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Politics over a dead body

madhyamgram gang rape

The culture of politics in West Bengal has always been vitriolic, opportunist and crude – to say the least. Three decades of Communist rule has destroyed the very fabric of a democratic dialogue, and courtesies in the State. That the current Chief Minister has been on a course of corrective measures is a different story. But a recent tragedy, followed by display of exemplary standards of shamelessness by political formations in the State, has sent the political observer in me into a tizzy.

On October 25, 2013 a 16 year old girl was raped in Madhyamgram, by a local fish-seller and his friends. The girl lodged a complaint the very next day. 3 days later, while returning after medical tests, the girl was raped again. Following a second complaint, all accused were arrested. The date was October 31, 2013. 55 days later, on December 17, 2013 the police chargesheeted.

However, the events took a tragic course, as the girl was found ablaze on December 23, 2013 – theories for the reasons of which have been many. The parents, initially told police the girl attempted suicide, unable to bear the constant chatter about her character from the neighbours and society at large. Few days later, it was alleged that the victim was set afire to prevent her from proceeding with the case.

On December 31, as the world was ushering in the New year, the victim succumbed to her burn injuries. She had suffered 65-70% burns. That is when all hell broke loose.

The father of the victim is reportedly a member of the CITU. According to a Bengali news channel, the mother of the prime accused went on record to say the accused has been an active member of the Forward Bloc for 25 years, and currently served the CPI(M) since 2010. Although, on 31 Dec, RG Kar Hospital complex was thronged by activists belonging to the same Communist Party, whose members perpetrated the ghastly crimes, demanding justice for the girl.

To make matters worse, the Govt of Bihar jumped in to fish in troubled waters. Just because the family of the girl was of Bihari origin, he ordered monetary help for the dead girl, and even sent the State DIG to Bengal (against all rules and jurisdiction). Shameless display of crony parochialism at its worst. Even the Congress, which beat up peaceful protesters after Delhi gangrape, instead of taking corrective action, flocked the streets shedding tears for “Kolkata’s Damini”.

Having been associated with many protest movements in the past, I was baffled. What was the definition of justice in this case? The accused were in jail, case was moving on fast-track basis, hearing was due to begin in January, and the State Government promised they will seek highest punishment in the case.

If the goondaism of the Communist organisations at the hospital on New Year’s eve was deplorable, so was the unpreparedness of the administration the next day. The police tried to prevent a repeat of previous night’s ruckus and tried to quietly sneak out the body of the victim for cremation. But the CITU hijacked the body of the girl, paraded it all through the city and turned a victim into a showpiece at their party office for the full day. Coming from the party that assassinated Tapasi Malik, and dragged a Union Ministry out of the Secretariat for demanding justice for Jagori Baske, the sudden love for women’s rights was astounding. Like Kamduni, Madhyamgram was easily turned into a political tool.

The tamasha ensued with the national media throwing their hats in, social media outrage (with half truths) and constant politics over a dead body that was a political goldmine now. One fake account on Twitter, impersonating the WB CM, even went to the extent of declaring the accused as cadre of the ruling party. Some non resident bengalis, whose knowledge of happenings in the state is derived from stories in NDTV and Hindustan Times (or Anandabazar at best), devised their own version of how the girl was raped and burnt alive on the same day.

In this jet age, when people do not have time to read beyond headlines, spreading misinformation is not difficult. I just want to ask a few questions to my readers, hope i get some answers:

1. Were the accused in the rape case not arrested within 3 days?

2. Were the accused not chargesheeted within record 50 days? Has the Govt not added the charge of murder after the death of the victim?

3. Did the Govt not offer all help to family, legal and financial? A probe on the immolation bid is on. What else do people want? Verdict in kangaroo court?

4. People protested against police’s role after the girl’s death. Why did the same people not find CITU’s vicious play of politics unpalatable?

5. Parading with a dead body, shouting political slogans, is feminism?

6. Those who are calling for justice, please enlighten me with the definition of the same.

Useful links:

First report of the gangrape in Madhyamgram: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1131029/jsp/calcutta/story_17504610.jsp#.Usri_NIW1QI

Chief Secretary of WB on the incident – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4rnU_NtlOM

The Police chargesheet: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/kolkata-teen-was-gangraped-8-times-in-2-hours-chargesheet/1215631/

Suicide bid of the girl and her death: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/minor-who-was-gangraped-twice-dies-a-week-after-suicide-bid/1214043/

Did constant ostracisation by neighbours lead the girl to suicide? http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140103/jsp/frontpage/story_17747092.jsp#.UsrpXNIW1QI

AMRI – The Unanswered Questions

Words defy thoughts as i sit on my chair trying to put the pieces together. Friday morning on 9 December 2011 was different. The propensity of the AMRI tragedy did not strike me first, but as day progressed, the shame, the anguish, the disgust for being human grew large!

