college much to the pride of her poor parents only to lose her life to brutes. An Irish girl working in an NGO was raped recently in Kolkata as was a differently-abled girl. This is all the more startling as Kolkata was once considered relatively safe for women.
The reaction of the Trinamool Congress government has been predictable. In response to a rally taken out to protest these atrocities, the party responded by saying it would hold a counter rally. And then Trinamool leader Mukul Roy, echoing his leader, pulled out that hoary old chestnut — the whole thing is a conspiracy by the CPI(M) and Maoists to destabilise the government.
This sort of insensitivity really beggars belief. Earlier, of course, Mamata Banerjee had spoken of the growing population and modernisation as causes for atrocities on women, a bizarre explanation if there ever was one. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s figures for 2012, Bengal today has the highest number of crimes against women at 30,942.
Conspiracy theories from leaders, instead of demanding instant action, only give the police an excuse to slack off and not conduct investigations thoroughly. This is irresponsible to say the least. Apart from rapes, the Trinamool cadres seem to have carte blanche to destroy public property and attack anyone who does not agree with the party. The storming of Presidency College earlier this year is an example.
Ms Banerjee should have made it clear that there would be zero tolerance for crimes against women. Instead, she has made every excuse in the book to avoid any direct condemnation of such incidents. This will only embolden anti-social elements.
Punishment for such crimes has to be certain and severe. When protests surrounding the December 16 Delhi gang rape took place, there were several pledges that the victim’s death would not be forgotten. But public memory and certainly that of the authorities, if the Kolkata example is anything to go by, seems woefully short.