Justice Should Not Only Be Done, But Be Seen to Be Done

 

On March 22 late-night, a violent mob of 50 to 60 villagers attacked a row of houses with stones, bombs and bullets, and then set fire to them in Bogtui village near Rampurhat of West Bengal’s Birbhum district.

This resulted in the gruesome death of eight people including women and innocent children. The autopsy report of the burnt bodies shows that the people were beaten before they were locked in their homes before the houses were set on fire. The massacre had taken place in retaliation of the alleged murder of a local TMC leader in a bomb attack several hours ago.

According to eyewitness reports, 10 to 12 people on motorbikes hurled bombs at Bhadu Sheikh, the Trinamool up Pradhan (deputy chief) of Barshal gram panchayat, killing him on the spot. Bhadu Sheikh was from Bogtui Paschim Para (western side of Bogtui village), and his assailants were from Bogtui Poorba Para (eastern side of Bogtui village). Soon after the murder, the mob descended o Bogtui Poorba Para and set fire to a row of 10 houses at around 10.30 pm. Several people were trapped in the blaze, and the mob did not allow people to escape.

The bodies at the spot were too charred beyond recognition, and it was horrifying to watch visuals of policemen carrying lumps of human remains from the scene of crime. There were two charred bodies holding each other tight, when the blaze had spread. It was heart rending to watch two individuals holding each other to protect themselves when the blaze engulfed their home. This was a bestial and horrendous act not by human beings but by devils in the shape of humans.

Some eyewitnesses said, local policemen were also present but they did not stop the mob. Women and kids trapped inside houses, when the mob set them on fire, cried and pleaded for help, but none came forward. The mob prevented firemen to save the victims. More than an hour later, when the flames subsided and when the row of houses was reduced to ashes, did the firemen move forward. The fire had reduced ceiling fans into twisted, burnt metal.

Initially, Trinamool Congress described the blaze as a result of electric short circuit, but as gory details about the massacre came to light, the ruling party was caught in a bind. The ruling Trinamool Congress is trying to cover up the massacre by carrying out a travesty of police probe. The ‘dance of death’ was terrifying and the manner in which Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reacted was shocking. As the Centre took notice and decided to send an official delegation, after Bengal BJP MPs presented their case before Home Minister Amit Shah, Mamata Banerjee lashed out at the BJP on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Wednesday, expressed his grief over the massacre. In a series of tweets, Modi said, “I express my grief over the violent incident in Birbhum district of West Bengal. It is my hope that the state government will punish those who committed this dastardly sin on the great soil of Bengal. I also appeal to the people of Bengal never to forgive those who committed this crime and also those who instigated these criminals. On behalf of the central government, I want to assure the state that whatever assistance required to punish the culprits at the earliest, will be given by the Centre.”

However, it appears that Mamta Banarjee was unphased with this gruesome incident. She retorted, “The incident was unfortunate. I am not justifying, but such incidents frequently take place in UP, Gujarat, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Who don’t people raise a hue and cry then? Why are people ready to defame Bengal only?” 

Surprising, how a chief minster can react like this? It is now Mamata’s responsibility to take strong action and ensure stringent punishment to the criminals. She must ensure that “justice is not only done, but seems to have been done”, the dictum laid down by Lord Hewart, Chief Justice of England in a 1924 landmark judgement.

Realizing the severity of the crime, Mamata Banerjee sent senior officials and her trusted minister Firhad Hakim to the village. She said, “I have removed the local police station officer in-charge, the subdivisional police officer. I have sent the DGP there, I have also sent my leaders Firhad Hakim, Anubrat Mandal, and Ashish Banerjee there. Everybody will get justice.” Banerjee termed the Birbhum incident “unfortunate” said that her government will take action in a ‘fair’ manner. She has constituted a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the case. 

One of the petitions before the HC stated that the SIT has already given many contradictory statements on the issue and that it will only act as a “slave of the ruling party,” reported Bar and Bench.

“The SIT will leave no stone unturned to cover up the issue,” the petition stated.

On Wednesday, Calcutta High Court took suo motu cognisance when a division bench headed by Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bhardwaj directed the Special Investigation Team to present the case diary and other documents, while declining a prayer for CBI probe.

The high court directed the state police to immediately install CCTV cameras in the village under supervision of district judge. It also directed Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), Delhi to visit the crime scene and collect evidence at the earliest. The court also directed the DGP and IGP to provide security to vulnerable witnesses and ensure that they were not threatened or influenced by anyone.

Refusing to place faith in the Special Investigation Team created by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Calcutta High Court on Friday ordered CBI investigation into the Rampurhat arson and mass murder case directing the SIT to stop investigation and transfer forthwith the case to the Central agency.

The Calcutta High Court on Friday transferred the case to the CBI after rejecting a request by the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government to not hand over the probe to the central agency.

