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  4. OPINION | Birbhum carnage: Justice should not only be done, but be seen to be done

OPINION | Birbhum carnage: Justice should not only be done, but be seen to be done

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 CM Mamata Banerjee reacted was shocking. 

Rajat Sharma Written by: Rajat Sharma @RajatSharmaLive New Delhi Published on: March 24, 2022 13:40 IST
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OPINION | Birbhum carnage: Justice should not only be done, but be seen to be done. 

On Monday 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. The attack took place after the death of a local Trinamool Congress leader in a bomb attack several hours ago. Eight persons were charred to death in the blaze.

 
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. 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 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.
 
Mamata Banerjee said, “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?” Why did the chief minster react like this?
 
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.
 
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.”
 
Prime Minister Modi is right. The culprits for this heinous massacre must be punished at the earliest. But the problem is that Mamata Banerjee’s government is taking up this case as an ordinary crime. 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.
 
Realizing the severity of the crime, Mamata Banerjee sent senior officials and her trusted minister Firhad Hakim to the village. Hakim was surrounded by women in the village, and complained that the criminals have fled and the local police have rounded up relatives of the victims. The women narrated the horrendous manner in which their family members were killed.
 
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.’
 
Mamata Banerjee immediately lashed out at the Governor, describing him as “a laat saheb” ( the word ‘laat’ was used during British rule for Governors). She said, “there is a laat saheb here, for him, everything about Bengal is bad.” She also lashed out at the BJP delegation that went to the spot to meet the victims. Mamata alleged that some BJP leaders stopped at a sweet shop to savour local delicacies before reaching 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.”
 
Mamata may be right, but the people of the affected areas are unwilling to believe her promise. Many villagers in the area have already left their homes with their belongings, in fear of more reprisals. There are visuals of villagers, along with their belongings, leaving on rickshaws. BJP MP Arjun Singh said, the entire Bogtui village is now vacant as all the villagers have left. He alleged that people living in nearby villages have also left for safer places.
 
When Mamata Banerjee was in the opposition, she used to blame the Left Front for every incident of violence, but in the eleventh year of her rule, after becoming chief minister thrice, Mamata is still playing the victim card and is blaming BJP for “defaming” her government.  
 
As a chief minister, people of Bengal expect her to go and offer sympathy to the families of victims. The state chief of BJP Sukanta Majumdar has demanded that Central rule be imposed in West Bengal, while the leader of opposition in Assembly Suvendu Adhikari has demanded a CBI probe. Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has alleged that political violence in Bengal has increased after the recently held local bodies elections, while Left Front leader Biman Bose has described the SIT probe as “a hoax”.
 
I don’t agree with the suggestion that an elected government should be replaced by President’s rule and that SIT is a hoax. The shameful carnage that took place in Birbhum, however,  needs to be condemned unequivocally. It is true that Mamata Banerjee did not delay in taking action, but this issue would not have taken such a big proportion, had Mamata Banerjee’s record on law and order front been impeccable. After her party scored a thumping victory in assembly elections, her party supporters indulged in killings, rape and arson in the homes of BJP supporters. Hundreds of families of BJP supporters had to flee the state and take shelter in neighbouring states.
 
At that time, it was the Election Commission which was in charge of law and order in the state till the electoral process was over. But now, questions are being raised about Mamata Banerjee’s police and administration. Questions are being raised about the real intention of her police officials and bureaucrats. That is why, the issue has taken a political colour.
 
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.
 
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.

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