How the tragedy unfolded on the ill fated morning is chronicled here. Let this tragedy give us the resolve to be vigilant, and keep putting pressure on the system to deliver on safety for the citizens and not let AMRI become just another annual mourning ritual. To start with, let justice be delivered to those souls who trusted the hospital with their health, invested money for their care and choked to death instead.

For justice to be delivered, the guilty must be punished. Some questions that have been doing the rounds in my mind since that Black Friday, may in some way help the case.

1. Eye witnesses, surviving patients say they had smelt fumes since 2.15AM in the morning. But hospital authorities maintain the fire started at 3.30AM. Why is the hospital administration trying to hush up the “actual” time of the spark?

2. Even if fire started at 3.30AM, why did the hospital not inform Fire Brigade immediately? Why did they wait till 4.15AM to call the fire services team? Why was the police not informed?

3. When local residents came to help rescue trapped patients, doors were shut on their face. Security guards even beat up those who tried to enter forcefully. Even family members of patients were turned away saying situation was under control. (Times Of India reports, a guard was punished by hospital authorities for helping those who came for rescue operations.) Is this the way a hospital ensures emergency services?

4. Why were the hospital directors not informed (as per their confession to the police) that the hospital was on fire? And if they were indeed informed, why did they not immediately come to site and take charge?

5. By 6AM, none of the hospital staff were to be seen at the scene of tragedy (barring a few who gave up their life saving patients). Not a single helpline number was issued by authorities nor were bereaved and anxious families cooperated with. Is this “healthcare”?

6. Fire Brigade reached the site at about 5AM, but came without any equipment (lessons were not learnt from the Stephen Court tragedy). What took them so much time to arrive is a million dollar question, given their branch is stones throw away from the hospital (and at that time of the day, chances of any traffic jam does not arise).

7. The licence of the Annexe building that caught fire has been cancelled. But how were the licences given in the first place? Experts say there was a fault with the building plan, and such a construction should not have been allowed on such a small space. Did the administration turn a blind eye in 1994? In all certainty yes (thanks to the political allegiances of the directors). What did the new regime do in the last seven months to rectify the errors committed by our comrades?

8. The Fire Services Ministry says they had issued warnings to the hospital not to use basement as store room. In an inspection in September, they served a 3 months notice, to empty the basement, to the hospital.The deadline ended on 29 November 2011. Why was no action taken after that?

9. Apart from setting up committees and making new laws, what are the plans of the government to bring all buildings in Kolkata (and Bengal) under fire security blanket? Burrabazar can serve as an example. The buildings there are nothing short of an AMRI or Stephen Court waiting to happen. Political muscle flexing by saffronites and vote bank politics has prevented development of Kolkata’s business and trading hub for long. How far is the govt willing to go to make places like these “safe”?

10. Over the last two decades, Bengal saw a rapid decline in the healthcare facilities in the government hospitals. Hardly any NEW hospital was built by the government in the last decade. Instead private players were allowed to mushroom in this Communist state at will, flouting norms, without requisite accreditation. AMRI exposes the falsehood of “super specialty” hospitals. How does the government plan to bring these defaulters to book?

11. Setting the private hospitals apart, what stops the government from taking adequate measures in government run hospitals too? Infrastructure in these places is far from satisfactory. If a fire emanates out of basement at SSKM (which too is in use a store house) who will our CM put behind bars?

12. Last but not the least, although we have seen marked improvements in the infrastructure of the fire services department in last one year, much needs to be done yet. Lack of preparedness of the fire fighters cost some precious lives on 9 December. Hope that shall not be repeated.

People of West Bengal ushered in a new regime with the hope of change. We all have our hopes pinned on the Chief Minister who set an example of astute administrator in the wake of a tragedy on Friday. The castles of desire that have been built around her, failing the people would amount to the writer of this blog taking up the pen again, in anguish, for failed promises.  May God Bless Bengal that we never see such a day.

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