Police failed twice to protect Kolkata gang-rape victim

Saibal Sen & Sanjib Chakraborty,TNN | Jan 3, 2014, 05.45 AM IST

KOLKATA: Police were busy trying to defend themselves on Thursday but what is lost in the maze of allegations and counter allegations is that they failed to protect a gang-raped minor. Twice.

Had police acted swiftly right after the first complaint, the second assault would not have happened. Moreover, police were accused of not taking cognizance of her dying declaration on December 26 and submitted it in Barrackpore court only on Thursday. In her last statement, the girl had denied suicide and said she was set on fire by Ratan and Minta Seal. But because police kept silent for a week, everyone believed she had killed herself.

On Thursday, police charged the duo with murder but by now the complainant, who is also the sole witness, is dead.

Facing a wave of outrage for the way they handled the investigation, police insist they had gone by the book. Officers claimed that they informed the court on December 27 to tag attempt-to-murder charges (307 IPC) with the December 25 FIR lodged by the girl's father. Police said they added sections to the original FIR and a statement of the mother was later recorded under Section 161 CrPC. A two-week foetus found in the autopsy has been sent to CFSL, Hyderabad for DNA profiling.

Did the police also go by the book in protecting a minor? The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, which is now a law, says police will protect the child and admit them to a shelter or the nearest hospital within 24 hours of a complaint of sexual assault. The Madhyamgram girl got no such care or support. Child welfare panel under scanner

Police did not protect her or her family as witnesses, either. On November 17, a Supreme Court bench had observed that the state has a "definite role to play in protecting witnesses." Apart from the two gang-rape complaints, the girl's family had filed a third FIR, saying they were being hounded out of their home.

The state has told the law commission that it has no problem with witness protection if the Centre bears 75% of the cost. "It is a much discussed subject but not a law," said senior criminal lawyer Milon Mukherjee.

State Women's Commission chairperson Sunanda Mukherjee says the Child Welfare Committee didn't do its job properly, which led to the victim's death. Child and women welfare minister Sashi Panja said the government has asked for a report from the district CWC.

The state can't feign ignorance on the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, because they have included Section 6 of this law in the December 17 chargesheet. It mandates imprisonment for a decade to life for "aggravated penetrative sexual assault". But police seem to have ignored the footnote.