Protest outside West Bengal govt’s bhawan, Rajiv Bhawan, New Delhi
Photo courtesy: Bijayalaxmi Nanda
The Resident Commissioner
West Bengal Bhavan
We, members of the Citizen’s Collective against Sexual Assault, women’s groups, progressive groups and concerned citizens from across the country are outraged at the unwarranted arrest of a peaceful gathering of feminist and human rights activists on June 13, 2013. We strongly condemn these arrests. We strongly uphold people’s democratic right to peaceful and non-violent dissent and protest.
The activists were trying to seek an appointment with the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, in order to hand over a letter of protest against the incidents of gang rape and murder of two young girls in Barasat and Nadia. The CM had earlier refused to meet civil society activists at Writers Buildings. Therefore, on June 13, 2013, members of MAITREE Network (a network of women rights groups in West Bengal) decided to gather outside her residence to seek an appointment. They were not even allowed to enter the street leading to the CM’s residence.
When they wanted to hand over a protest letter to the CM, they were told to hand over the letter to the police instead. They rejected this on the ground that it was the CM who was the elected representative and the head of the government. Without any prior warning to disperse, the totally peaceful gathering, modest in size, was suddenly dragged by the police and bundled into police vans. Thirteen activists were arrested and taken to the Lal Bazar Central lock-up. Surely, activists of women’s organisations are not perceived by the WB State Government as a security risk? Especially when they were there to express their concern about the gang rapes of women and girls in the state.Is that an act that threatens the CM or the Government of WB?
The attitude of the West Bengal government with respect to cases of sexual assault and sexual violence against women has, at best, been dismissive. This is evident in the Chief Minister’s response to the statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). It recorded 30,942 incidents of crime against women in West Bengal in 2012 as against 29,133 the year before. The government’s disclaimer was, “The situation in the state has improved and rape incidents have come down considerably”. Even as the state battles the shame of the Barasat and Nadia rape and murders, Bengal has again topped the country in crimes against women, accounting for 12.67% of such cases across India. Further, as the statistics reveal the state also recorded the third highest number of rapes (escaping the second slot by a whisker) while Kolkata registered the highest number of assaults on the ‘modesty’ of women among all the metro cities in the country.
We, the undersigned, condemn the increasing incidents of sexual assault and atrocities on women and girls in West Bengal. We deplore the rapidly deteriorating law and order situation in the state and how that is severely affecting the safety and mobility of women, especially high school and college-going girls in suburban and rural areas.
Some zones have become particularly unsafe, like the Barasat belt in North 24 Parganas where an undergraduate student–daughter of a day-labourer–was gangraped and killed on 7 June on her way back from college. Women are being regularly harassed, molested and raped in that area and several such incidents have been reported in the local media in the last two years. But the administration refuses to act. As the panchayat elections are drawing near, activists fear an escalation of violence against women in the state.
We also condemn the way in which women rights and human rights defenders have been treated by the Government, in complete opposition to the democratic principles of the country.
- Immediate action initiated against the police personnel responsible for their arrests.
- That the West Bengal government accept the right of all, regardless of political leanings, to protest peacefully and democratically on important issues.
- That the Government, judiciary and law enforcing agencies initiate speedy action and arrest the culprits responsible for cases of atrocities against women, including the latest two cases of rape and murder against the young girls in Barasat and Nadia.
- That proper investigation and a fair and unbiased trial be fast tracked that would enable victims and their families to access justice and lead culprits towards due punishment.
- Further, steps should be taken to end instances of violence against women in the state, in consultation with the women rights’ and human rights’ groups.
Citizens’ Collective against Sexual Assault (CCSA), New Delhi, is a group of individuals and organisations that has come together to protest against the extreme culture of sexual violence against women and girls in Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon. We raise these issues with the public, as well as the administration and the police of Delhi-NCR and work in different ways to stop and prevent sexual harassment against vulnerable groups. CCSA can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.