In The Name Of Honour!
We talk about atrocities on women in various forms in the world. We register protest against inhuman, gruesome practices of kangaroo courts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India, which are mostly habituated by uncivilised tribal groups, which often victimise the woman folks of the society, by declaring the only punishment on them—rape.
The inhuman practices of a kangaroo court in the world was probably first came to light in 2002 with the shocking plight of Mukhtaran Mai, better known as Mukhtar Mai, when she was brutally gang raped by four men in Southern Punjab (Eastern Pakistan) bordering India. The village head held a jirga, kangaroo court, where the head declared his judgement that Mukhtar Mai be raped by men. The incident shocked the whole world, when it came to it after a month or so. Her fault was never proved, but it was mainly done because the upper caste Mastois clan wanted to maintain its dominance over the lower caste Gurjars, the community Mukhtar Mai belongs to.
Now after 12 years, the similar horrific and shocking incident happened in that part of India which boasts of its sensitivity and civilised mindset. A 20-year-old girl was allegedly gang raped by 13 men on the orders of village elders after the judgement by a salishi sabha (kangaroo court) in a village named Subalpur in Birbhum district of West Bengal, keeping the law and order of the country at stake. This horrific incident took place just a few kilometres away from the native village of the constitutional head of our country, the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee.
The incident happened in Subalpur village, which has a small population of around 300 people with nearly 65 families and which comes under Labhpur police station area, about 60 km from Shantiniketan in Birbhum district of West Bengal. The girl is now under treatment in Seuri Hospital, the district headquarters. Although in severe pain, she said: “I had an affair with a man. We both were dragged to a gathering where our community headman was present. They told me to pay Rs 50,000. When I said I couldn’t, they brutalised me.” Her mother said: “The crime was committed by our own people. They tortured my daughter and dumped her at home late at night. We were threatened not to go to police. We wanted to go to Bolpur hospital but they forced us to go to Labhpur health centre instead. She did not get proper treatment there.”
The fault of the girl was she was having an affair with a man from a different village. On the fateful night of January 21, 2014, both the woman and her companion were first tied up to a tree and asked to pay Rs. 25,000 each as a penalty for their relationship. They could not afford the fine, for which, the woman says, the village headman then ordered others to “enjoy” her. Police have arrested the 13 accused and slapped them with charges of gang rape, causing grievous injury to a woman. The youth with whom the girl reportedly had an affair has also been arrested. The charges against the youth are not clear.
According to the police complaint, the girl was raped by at least 10 men. After the incident, she was taken to Labhpur health centre, where the doctors advised she be taken immediately to Bolpur sub-divisional hospital. From Bolpur, she was shifted to Seuri hospital in a very critical condition. It is when the crime came to light.
More shocking is the fact that after the gang rape, the village didn’t show any hint of repentance. On the other hand, the women folks insist that the men did nothing wrong and that the woman was to be punished. The villagers threatened to boycott the girl’s family for cooperating with the authorities, earning bad name for the village. “We will never allow the woman and her family to return,” cried out villagers.
They accused the girl of framing the accused because she was ordered to leave the village if she continued her affair. “We know that she lived elsewhere with that mason. She made a lot of money. How can we allow the family back? Nothing happened. She made false allegations against our family members because we opposed her illicit relationship,” said Panmuni Tudu, a villager.
People are so backward that they don’t understand and feel the intensity of the case. Politics too started resurfacing after the incident, amounting to pressurise the woman Chief Minister of the state to perform. A day after the incident, Mamata Banerjee ordered the removal of the Police Super C Sudhakar and put him on compulsory waiting for allegedly failing to monitor the case properly, after criticism began to rise with the grant of judicial custody in place of police custody to the 13 accused in the crime. Sudhakar was later replaced by Alok Rajoria, Additional SP, South 24 Parganas. Political observers viewed the “sudden” movement as a face-saving measure by the Mamata administration.
Political parties cutting across the party lines had started flaying by condemning the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government after the incident, which soon grabbed national and international headlines. CPM central committee member Mohammed Salim said: “What has happened is barbaric, savage and uncivilised. Such incidents are unexpected in Bengal.” He alleged that incidents of rape had increased in the state as the police were not taking proper steps when such cases were reported and the perpetrators went scot-free.
State Congress President Pradip Bhattacharya said: “We are going back to 16th century. This is unprecedented and unacceptable. The state government should take steps to control such incidents.” At Mamata Banerjee’s behest, Trinmool Congress leader Mukul Roy made a formal statement, saying: “The government is firm and will take strictest action against the culprits. It is a social malaise and we shall combat it politically, socially and administratively.”
Whatever may be the promises or declaration, facts say something different. According to National Crime Record, West Bengal recorded the highest number of gender crimes in the country at 30,942 in 2012—12.7 per cent of India’s total recorded crimes against women. These crimes include rape, kidnapping, sexual harassment and molestation.
In past few years, Bengal has recorded a series of atrocities against women including rape and other crimes because of which, time and again, the cultural centre—Kolkata—has been witnessing huge protest and boycott from civil society and common people against police and government.
The village Subalpur is just 60 km from Shantiniketan, the cultural and academic hub started by Rabindranath Tagore, is mostly populated by adivasis and has no electricity or school. The administration has always been wary of interfering with tribal traditions, leaving the adivasis to live by their own laws.
The district had been in the news around four years ago in 2010 when a teenage tribal girl was stripped and forced to walk naked through four villages for having an affair with a boy from different village. Hundreds of villagers molested her and mocked her all the way. They took cell phone videos of her, which exposed the incident four months later, triggering outrage and widespread protest across the country. Although the girl got bravery award from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and is now in a state-run welfare home, but sad part of the story is that all the accused are out on bail—this the Prime Minister also may not know.
It may be because when the cases of rape, molestation and other crimes against woman are reported, investigation takes long to start, giving enough time to the perpetrators to walk scot-free by easily fetching bail giving away a victim lifetime tag of a raped victim. The accused seem to know it very well that there is no strict laws and whatever law is there cannot be sproperly and promptly.
By Joydeep Dasgupta from Kolkata