Opposition parties on Friday welcomed the high court order for CBI investigation into the violence that claimed eight lives in Bengal’s Birbhum district earlier this week, alleging that the state police, acting on the behest of the TMC government, was trying to hush up the matter.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj directed the CBI to submit a preliminary report before the court by April 7.

Pulling up the SIT for failing to make any significant progress in the investigation, the court directed the CBI to take charge of the case without delay.

The judges observed, “The case diary of the incidenthas been produced before us. We have minutely examined it.

 

The central agency has recovered two vehicles which villagers alleged were used to transport bombs and petrol to the crime spot at Bogtui village on March 21. The petrol was allegedly used to burn the victims alive.

Sleuths of the Central Bureau of Investigation, probing the Birbhum massacre, may take the help of forensic psychologists, a senior official of the agency said on Saturday.

The central agency has recovered two vehicles which villagers alleged were used to transport bombs and petrol to the crime spot at Bogtui village on March 21. The petrol was allegedly used to burn the victims alive.

We may take the help of specialists to prepare a forensic psychological assessment of some of the accused persons. They would be present during the interrogation,” a senior official said.

Forensic psychological assessment is a technique used to evaluate a person’s body language, his overall psyche and his personality to ascertain whether a person is telling the truth and to narrow down on culprits.

“The report may be produced in the court as evidence,” said the official while adding that the agency sleuths have found several inconsistencies while interrogating the accused persons.

Out of the 22 people who were arrested by the Special Investigation Team, earlier set up by the Mamata Banerjee administration, the CBI has taken 19 into custody for questioning. This includes Anarul Hossain, a former block president of the ruling Trinamool Congress.

Meanwhile the CBI may opt for DNA testing to identify the victims whose bodies were charred beyond recognition.

Though the seven charred bodies, recovered from one house in Bogtui village, were identified by one Alauddin Sheikh, who claimed to be a distant relative, before they were buried in the presence of district officials, a section of relatives including Mihilal Sheikh who lost his wife and daughter in the massacre alleged that they didn’t identify the bodies. Mihilal has already been questioned by the CBI.

Leaders react

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s team that went to West Bengal’s Rampurhat to ‘investigate’ the Birbhum violence concluded that the carnage in the Bogtui village locality was the result of “state-sponsored extortion, goonda tax, cut-money, and rivalry among the beneficiaries of the illegal gains”. Bengal CM and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee said that the report was vindictive in nature.

Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who also visited the village, said the chief minister had destroyed West Bengal by creating ‘danav raj’ (rule of evil) in the state. Chowdhury has alleged that political violence in Bengal has increased after the recently held local bodies elections. He wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind lamenting that “during last month itself there were 26 political murders in West Bengal.” On Birbhum violence, he said that in a fight between two groups of the ruling party in Bogtui village in Birbhum district, the deputy pradhan Dhri Bhadu Sheikh was killed and in retaliation houses in the area were attacked and set afire, ”resulting in 12 deaths including that of women and children”.

”It is a living example of medieval barbarism. There is ‘danav raj’ instead of ‘manav raj’ (rule of people) in West Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has destroyed Bengal. The connivance of ruling TMC and Police are looting the state. No other state in the country has this kind of situation. Yes, violence happened in Hathras and Unnao in Uttar Pradesh. We also went there. But, the situation of Bengal is the worst,” said Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.

He sought the invoking of Article 355 of the Constitution in the state.

Left parties, too, held protests  against the government. “Such violence acts are becoming a signature of the Trinamool rule, especially in Mamata’s third term,” said CPI-ML’s Dipankar Bhattacharya. Left Front leader Biman Bose has described the SIT probe as “a hoax”.

West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar, angry over the state government declining to send details about the incident, alleged that the state has ‘become a laboratory for political murders and human rights violations. He said, ‘I am disturbed, I am worried, the horrible and merciless manner in which innocents were killed, is worrying.’

In a veiled attack on Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, Banerjee said, “There is one ‘Laat saheb’ (lordly person) sitting here and describing Bengal as the worst state, hurling abuses at the state government.”

It is a unique case where none of the opposition leaders like Arvind Kejriwal, Sharad Pawar, Akhilesh Yadav, Uddhav Thackrey etc. who claim to be the saviour of oppressed have neither visited the site nor uttered a single word in sympathy of those who have lost their lives in this carnage.    

Just imagine, if eight Muslims had been charred to death in a BJP-ruled state, what could have happened? Muslim outfits across India would have raised a hue and cry alleging atrocities on minorities, and it would have figured as a headline in The New York Times. Prime Minister Modi would have been painted as an enemy of Muslims and as ‘maut ka saudagar’ (merchant of death). But nobody is raising such questions at Mamata Banerjee, because she is considered as a sympathizer of Muslims.

Let us hope that justice will not only be done, but will be seen to be done.