wenty kilometres from Kolkata, outside the city's eastern fringes, is located the booming town of Barasat. With an exponential growth in real and retail industry, this township many thought would be Kolkata's Noida. But the change in the skyline does little to conceal the poverty and the shady underbelly of crime underneath. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, after assuming power, bifurcated the North 24 Paraganas Police District into three commissionerates to check crime in the region. But to everyone's dismay, crime has escalated here in leaps and bounds.
A 20-year-old girl was gang raped and killed in Barasat's Kamduni village on 8 June. The girl was assaulted on her way back home from college by at least six men who dragged her to a walled compound and took turns to rape her. The six assaulters, who are now in police custody, stuffed the girl's sanitary pad in her throat to stop her from screaming. They also tied her hands and legs. Her body was later thrown outside the compound from a height of 14 ft near a vast swath of water body known as bheri. The autopsy report showed that the victim's femur bone was broken into pieces and her private parts were mutilated.
"I used to pick and drop her from the bus stop every day. But on that day I was late by just a few minutes. I crossed that compound several times after not finding her at the bus stop. I can never forgive myself. I wish that I had peeped inside the compound once," said the victim's younger brother, Prosenjit Ghosh.
The road that connects Kamdhuni with the township is a 3 km stretch that cuts through fisheries, where promises of modern life made by politicians time and again have not transpired into reality. There is no electricity in most of the houses, no street lamps, no public transport and the nearest police station is at a distance of 4 km. The brutal killing of the girl is not a case in isolation. Women here have been subjected to eve-teasing, molestation and harassment for years. "We always return from work in groups. It's a nightmare that we have lived with so many years and now we have lost one of our daughters," said Kamdhuni resident Basanti Ghosh.
Scared families have stopped sending their girls to school. "There is no point educating them when society has refused us our dues," said a mother of two daughters and a neighbour of the Ghosh family.
Agitated villagers have come out on the street to protest against the brutal death of the student. Ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader and state minister Jyotipriyo Mullick had to face the people's wrath on his way to the village to meet the bereaved family.
"We have silently suffered for too long, but not anymore. Our politicians cannot keep playing with our fate. We will protest the death of our girl till out last breath. She had braved impoverishment to continue her studies," said Nitaicharan Ghosh, a village farmer.
Away from the clamour, in a sordid house now frequented by sympathisers, a helpless family is trying to reconcile with their fate. "I don't want their money. Ansar Ali (the prime accused) should be hanged. I want justice," said Sukhum Ghosh, the victim's father.
Ansar Ali is believed to have strong allegiance with the TMC, a claim which has not been refuted by the party leaders in the area. Locals allege that the criminals are even patronised by the police. In February 2011, a Class X student, Rajib Das, was stabbed to death in Barasat while trying to protect his sister from three drunks who tried to molest her. Last December, a doctor was beaten to death by two men for protesting against lewd remarks made about his neighbour at Kadambagachi in Barasat.
The spot where the teenager was murdered is surrounded by the bungalows of the district police chief and the magistrate. This place where the college student was gang raped is at a stone's throw from a TMC office. Interestingly, the party office is located next to an illegal hooch den.
On 10 June 2013, a 14-year-old girl was allegedly gang raped and killed by a neighbour and his associates in Nadia. The incident took place in Gede, which comes under the Krishnaganj police station. The Class VI student went missing on her way back from school. Her body was recovered a day later from a bush close to the Gede railway station. The prime accused has been arrested.
Meanwhile, in Kolkata on Thursday, a differently-abled 24-year-old girl was raped by her 45-year-old neighbour. The accused, Uttam Das, is absconding.
In the midst of all this, the silence from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been deafening. Known to reach out to victims of injustice while she was in the Opposition, Mamata has chosen to send her emissary to Kamdhuni with the offer of financial assistance and a government job. The offers have been rejected by the victim's family.
Meanwhile, the police on Thursday arrested a group of women's rights activists who had gathered in front of the Chief Minister's residence to meet her personally. They were later released on bail. TMC general secretary Mukul Roy dubbed the incident as a "conspiracy" hatched by "the Congress, CPI(M) and Maosits" to defame the state government. Kolkata police commissioner Surajit Kar Purakayastha has defended the police action by saying that the activists were taken into preventive custody because they were protesting in front of the Chief Minister's residence, which is a high security zone.