Twelve days after an elderly nun was raped at a convent in Ranaghat in West Bengal’s Nadia district, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the state police claimed a breakthrough in the case, arresting two suspects — one in Mumbai, and the other in Habra in North 24-Parganas district of West Bengal.
Shaikh Salim, who was arrested in Mumbai, was brought to West Bengal on transit remand and produced before the Ranaghat subdivisional court in the afternoon, where the CID slapped charges of rape, extortion, dacoity and robbery (IPC Sections 376, 395 and 397) on him.
CID officers and legal experts at the court said the charge of rape will have to be substantiated with medical proof and other forensic evidence subsequently.
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As per the FIR, there was only one rapist in the gang that broke into the school on the night of March 13-14. Asked if the investigators believed that Shaikh Salim was the individual who had assaulted the 71-year-old Sister Superior, and the CID had, therefore, accused him under Section 376 (rape), DIG Dilip Adak, said, “Everything needs to be corroborated in further investigation when the accused is taken into police custody.”
Adak also declined to confirm whether the arrests on Thursday meant the case had been cracked. “The arrested Shaikh Salim has confessed that he was at the crime scene. It is now to be investigated and verified what role Salim had actually played.”
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The DIG said it was also not known why the gang of robbers had physically tortured the septuagenarian nun for over an hour, and left her grievously injured.
Sikandar Shaikh alias Salim was picked up from a jhopar patti on Pirkhana Street in Nagpada, South Mumbai, in the wee hours of Thursday. At 3.05 am, two officers of the West Bengal CID, accompanied by officers of the Mumbai Police Crime Branch, swooped on the home of Salim’s friend, where he was allegedly hiding out.
CID sources said investigators had reached Salim by monitoring mobile phone calls. They had also been tipped off by “sources” about an individual in Nagpada who resembled one of the suspects whose sketches the CID had put out after the crime. Faces of four alleged criminals had been captured clearly by CCTV cameras in the school.
The detectives subsequently released three more sketches based on descriptions provided by the victims at the convent.
Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria told The Indian Express in the morning, “The West Bengal team had the lead, they shared the information with us and sought our assistance. Assistance was provided, and the accused was arrested from the Nagpada area, and has been taken away by the Bengal team.”
The second arrest followed late in the afternoon, following Salim’s interrogation. A man called Gopal Sarkar, who lives in Goalbati in Habra, a town close to the border with Bangladesh, was picked up after Salim allegedly told the CID that Sarkar had hosted the gang at his home before the raid on the convent.
The CID said Gopal Sarkar was an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant who had crossed over in 2002, and had been living in Habra ever since.
Shaikh Salim too is believed to be a Bangladeshi national, who was staying in Mumbai.
After landing in Kolkata from Mumbai, the CID officers took Salim straight from the airport to the court in Ranaghat, where they submitted that Salim had confessed to the crime, but the CID needed him in custody in order to make material recoveries and to put him through medical and forensic examination.
The Ranaghat court was barricaded for Salim’s production. No lawyer represented the arrested accused, said Chandranil Chatterjee, a member of the Bar. The CID described Shaikh Salim as one of the masterminds of the Ranaghat rape and robbery case. He could be a Bangladeshi, but his antecedents were still being verified, the CID said. Salim has given the names of other members of the gang, and more arrests are likely, unless the men have fled to Bangladesh, a CID officer said.
(With inputs from Rashmi Rajput in Mumbai)