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Kolkata: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee asked if a 14-year-old alleged murder and gangrape victim was indeed raped or if she had been pregnant or had had a “love affair,” drawing criticism from opposition and civil society alike.
A Trinamool Congress leader’s son is the accused in the alleged gangrape and murder of a Class 9 student in Hanskhali of Bengal’s Nadia district. The 21-year-old man has been arrested and was sent to police custody by a local court.
At an event in Kolkata, on Monday, April 11, Banerjee sought to address the issue.
“Would you call it rape or was she pregnant or would you call it a love affair…was she ill or was she hit by someone…I have asked police, ‘What happened?’ What happened was bad. Arrest has been made. I have heard the girl had had a love affair,” Banerjee said, speaking in Bengali.
She then asked the director general of police Manoj Malaviya if she is correct.
Immediately afterwards Banerjee was heard saying, “The girl died on the 5th. The complaint was made on the 10th. If anyone had a complaint then why not lodge it on the 10th?”
She also asked why the body of the victim had been cremated “without letting anyone know”.
“How will police investigate now?” she asked.
In the course of the same address, Banerjee again brought up the victim and said, “The girl had love affairs. Her family knew this. Neighbours also knew this. If boys and girls have relationships, I cannot stop them. This is not Uttar Pradesh that I’ll start a ‘love jihad’ programme.”
Repeatedly through the course of her speech, the chief minister sought to highlight an angle of the accused and the victim having allegedly known each other.
Ostensibly responding to opposition parties drawing focus to the fact that the family of the accused are leaders of her party, TMC, Banerjee said, “What to do, everyone does TMC. What is the use of pulling up TMC! In Bengal, everyone is TMC. If his father is a member of TMC…the son was in a relationship or whatever, why pull up TMC?”
This is not the first time that the TMC chief has made insensitive comments on sexual crimes against women. In 2015, in the aftermath of a gangrape in a vehicle in Kolkata’s upscale Park Street, Banerjee had described it as a “fabricated case” and sought to insinuate that there was an understanding between the victim and the accused which had gone wrong. Her words had been widely criticised then.
Opposition parties have slammed the latest incident as well, highlighting that a government which claims to place women’s rights front and centre has let its people down.
Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was quoted by Indian Express as having said, “ Does this victim not fall under TMC’s Maa, Mati, Manush (mother, land, people) governance? Why is the CM playing the role of devil’s advocate? Why is she defending those who committed the crime?”
Senior CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty tweeted that the chief minister had become “a chowkidar of rapists,” likening the Hanskhali incident to Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras, where a Dalit teenager was gangraped and murdered.
মুখ্যমন্ত্রীকে ধর্ষকদের চৌকিদার হয়ে
এর চাইতে নির্লজ্জ কি হতে পারে?
হাঁসখালিতে ধর্ষণ এবং
পুড়িয়ে দেবার ঘটনা
হাথরাসের স্মৃতিকে উস্কে দিচ্ছে।।
কেন প্রকাশিত হলো
তাই সংবাদমাধ্যমকে হুমকি?
পদে থাকার যোগ্যতা হারিয়েছেন।
আর কত নীচে নামবেন- মুখ্যমন্ত্রী?? pic.twitter.com/tdyqa9Bt8u
— Dr.Sujan Chakraborty (@Sujan_Speak) April 11, 2022
Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly, Suvendu Adhikari, said according to Express, “Look at the language in which she is speaking? There is no rule of law. People should rethink whom they have voted to power.”
Governor Jagdeep Dhankar also criticised the chief minister’s comments, saying on Tuesday that the investigation “could get compromised if people in authority indicate judgmental stance”.
He also said that such approaches could “scuttle fair probe”.
“Criminal Investigation in shameful rape #Hanskhali leading to victim death is tainted & compromised when people in authority & constitutional position indicate judgmental stance,” the governor tweeted, without naming anyone.
Dhankhar, who has had run-ins with the TMC government in the state over multiple issues, also said, “This against the law approach scuttles fair & independent probe as police is forced to toe such line (sic).”
Note: This article was updated at 6:26 pm on April 12, 2022 to include governor Dhankar’s tweet.