ON January 31, two and a half years after the brutal gang rape and murder of a college student in Kamduni village in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, a city court in Kolkata sentenced three of the six accused to death, and three to imprisonment for life. Delivering her verdict, Additional District and Sessions Judge Sanchita Sarkar said, “…if this is not the rarest of rare crime, there is likely to be none”. She stated that a “strong message” is needed that such “ghastly crimes” against women “shall not be countenanced”.
“It is true that it cannot be predicated that a crime-free society will dawn if the hangman is kept feverishly busy, but it is equally true that barbaric rapes and murders have become the order of the day and inadequate punishment may lead to the sufferings of the community at large,” the judge observed. The “rising trend” towards such crime, she said, should be nipped in the bud or “the poison is likely to spread like wildfire through the social order, rendering it hapless and defunct”.
Of the nine who were involved in the crime, Ansar Ali, Amin Ali, Saiful Ali, accused of rape and murder, have been sentenced to death; Sheikh Emanul Islam, Aminur Islam and Bhola Naskar, accused of gang rape, have been sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in jail; Rafiqul Islam Gazi and Nur Ali have been acquitted, while one accused—Gopal Naskar—died in custody in 2015.
The gruesome incident happened on June 7, 2013, in broad daylight. The outrage was exacerbated by the remarks of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who labelled the protesting women of Kamduni village as Maoists and supporters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Tumpa Kayal and Mousumi Kayal, who were friends of the victim, had to face the brunt of the Chief Minister’s and the ruling Trinamool Congress’ wrath for expressing their fears about the security of women in the region. They were harassed, threatened and isolated in their own community, but they did not relent. Today, they have become symbols of protest against the rising incidence of crimes against women in the State.
For two and a half years, Mousumi Kayal and Tumpa Kayal, along with the village school headmaster Pradip Mukherjee, waged a lonely struggle for justice. The local unit of the ruling party left no stone unturned to break the Kamduni Pratibad Mancha, the anti-rape platform they had created, even using force and intimidation to keep the local people from participating in the movement. Mukherjee himself was transferred from his post in the school.
The convicts had established a reign of terror in the region and apparently drew their power from their alleged proximity to the ruling party. “A district leader of the party, who is a relative of Ansar Ali, has expressed grief at the verdict. The local Trinamool supporters are not happy with the outcome,” Pradip Mukherjee told Frontline.
Once the sentence was announced, the strong crowd gathered outside the court erupted in cheers. In Kamduni, residents burst forth with joy. “For so long people did not dare come out in support of us, but the day the judgment was delivered people rushed out of their houses to celebrate,” said Mukherjee. The victim’s family has moved the High Court over the acquittal of Rafiqul Islam Gazi and Nur Ali.
Although the ruling party has changed its stance on the issue, with Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim reportedly expressing satisfaction with the judgment, the Kamduni episode remains a black spot in the Mamata Banerjee government. The ruling party has stepped up its vigil on the activities of the people in the villages. “On the 7th of every month, we have been holding a memorial service for the victim. This time on February 7 (seven days after the court sentence), we could not even enter the village as around 500 Trinamool activists on motorbikes were roaming the area to keep us out,” said Mukherjee.
For the past three years, West Bengal has been among the top three States with the highest number of crimes against women. According to the National Crime Records Bureau report of 2014 (published in August 2015), West Bengal accounts for 11.3 per cent of the total cases of crimes against women in India. It is second only to Uttar Pradesh, which accounts for 11.4 per cent of the cases. The previous year, the State ranked third in the country, and in 2012 it topped the list with the maximum number of crimes against women.
By Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay