Issues

Bengal inching towards social, political & financial bankruptcy

By Aziz A. Mubaraki

The West Bengal government has a lot to answer for in the Park Street rape case which was earlier ridiculed by it, but the CCTV footage from the hotel provided vital clues about the attack and showed the victim was indeed telling the truth. Unfortunately, the victim was first mocked by Madan Mitra, a minister who instead of offering help questioned the integrity and character of the victim. Then the Chief Minister rubbished her complaint, saying it was a conspiracy to slander her government. But soon it turned out that the victim was telling the truth. The police later confirmed that the lady had been indeed raped at gunpoint as she had claimed. The big issue is will the Mamata Banerjee government apologize for the insult to injury and disgrace this woman has been subjected to? Will the Mamata Banerjee government now apologize for victimizing the sufferer?

Although, The Hon’ble Supreme Court has very strong views on this issues and in regard to a similar incident in 2000 it noted that “In Indian society, any girl or woman would not make such allegations (of rape) against a person as she is fully aware of the repercussions flowing from it... she would be looked at by society with contempt for the rest of her life.”

Prior to this landmark judgment delivered in the State of Karnataka vs. Manjanna case, doctors examined victims of rape only after they received a request from the police. For this to happen, the victim had to gather the guts to register a complaint against the accused in a police station of the right jurisdiction. There could be undue delays in this, considering the social obstacles that women face in coming out in the open against the accused. Further, a woman is often condemned just for being the victim of rape. Yet, society often blames the victim for the delay in complaining about the offence, giving less significance to the monstrous act of the accused and the mental and physical ordeal that the woman has to go through and face the stigma involved before registering a complaint. Only after this delayed registering of a complaint against the accused will the police investigation be initiated and an application forwarded to a doctor at the government hospital asking for a medical examination of the victim. On many occasions if the victim reports directly to the hospital, she would be denied this crucial medico-legal examination and the medical confirmation of this heinous act lost because the police had not made a demand for it. By the time the police requisition could be arranged, there would be considerable delay and much of the medical evidence lost or could not be collected. This results in the release of the accused in many cases, due to the lack of evidence and the benefit of doubt is awarded to the accused.

In its 2000 judgment, the Supreme Court recognized that the rape victim’s need for a medical check-up constituted a “medico-legal emergency”. Second, it was also the right of the victim of rape to approach medical services first before legally registering a complaint in a police station. The hospital is obliged to examine her right away; they could always consequently commence a police complaint on the demand of the victim. As a result of this landmark judgment, the doctor or hospital is now required to examine a victim of rape if she reports to the hospital directly, and willingly, without a police request. The judgment recognizes the three ways by which a hospital may receive a victim of rape: voluntary reporting by the victim; reporting on requisition by the police, and reporting on requisition by the Court. Unfortunately this information has not been disseminated to all doctors, and the majority of them still insist on a police requisition before examining a rape victim.

Apart from this the Supreme Court in 1994 also directed the NCW to develop a scheme and set up a Criminal Injuries Compensation Board to provide financial assistance to victims of rape. The commission initiated the process of drafting the scheme in 1995. In 2005, the government provided the commission with guidelines on planning a procedure to disburse funds to victims. The scheme provides for setting up of a National Criminal Injuries Relief and Rehabilitation Board which will have counterparts in each state. Under the scheme, the victim is entitled to restorative financial support adding up to Rs 2-3 lakh. According to it, victims who lodged an FIR after the scheme comes into effect will be eligible for compensation from the government.

But Mamata Banerjee seems to be opposing almost anything and everything. She’s still behaving like an activist, as a leader of the opposition battling a non-existent enemy. Suddenly, having defeated her enemy-of-long, she’s without a target to attack. It seems Mamata has suddenly become unsure of her purpose in life - running amok in a maddening and thrilling start to her tenure, from announcing new trains despite budgetary constraints to painting the city white and blue, misreading her mandate.

What Mamata needs to show is a more responsible and tolerant face. It’s after many years that the state government in West Bengal is from the same combination as the central government. She should use this to her advantage. It’s absolutely fine for her as CM to be upset about a few things, but she should not make this a habitual routine and desist from making irresponsible statements. She should instead exploit the Congress’s numerical weakness at the Centre to get more funds for the state and more projects approved but she shouldn’t push the centre so hard that they start looking for alternate associates. If Mamata now joins the opposition, her decline in WB would be inevitable.

It is a delicate and tentative time for the Congress at the centre as well. But the difference is that the Congress realizes its situation and is playing it calmly till it’s necessary while Mamata isn’t and she continues to throw her weight around. The Congress is clearly playing a waiting game to opt for a more consistent friend in Samajwadi Party. If that happens, Mamata will suddenly find herself booted out from her position of strength. Who’s she going to throw a tantrum against then? Mamata must understand that the mandate was against the Left misrule and not in favour of TMC and she has risen to power by default, but she could take advantage of the situation by good governance, perseverance, impartiality and integrity. However, she’s just continuing in the same vein that the Left used to do, making herself somewhat synonymous to the Left. The people of Bengal rejected the Left ideology and desire a very different broth, not one that is a little less callous version of the same they were served for over three decades. Bengal today is dying for financial liberalization. They want industries so that they can get jobs in their own state. They want private investment to pour in. Even urban communication in Kolkata is shoddier than even in Mumbai. With a high number of pre-historic Ambassador cars in Kolkata, a visitor to the city would think he has been transported back in time. People here have voted for “paribartan” – the much need change. But they are getting dissatisfied so soon. And in the meantime, if the Left becomes even slightly sensible – though that’s a near impracticality (as of now) – Mamata’s dream run will be over even before her term ends.

But the problem of absolute power is that it makes one more vulnerable. Being an ex-Congressperson, she must be aware how Rajiv Gandhi dissipated away the 411 seats he got in the 1984 elections. That’s what absolute power does. It makes politicians arrogant, shortsighted and in limbo at times. Mamata’s 184 seats are almost 2/3rds of the assembly.  The state is already feeling financial pangs. Any exodus of senior government officials to go on central government deputation will be another blow. The situation is somewhat unstable in the light of the Park Street rape case where a senior police officer stood by the victim even as many others, including the chief minister, were suspicious about the complainant’s statement.

The author is a member of the Advisory Committee Airport Authority of India. He may be contacted at azizmubarki@gmail.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 March 2012 on page no. 2

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