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Thursday, June 1, 2023

“Law of Ruler, not Rule of Law” NHRC damns West Bengal’s post-poll voilence in its 50-page report

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) observes that the disturbing post-poll violence in Bengal was a  “Law of Ruler”, instead of “Rule of Law”. “The spatio-temporal expanse of violent incidents with little efforts of state machinery to prevent or control or rectify the same, actually presents a picture of organised violence by supporters of the ruling party in retribution against persons who dared to support the other major party which lost the recent Assembly elections. While some organs or personnel of the state government remained mute spectators, some others were apparently complicit,” reads the report submitted by the commission.

On May 2nd 2021, TMC goons didn’t even wait for the count to complete and their electoral victory to be formalized. They formed huge groups and marched through the empty streets of the state reeling under the 2nd wave of covid. Police stood as silent spectators as the ruling hoodlums burnt down the BJP’s party office in Arambagh, Hooghly. But the flames engulfing the BJP set-up couldn’t satiate TMC cadres who then set the houses of BJP booth agents in Bishnupur aflame as well, tweeted the BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya questioning if this vandalism and arson were to be the fate of West Bengal in the next 5 years.

The following days and weeks witnessed widespread rapes of women supporting or working for the BJP, numerous political killings, arson, attack on livelihood, denying basic human rights and the exodus of over 1 lakh Bengalis from West Bengal who took refuge in Assam. While images and visuals of these attacks were rife on the internet, the Mamta regime continued to dismiss these occurrences as BJP-fuelled fake news to malign TMC’s image. 

As assaults of all kinds continued, the National Human Rights Commission on High Court’s order, set up a seven-member committee supervised by Rajiv Jain, a former director of Intelligence Bureau, to inquire into the complaints of post-poll violence being reported from West Bengal. The committee visited 311 spots in 20 days and has submitted its 50-page report to the High Court on Tuesday, July 13th. The observations and revelations made in the report are harrowing, to say the least, and an absolute blot in the face of Indian democracy. 

“The situation in the state of West Bengal is a manifestation of the law of ruler, instead of rule of law…This was retributive violence by supporters of the ruling party against supporters of the main opposition party,” asserts the NHRC report.

It mentions that a minimum of 1,934 police complaints was registered in West Bengal between May 2 and June 20. This included 29 cases of murder, 12 of sexual molestation and rape, and 940 of loot and arson, holding at least 9,304 people as accused. They also added 57 complaints related to women that were received from the National Women Commission. “Out of the 9304 accused cited in the FIRs only 1354 (14%) have been arrested and, out of these arrested, 1086 (80%) are already on bail. Thus, overall speaking, less than 3% of the accused are in jail, while 97% are out in the open, making a mockery of the whole system,” the report documented

The committee found massive gaps in the cases lodged by the WB police and complaints received by them. The NHRC highlighted that despite so many sensitive cases of murder and rape the percentage of accused in prison was abysmally low, which demonstrates the ineptness of the State Police.

“Violence was retributive. It was in retaliation to those who ‘dared’ to vote or support the major opposition party. Victims were helpless and hopeless due to the torture and trauma,” reads the NHRC report. “To add to the indignity were reports of instances where heads were tonsured or public apologies were made for having “erred” in supporting the major opposition party,” it adds.

The reports call out the blaring apathy of the state police as “Poor and common people have lost faith in Police. Almost all victims informed the Inquiry Committee that Police either did not respond to their phone calls or came and stood as mere spectators while goons went on a rampage from one place to another.” The committee also highlighted that numerous victims were framed in false cases whipped by the police that was hand-in-glove with the accused and lodged pre-dated counter cases to support the version of the accused’s narrative against the real victim’s. The police subsequently arrested the real victims absolving the TMC goons of their political criminalities. The report also states that several murder cases were registered as unnatural deaths and victim parties were pressurised to arrive at a compromise with the accused.

Pegging on the incompetency of the state police and claiming that it is scared to take actions against goons supported by the ruling dispensation, the 7-member team “recommended that all heinous crimes, including murder, unnatural deaths, rape and grievous hurt, and complaints carrying these allegations should be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). . . Trial of all the above cases investigated by the CBI should be held outside the state.” They have also established the need to deploy central forces in the state, introduce reforms in the police and set up a court-monitored special investigation team with a special public prosecutor, trial in fast track courts. The panel endorsed setting up a committee with officers as observers in every district and it should be led by a retired judge to oversee the implementation of High Court orders.

Bengal’s post-poll mayhem, invigorated by the ruling party’s win in Bengal, had led to disruption of life, livelihood and economic strangulation of a sizable population. They were denied the right to life, liberty, and health. The NHRC was astonished to find that the victims were not given any protection against the violation of their human and fundamental rights. They observed that neither senior bureaucrats nor political frontrunners from the state condemned the violence, surveyed the spots, made attempts to comfort victims or take measures to ameliorate their sufferings.

Holding a “pernicious politico- bureaucratic-criminal nexus” accountable for violence in the state, the committee labels the situation in Bengal a death knell for democracy in this great nation. The report gravely notes, “If the above mentioned worrisome trend is not arrested, where the entire might of the government machinery has been used for furthering the political objectives of the party in power, the disease may spread to other states also.”

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