WEST BENGAL has the dubious distinction of having the highest incidence of crime against women for the second consecutive year in 2012 according to data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The ruling Trinamool Congress government and the State administration have desperately tried to play it down, but the people’s confidence in the police is at the lowest and their patience with the government is wearing thin.

The brutal gang rape and murder of a 20-year-old college girl in Kamduni village in the Barasat sub-division of North 24 Parganas on June 7, which came to light when the girl’s body was discovered in a fish pond, brought the people on to the streets in protest and anger. Trinamool Congress MP Nurul Islam faced the full wrath when he visited the place the next day; his car was attacked. State Food Minister Jyotipriyo Mallick also faced the people’s ire.

As more and more people joined in the demonstration, the protest assumed the proportion of a mass agitation. “The situation has been going from bad to worse. We are fast losing confidence in the police here; it looks as though we ourselves will have to protect the women and children of our families from these wolves who openly defy the law and cause havoc among decent folk,” a resident of Barasat told Frontline.

The government’s usual offer of a job and monetary compensation for the victim’s family was turned down. “We do not want employment or money, we want the culprits to be hanged,” said one of the brothers of the victim after meeting Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Writers’ Buildings, the State Secretariat. The arrest of all eight people accused of the crime was not enough to quell the agitation.

The people of Kamduni were keen that Mamata Banerjee visit the area. However, if they, particularly the women, were looking for sympathy or even an assurance of security from their Chief Minister, they were in for a shock. When Mamata Banerjee did make a supposedly “secret visit” to the victim’s house 10 days after the rape and murder, she lost her cool with the women there who were shouting slogans demanding security and justice. “Shut up. You are all CPI(M) supporters” she shouted at them. “I do not care about political parties. I came to meet Didi to tell her that I am afraid to even go outside my house these days,” said one visibly distraught woman.

Cornered by criticism from all quarters for her reaction, Mamata Banerjee quickly labelled the incident a Maoist conspiracy to kill her. “The Maoists, along with the CPI(M), had planned to kill me when I visited the victim’s family,” she said later trying to justify her outburst while campaigning for the upcoming panchayat elections. Mukul Roy, Trinamool Congress general secretary, too called this a “conspiracy hatched by the CPI(M), the Congress and the Maoists to destabilise the State”.

Mamata Banerjee’s reaction and her subsequent justification has worried many in her own party. “We must be careful not to anger the rural people at a time like this. They are very sensitive,” a Trinamool source told Frontline.

Earlier, 13 women activists were detained by the police for protesting near Mamata Banerjee’s residence in Kolkata.

According to the NCRB data, 30,492 cases of crimes against women have been recorded in West Bengal in 2012, including 2,046 cases of rape, 4,168 cases of kidnapping, 593 dowry deaths, and 19,865 instances of domestic violence. In 2011, the number of cases stood at 29,133.

The State administration quickly got into damage control mode with Director General of Police (DGP) Naparajit Mukherjee maintaining that “the figure for rape has come down considerably” and in 2012 stood at 1,978 (even though the NCRB data shows 2,046 cases) as against 2,317 cases in 2011.

The DGP’s statement prompted Surjya Kanta Mishra, Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly and Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M), to quip: “The officials of the State government are only speaking in their master’s voice. The Director General of Police is being used for political purposes.”

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay