Where no Hindu woman is safe
Author: Pronab Mondal
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: June 10, 2013
A Trinamul Congress office and a thriving hooch den happily co-existed and police never came in the way until a college student’s brutalised body was fished out of a water body a stone’s throw from there.
At Kamdonu More in Barasat, 20-year-old Shipra Ghosh had just got off a bus after writing her BA Part II exam and was walking back home when she was dragged into a walled compound, raped by at least six persons and murdered.
The incident occurred barely 300 metres from Trinamul’s Khariberia office on Friday afternoon. The girl’s body was found a few hours later.
Two days after the rape and murder, a walk through the area showed how fear has numbed women — some who send their daughters to school, others who need to step out to make a living and those battling the odds to become empowered through education, just like Shipra.
Barely 200 metres from where Shipra was killed is the CBSE-affiliated North Point Senior Secondary Boarding School, where hundreds of children from pre-primary to Class XII study.
Kamdonu, on the eastern fringes of the area under Barasat police station’s jurisdiction, has a 7km metalled road constructed under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana to connect the local BDO office with Rajarhat-Taki Road. Motorcycles and bicycles are the only mode of transport for more than 3,000 people living in the villages along the road.
“Travelling the 2.5km stretch from the bus stop to my home is a nightmare. I hear whistling and lewd remarks by youths sitting in makeshift huts on the banks of fisheries and drinking since morning…. I start pedalling my bicycle as fast as possible,” said a student of Class IX who requested anonymity.
At least she has a bicycle. Chandana (name changed on request) has to walk that stretch every day because her father, a farmer, cannot buy a bicycle for her.
“We always try to return in a group. But there are days when I don’t have company,” said the student of Class VIII. “Ora onek bar amay follow korechhe, hath dhore tenechhe…bhoy dekhiyeche tule niye jabe bole (They have followed me on several occasions, pulled me by the hand…they threaten to abduct me).”
Every time Chandana speaks to her mother about this, she is asked to keep mum. “I know if we raise a hue and cry against the rogues, my daughter’s life will be in danger,” said her mother, in her late 30s.
The homemaker described the convoy of police vehicles parked at Kamdonu more than 24 hours after Shipra’s murder as “a rare scene” on the Rajarhat-Taki Road. “We hardly see a police vehicle patrolling the road. The nearest police outpost at Khariberia is only 3km from here but we hardly see anyone in uniform trying to enforce the law,” she said.
Why she fears for her daughter is borne out by the report of the post-mortem on Shipra. “The victim was hit on her head with a blunt weapon and gang-raped. After she became unconscious, the culprits drowned her head in the fishery till she died,” said an officer at Barasat police station. “Her femur was fractured when the assailants pulled her legs apart.”
The victim’s family has gone numb with shock. “She (Shipra) was my favourite,” said father Sukumar, a mason’s apprentice. “I used to get a food packet, sometimes with a boiled egg, at my workplace, but I never ate it. I would bring it for her.... I had borrowed money and bought a second-hand bicycle for her…. She had dreamt of becoming a teacher.”
The family’s tiled-roof hut had endless visitors on Sunday, mostly neighbours, Shipra’s friends and members of a civil society group. The village shunned leaders of all political parties, just as they had done on Saturday.
Food minister Jyotipriya Mullick had called the victim’s brother Prasenjit to the Madhyamgram party office on Saturday and promised the 22-year-old a government job and an appointment with the chief minister. “He (Mullick) told us that a discussion was held with Trinamul leader Mukul Roy and the chief minister might also meet us on Wednesday,” said Prasenjit, who is doing his BEd.
Shipra’s village wasn’t impressed. “Can a job ever compensate for the loss of a life? Why should he make the offer now? Where was he when the hooch den flourished in front of party leaders?” demanded a young woman, scared as much for her infant daughter’s future as for herself.
Kamdonu, located in the middle of a Trinamul bastion, had witnessed a rare apolitical protest on Saturday. The crowd, comprising supporters of both Trinamul and the CPM, stoned minister Mullick’s vehicle. The Trinamul MP from Basirhat, Hazi Nurul Islam, was stopped from visiting the victim’s house.
“We have silently suffered for too long. And the politicians keep supporting the goons. On Saturday, we stepped out to protest the death of a girl who had braved so many difficulties to continue her studies,” said farmer Nitai Ghosh.
Shipra was attacked in a project site with an eight-foot boundary wall and an iron gate. “The assailants locked the gate from inside and took the victim to the caretaker’s room,” a police officer said.
Shipra’s school-going brother Sandeep was to have escorted his sister home from the bus stop that afternoon. “She would ride her bicycle every day to reach Kamdonu More and take a bus. On Friday, one of our neighbours took her to the bus stop on his motorcycle. I went to Kamdonu More to bring my sister back home but didn’t find her. I cycled back past the iron gate. I had no idea that my sister was inside,” he recounted.
The lack of safety for women in that area, about 30km from Calcutta, had first come into focus in February 2011, after Class X student Rajib Das was stabbed to death while trying to stop three drunken youths from molesting his sister. The spot where the teenager was fatally assaulted is surrounded by the bungalows of the district police chief and the magistrate.
Last December, a doctor was beaten to death by two men for protesting lewd remarks about a woman and her daughter at Kadambagachi.
Six persons have been arrested so far in connection with Shipra’s rape and murder and at least one of the suspects is still absconding. Barasat police station, which is about 3km from the spot, had little to offer as an assurance of safety. “Lok kothay (where’s the manpower)?” an officer had said on Saturday.