‘Love Affair’ to ‘Outsider Conspiracy’: TMC’s Controversial Takes on Sexual Harassment Allegations

Sandeshkhali is not the first instance when Trinamool Congress leaders have made controversial statements regarding sexual assault cases. They follow a pattern often set by the chief minister herself.
Women who spoke of systemic abuse against them by local leaders, in Sandeshkhali. Photo: Joydeep Sarkar

In the wake of escalating unrest at Sandeshkhali in West Bengal’s North 24-Parganas, chief minister Mamata Banerjee addressed the state assembly on February 15, vehemently accusing the outsiders, instigated by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, for the turmoil.

“This (violence) is not new. There is a branch of RSS in Sandeshkhali. Bringing outsiders is causing unrest. We are taking action; the police are going door to door to provide assistance,” Banerjee declared during her address.

Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders, including Kunal Ghosh and Saokat Molla, responded to the allegations with scepticism. Ghosh called for victims to “provide proof” of the mass rape incidents that reportedly occurred, leading to the unrest. He went into the extent of asking women to raise hands to show whether they were raped or not in a televised talkshow.

Molla, meanwhile, dismissed the credibility of the women protesting against TMC’s Shahjahan Sheikh, alleging that they were all liars who “smoked cigarettes.”

TMC leader Narayan Goswami made suggestive comments, hinting that the women making harassment allegations did not conform to the purported and expected physical characteristics of local tribal women.

Goswami said, “The Adivasi women from Sandeshkhali can be identified by their physique and complexion. However, the women alleging harassment in front of the camera are fair. How can we know that they are local Adivasis?”

Another TMC spokesperson Jui Biswas demanded video evidence during a TV debate on the Sandeshkhali issue. “In Hathras, it was proven that rape has happened. Show me footage from West Bengal which shows that rape has happened,” asked Biswas, a councilor of Kolkata Municipal Corporation and close relative of influential state cabinet minister Arup Biswas during the debate.

This is not the first time Trinamool Congress leaders have made controversial statements regarding sexual assault cases. They rather follow a pattern often set by the chief minister herself.

Past instances

In 2022, the Trinamool supremo had raised doubts about the gangrape-murder of a 14-year-old girl in Nadia district. The victim, invited to a birthday party by the son of a Trinamool Congress leader in Hanshkhali was allegedly gang-raped by the youth and his friends.

She later died due to excessive bleeding, and family members were reportedly prevented from seeking medical help. Following her death local Trinamool workers attacked the family, pointing a gun and forcefully cremated her.

The family later used the child helpline to raise the complaint. Banerjee, in the presence of the then West Bengal police chief Manoj Malaviya, suggested the girl had an affair with the accused, leading to sharp criticism from opposition parties. The Calcutta High Court subsequently transferred the case to the CBI.

In 2013, a 20-year-old college student was abducted, gang-raped, and murdered in Kamduni village, located 16 km from Barasat in the North 24 Parganas district.

Ten days after the incident, chief minister Banerjee visited the victim’s family in Kamduni and encountered a group of protesting women whom she accused of being “CPM supporters engaged in nasty politics”. Last year, the high court reduced the death sentences of two convicts in this case to life terms and acquitted a third death-row convict.

The court cited the state’s failure to prove conspiracy and the lack of evidence to challenge the possibility of reformation and rehabilitation. The West Bengal government and the girl’s family have not moved the Supreme Court challenging the order.

In February 2012, Banerjee dismissed the Park Street rape case as a “sajano golpo (fabricated story)”, alleging that it was orchestrated by the media to tarnish the image of the police and state government.

Trinamool Congress MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar even suggested that the victim, Suzette Jordan, was a “sex worker” and that the rape resulted from a dispute with a client. The police investigation, led by IPS Damayanti Sen, revealed that the woman had been raped by a gang of four individuals.

The officer was soon shifted from her post as joint commissioner of Kolkata Police (Crime) to the insignificant post of DIG (Training) at Barrackpore Police Training College and then again to DIG, (Darjeeling Range), within four months.

In 2022, the Calcutta high court ordered Sen to supervise four rape incidents in Matia, Ingrejbazar, Deganga and Banshdroni.

Three weeks later, Banerjee labelled another alleged rape case on a train as a “conspiracy by the CPI(M)” to tarnish her government’s reputation. She identified the victim as the wife of a CPI(M) worker, despite her husband’s death in 2002.

All five accused were eventually found guilty of armed robbery but not guilty in the gang rape case. However, the court criticised the public prosecutor for lack of evidence, particularly relevant medical reports supporting the rape case.

In 2014, the teenage daughter of a farmer, known to be a CPI(M) supporter, was found murdered in Dhupguri after she opposed the ruling of a ‘kangaroo court’ allegedly called by local Trinamool Congress leaders. Her disrobed body showed signs of sexual assault. The incident sparked public outrage in the district, leading to the arrest of eight Trinamool Congress supporters, who were soon released on bail.

There were allegations that the police shielded the accused, and a key witness was later found dead under suspicious circumstances. A key officer handling the probe, James Kujur, then additional SP of Jalpaiguri district, was later elected as the MLA of Kumargram in the neighbouring Alipurduar district and made a state cabinet minister in charge of the tribal development department in 2016.

Last year, a tribal unemployed woman living in a tea-basti near Bagdogra in North Bengal was subject to brutal sexual torture. Despite her FIR and medical repot confirming her ordeal, the primary accused, enjoying political influence, was not apprehended by the police. While the other four accused are in custody, the victim is repeatedly being intimidated with threats and harassments.

Translated from the Bengali original by Aparna Bhattacharya.

This article was first published on The Wire



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