If the cruelly apathetic handling by officers of the Kolkata police of a serious complaint brought before them by a woman of having been raped and assaulted in the heart of the city wasn't bad enough, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's misinformed or hubristic attempt to dismiss her charge as a story that was cooked up to malign her government, was even worse. Not to be outdone, the State's Transport Minister promptly wondered what the victim was doing out there late in the night, and made a further observation on her current marital status. Yet another representative of the State government openly questioned her moral credentials. Such atrocious remarks might be driven by political expediency but they are typical of how sections of Indian society continue to view crimes against women. When, after a series of twists and turns, the police finally claimed to have cracked the case by arresting three men, who turned out to be impersonators as well, it was not clear who had more egg on the face — the police, or the State's first woman Chief Minister, who also holds the Home portfolio. The inconsistencies and technical discrepancies in the complainant's statement that the police were initially harping on, have been accounted for, too. It is hard to imagine why any woman in those circumstances would falsely claim to have been raped. And, as a Supreme Court judgment has laid down, any questions concerning the character or antecedents of a woman should not be dragged in when it comes to investigating a crime committed against her.

Ultimately, the issue here would seem to boil down to the State government's ability to maintain law and order. If this crime occurred on the upmarket Park Street in the heart of the State capital, things are seemingly no better in several other parts of the State. More evidence came on February 22 from Bardhaman when CPI(M) leaders Pradip Tah, a former MLA, and Kamal Gayen were killed in an attack launched on a procession. In fact, the CPI(M) has claimed that with these deaths, a total of 58 of its workers have been killed since the Assembly elections last year. As in the rape case, the Chief Minister's instincts were to blame the victims, citing the fact that Tah had seven cases registered against him. Ms Banerjee and her team need to do some serious introspection with regard to the State government's will, and ability, to put the lid firmly on criminality of all kinds that pervade the State. She has often attributed the genesis of many evils to the ancien régime. But surely, she has had enough time already to undertake any necessary purging operations and put in place credible alternative arrangements.

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