‘There is no point in issuing any notices to State government’

The National Commission for Women (NCW), taking suo motu cognisance of the horrific gang rape of a young tribal woman in Birbhum district of West Bengal on the ‘orders’ of a khap panchayat on Monday last, has decided to send a team to conduct an inquiry.

The 20-year-old was gang raped by 13 persons—all of whom have since been arrested — following a diktat by a kangaroo court after her family expressed their inability to pay the “fine” imposed on her for an alleged affair with a boy from another community.

“A three-member team will travel to West Bengal next week and enquire into recent cases of sexual violence against women in the State,” NCW chairperson Mamata Sharma told The Hindu. The Commission is in the process of compiling these cases.

“There is no point in issuing any notices to the State government because neither the State government nor the Chief Minister responds. That is why we have decided to send a team,” Ms. Sharma said. NCW’s Shamina Shafique, in charge of West Bengal, will lead the team.

Describing the incident as highly condemnable, Brinda Karat, former MP and Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member, said it was shocking particularly since Adivasi communities had a culture of gender equality. “They too succumbed to retrograde practices of so-called honour killings.”

Ms. Karat said it showed how bad the law and order situation was in the State.

Demanding full security for the survivor and her family, the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) has said all the perpetrators and instigators must be arrested and a proper investigation conducted.

“In several districts of West Bengal, including Birbhum, there is a growing atmosphere of violence, with gangs of armed anti-socials taking the law in their own hands. This is because many of them enjoy the political patronage of the ruling party, as a result of which the police and the administration turn a blind eye to them,” a statement issued by AIDWA president Malini Bhattarcharya said.

Ranjana Kumari, Director of Centre for Social Research, said the incident was totally horrendous and even worse was the fact that unconstitutional bodies such as “khap panchayats” were still functioning in the country. “This is unacceptable, considering that the Supreme Court had described these kangaroo courts unconstitutional and asked the States to inform it on what they were doing to deal with such self-styled bodies,’’ she said.

State panel for spreading awareness

Kolkata Staff Reporter writes:

The West Bengal Commission for Women has began a probe into the gang rape and called for spreading greater awareness among marginalised communities about the existing laws of the country.

“The alleged crime against the woman is horrific and we will ensure that the perpetrators are given strict punishment which they deserve. But in a more holistic manner what is required is spreading awareness among the marginalised communities that women cannot be treated in such a manner,” Sunanda Mukherjee, chairperson of the Commission, told The Hindu.

 Ms. Mukherjee said that a similar kangaroo court would not have given such a punishment to a man. She pointed out that women were easily held guilty in such communities as had been happening on the pretext of them being involved in witchcraft.

 West Bengal Minister for Women and Child Development Sashi Panja said the government did not support such kangaroo courts in any way.

“Only a strong action against those involved in the crime will pass the message that such self-styled courts cannot punish anyone on their whims and fancies,’ Dr. Panja said.