Well may the ruling Trinamool Congress tout the Kamduni gangrape verdict as one which "showcases how the administration and police acted impartially" to get the culprits booked, the inordinate delay and acquittal of two key accused will only serve to raise the temperature of an already feverish West Bengal that goes to Assembly polls in April-May.
The Kamduni gangrape and murder, as it later came to be known in the media, came just nine months after the epochal Nirbhaya case and its savage nature further traumatised a nation still grappling with the aftershock of the 2012 Delhi gangrape.
A second-year Derozio College student was dragged away while she was returning home, gangraped and brutally butchered by nine men in Kamduni, a hamlet in Bengal's North 24 Parganas district. The criminals tore apart her legs up to the navel and slit her throat before dumping her in a fish bheri (pond).
The mutilated body was found on 8 June, 2013. Villagers of Kamduni, who had erupted in anger when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee went to pay a visit, had to wait two years, seven months and 20 days before a Kolkata court on Thursday found six of the eight accused guilty of gangrape and murder. One had died during the trial.
But the brazen way in which a convict reacted immediately after the verdict and the fact that two key accused were let off for 'want of evidence' have added to the insecurity of the villagers who have sought police protection fearing a backlash from the associates, some of whom are perceived to be close to the ruling party.
Ansar Ali, convicted of gangrape as well as murder, threatened the victim's brother while being taken to the lock-up after the verdict. "Ami toke dekhe nebo (I will settle scores with you)," Ansar shouted menacingly even as cops struggled to drag him away, according to a report in The Telegraph.
Though the convictions have brought relief to the villagers, it cannot assuage their palpable insecurity that two have been let off and one, despite being convicted, had the guts to threaten them right on court premises. They fear that in near-certain higher court appeals against the sentencing, which will be delivered later on Friday, the convicts will cite the acquittals in their favour.
It is this fear that has prompted the villagers to seek a permanent police outpost in Kamduni.
Mousumi Kayal and Tumpa Kayal, two women who were the most vocal among the villagers when the chief minister came calling 10 days after the incident, claim they have been facing torment and threats since 2013 when they had first demanded justice from the Chief Minister, who was so incensed by the protests that she called the villagers "Maoists".
"We couldn't meet the police commissioner. He is busy elsewhere. We have submitted a written prayer, urging him to step up security in the area," Tumpa was quoted as saying by The Times of India.
It is this lack of confidence in the administration that has come under repeated fire of the opposition as they seek to build a case against the government with polls knocking at the door.
The CPM, fighting for survival in the state which once formed their strongest bastion, has questioned the delay in verdict. The CID, which was entrusted with the probe, had its first chargesheet rejected by the court because it failed to mention the name of one of the accused in the FIR. The investigating agency later submitted a supplementary chargesheet without forensic evidence.
"What took so long for the police to book those criminals? If police had acted impartially then the two who were acquitted could have also been booked," PTI quoted CPM Politburo member Mohammed Salim as saying.
"Though delayed justice, the court order is a slap on the Mamata government who tried to hush it up," BJP leader Sidharth Nath Singh told Firstpost on Friday.
"Kamduni has again showed how women remain unsafe in a state headed by a lady chief minister" he added.
For an administration already grappling with the fallout of Malda — which has attracted pan-India attention for being the hub of anti-national activities including widespread opium cultivation, manufacturing of illegal small arms, cross-border trade in fake Indian currency notes — the Kamduni verdict has added to the unease.
As reports in TV channels and an investigative report in Firstpost have shown, there is no writ of the state administration in the interiors of Malda district which is run by the narco mafia. There are parts where even police fear to tread in broad daylight.
For a poll-bound state, these are lowest fruits waiting to be picked and the BJP heavyweights have piled on the pressure in successive rallies.
"The Malda incident is not a small incident, and I want to tell this state government and the chief minister that those who are behind this incident, they will have to be unmasked. Just a few arrests will not suffice," Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said during a recent rally.
"Maa, Maati nor Manush is safe. No one is safe in Bengal. Even police are not safe here," Rajnath said.
He was followed by BJP president Amit Shah and Union HRD minister Smriti Irani, all of whom highlighted "the breakdown of law and order in the state" and "Bengal being turned into a centre of anti-national activities," a charge also repeated countless times by the CPIM. The Congress, still hopeful of an alliance with the TMC, has remained cautiously silent.
Amid this cauldron, no matter what the quantum of punishment is which is sure to be challenged in higher courts, Kamduni will serve to only increase the discomfort of Didi.
First Published On : Jan 29, 2016 16:30 IST