Two of the 13 persons accused in the gangrape of a tribal girl in Chouhatta, in Labhpur block of Birbhum district, are known to be active Trinamool Congress (TMC) workers. The TMC won the Chouhatta panchayat elections uncontested in 2013. One of the party’s elected panchayat members, Ajoy Mondal, was also reportedly present at the “trial” conducted by the tribal court on Monday evening, where the girl was penalised for allegedly marrying a Muslim youth.
The tribal court ordered the Muslim youth to pay a fine of Rs 25,000, while the girl’s family was told to pay Rs 20,000. The girl’s brother, a labourer, said he expressed inability to pay the amount. The village head, Balai Maddi, 50, reportedly gave him a few days to arrange the money. But the same night, the girl was allegedly gangraped by at least 12 men, including Maddi and his sons, reportedly on the orders of the tribal court.
According to sources, Mondal was also a signatory to a document in which the tribal court announced the dissolution of their marriage.
But TMC leaders on Thursday dissociated themselves from the incident. “We cannot enter the tribal court when it is held. It is strictly for tribal people, and they do not permit interference,” said Anubrata Mondal, president of the Birbhum party unit.
Admitting that TMC workers were among those arrested, party general secretary Mukul Roy said, “We did not order for them to be spared. We want them to be punished. Moreover, no political party has any role to play in the tribal justice system.”
“My sister fell in love with a Muslim youth who lives in a nearby village. He came to our village on Monday. In our community, we do not marry girls to Muslim youths. The village head was informed and we were ordered to be present at the trial on Monday afternoon. Both the Muslim youth and my sister were tied to a tree during the trial,” recalled the victim’s brother.
“The village head ordered the Muslim youth to pay a fine of Rs 25,000 and I was told to pay Rs 20,000 as penalty. I am a daily labourer and I have three sisters. It was not possible for me to pay that amount. He gave us a couple of days to arrange the money. The Muslim youth was released after his father handed over the money. The village head told us that our sister would not be released. We returned home at about 7 pm, leaving her behind,” he said.
Later that night, the victim was allegedly taken to a hut and gangraped by at least a dozen men. She returned home on Tuesday morning, but informed her family only on Wednesday. “They threatened her not to tell us about the rape. She remained silent for over 24 hours,” said the brother.
A complaint was lodged on Wednesday afternoon in which the victim named 13 people. All the accused, including Maddi, have been arrested. Fearing retaliation, the victim’s family has fled the village.
Medical reports have confirmed that the victim was raped. “I have spoken to the doctors who conducted the tests. The victim has said in her complaint that she was raped by a dozen men. The medical tests have also shown signs of physical assault and rape. I am yet to receive the official report,” said State Women and Child Welfare Minister Sashi Panja.
The medial superintendent of Suri Hospital, where the girl has been admitted, said, “We have handed the medical report to the police. We are treating her and some medical investigations are yet to be completed.”
Meanwhile, the government on Thursday shunted out Birbhum Superintendent of Police C Sudhakar. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is learnt to have expressed displeasure after the department decided not to seek police custody of the accused. “The SP has been transferred. We will file a fresh plea in court to take the accused in police remand,” said Siddhinath Gupta, IG, western range.
Earlier in the day, seven of the accused were produced before the court and sent to judicial custody for 14 days. “Why should we need to seek their police custody? We have arrested all those named in the FIR,” Sudhakar said.
“We do not understand why the police did not plead for their custody. We advised them to get the accused in their custody,” said Ranjit Ganguly, public prosecutor at the Suri court.