Ashwini Kumar, a 50-year old police officer from Bihar, was lynched by a mob during a raid in West Bengal’s Uttar Dinajpur district in the wee hours of Saturday. Three accused— Firoze Alam, Abuzar Alam and Sahinur Khan— have been arrested in connection with the death of the Bihar cop. The brutal murder of the cop has drawn comparison with the fate that befell Vinod Kumar Mehta in Kolkata in March, 1984.
Vinod Kumar Mehta, the Deputy Commissioner of Kolkata Police (Port Division), had reached the city’s Garden Reach area on that morning after he was informed that trouble was brewing there. Metiabruz, which senior TMC leader and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim had declared ‘mini-Pakistan’, falls within Garden Reach.
The local police had reached the spot half an hour after Mehta and found that while his car was parked there, he and his bodyguard, Mokhtar Ahmed Khan, were missing. The local Police themselves were greeted with bombs and another senior police officer was hit with a brick on his head, causing him to bleed.
The corpse of Vinod Kumar Mehta and his bodyguard were later recovered from a ditch in ghastly condition. His corpse was naked and his eyes had been gouged out. There were multiple stab wounds and burn wounds on his body. Khan’s limbs had been cut off and only a “charred heap” remained of his trunk, an India Today report from April 15, 1984 said.
Sumanta Sen, the India Today journalist, described Garden Reach in terms that would lead him to being ostracised by those in ‘liberal’ media today. He had said, “Garden Reach is a notorious haven for smugglers, many of them non-Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh, who have over the years illegally settled here and prospered. So have some of the local policemen, who reportedly depend on their cordial rapport with the smugglers to supplement their incomes.”
On the day of the murder, bombs were hurled and there were reports that local Muslims were going to attack the Hindus of the area. A few days prior, Vinod Kumar Mehta had ordered the police to open fire at a riotous mob. The report mentions that the father of one of those who were killed had said at a protest, “I will certainly avenge the death of my son and will see that Mehta does not live long.”
Soon after, posters calling for the death of Mehta emerged in Garden Reach and neighbouring Watgunge and Metia Bruze, the report says. The report also records the concerns regarding illegal immigrants and the manner in which a prominent leader of the Forward Bloc, a constituent of the Left Front, was helping illegal Bangladeshis register as voters.
A senior CPI(M) leader was quoted in the report as saying, “We have often complained to the Forward Bloc about this man but they don’t seem to want to listen. He is a principal fund raiser for them and obviously they do not wish to displease him.”
Sumanta Sen had harsh words to offer for the Kolkata Police. In another report a month later, he recorded that Idris Mian, the prime suspect, had died in custody during interrogation. Sen said that the murder and the subsequent custodial death of the prime suspect revealed two essential aspects of the whole affair.
The report also noted that the state government, in order to not offend minority sentiments, had barred the police from conducting night raids. A senior police officer said, “Though we have arrested over 100 people, there are quite a few others whom we are looking for and we just cannot get hold of them during the day.”
He wrote, “The first was cowardice. It was proved beyond doubt that confronted with a marauding crowd in the Garden Reach area on March 18, the policemen accompanying Mehta did not dare follow him into the narrow Fatehpur village road where he met his death. The second was that even with the inquiry dragging itself endlessly, senior police officers had no hesitation in admitting that the suspect Idris was beaten to death in custody by constables.”
Kalimuddin Shams, then deputy speaker of the West Bengal Assembly, was accused of having connections with those who killed Vinod Kumar Mehta. His son, Moinuddin Shams, became a sensation on the internet recently after he released a video crying profusely after being denied a ticket from Naihati by the Trinamool Congress, where he is the incumbent MLA.
Sumanta Sen and Indranil Banerjie recorded in a report in May, 1984 that “senior police officers admit that many of the notorious smugglers and criminals they have brought in for interrogation from the docks have openly bragged about their association with Shams.”
The report also says that “the Intelligence Branch in the state is aware that Shams has used his influence and connections to rehabilitate illegal Bihari Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh by getting them Indian passports.”
“In the last seven years, as many as 300 passport applications signed by Shams have been rejected by passport authorities because the applicants were suspected to be foreign nationals. Two of these were actually Afghan nationals, Mohammed Hakim and Ju Mohammed, who were certified by Shams as being Indian nationals,” the report adds.
Twenty nine years later, Veena Mehta, the widow of Vinod Kumar Mehta, told TOI, “No words can express a loss as tragic as this. It is intensely personal. It is numbing. Your life crumbles in an instant. That is what happened to me when Vinod was killed. I didn’t just lose the most cherished person in my life, I lost all I had because my life revolved around him. A part of me died that day.”
“I was just 19 when we got married. Since then, he was my life, my friend, love and guardian angel. I lived like a princess, happy to just be his wife. Though he encouraged me to step out and work, I was so happy that I didn’t even want to go out and see the world,” she added.
She continued, “Back in 1984, returning to my parents’ house in Punjab was impossible due to militancy. I didn’t have anyone other than Rishu (their son) in Kolkata, but as the days passed, I wanted to stay on in this city for a different reason. I realized I had to be here for Vinod. People forget in no time. I didn’t want the killers to forget him, I didn’t want the politicians to forget him, I didn’t want the force to forget him and I didn’t want the citizens of Kolkata to forget him. I am a constant reminder to the city that Vinod was killed by a nexus between politicians and criminals.”
Over 40 people, including 9 minors, were booked for murder in connection with the killing. The four main accused had been awarded the death penalty for their involvement in the brutal murder but it was later overturned into life imprisonment.
Kanchan Gupta recalled the murder in an opinion piece on Mamata Banerjee’s whitewashing of the Dhulagarh Riots against the Hindu community where he said that Mehta and his bodyguard “were murdered by a mob at Garden Reach because he had dared enter a no-go zone.”
Even after all this time, there exists certain no-go zones for the Kolkata Police where policemen fear to tread. Even so, the matter is hardly discussed and brushed under the carpet as it would risk damage to the ‘secular fabric’ of our society.