On the 2nd of May, even as results were trickling in, it became rather evident by late afternoon that Mamata Banerjee was coming back to power with a thumping majority. By early evening, a reign of terror was unleashed on those who had either worked for BJP during the state elections or, had voted for the party.
As TMC criminals gheraoed the BJP headquarters in Hastings, started lynching workers like Avijit Sarkar, started stone pelting and burning offices down to ashes, in a remote village in Burdwan, Ritu (name changed) and her father desperately searched for the money they had at hand and started collecting it on a table. They had heard the sounds from others in their village, the news had travelled fast – TMC goons were unleashing hell. Both her father and Ritu had worked for BJP in the run-up to elections and they knew the goons would come knocking on their door sooner or later, given what they were doing in the rest of the village.
Several houses in their locality were being brutally attacked by those who purportedly worked for TMC. In this particular village, it was a gang of Muslim men burning down houses, harassing Hindus and attacking the men who worked for BJP in the run-up to elections. News of some women being gang-raped by TMC men had also spread like wildfire. Talking to OpIndia, Ritu says that while the village burnt and women got gang-raped, there was no police in sight. She says that the police, in fact, refused to answer the phone when calls for help were being made.
At about 6-7 PM on 2nd May, just as they were collecting money and getting ready to leave and it was lightly raining outside, TMC men came knocking. Ritu says that several TMC goons, both Hindus and Muslims, came knocking at the door. About 12 goons, she said, were standing outside the house at the periphery guarding and some goons, 8 or 9 of them, led by one Mamun Sheikh, came inside her house.
The moment they came inside the house, they asked Ritu’s father where she was. “Teri beti kaha hai”, Ritu says they said. At that time, the TMC goons and Ritu’s father started getting into a scuffle. They were pushing her father around and constantly asked “where is your daughter?”. The father kept pushing them away and saying that his daughter was not at home. Ritu, at this time, was hiding in the kitchen.
While her father tried desperately to ward the goons off, they caught a glimpse of Ritu, hiding, trying to save herself. Her father told the goons to leave his daughter alone and do whatever they want with him instead. This, while some of the goons had already dragged her out and were holding her, refusing to let her go. As her father begged, the goons said, “No. We want only Hindu girls, and we want your daughter”.
“They took out their gun and started beating papa mercilessly”, Ritu told OpIndia. “I tried to save papa but I could not do it. They kept beating him. They were holding me and like dogs trying to harass me. Can you understand what was happening? I could not understand if I should save myself or papa.. should I manage how they were beating me up or save papa”, she added.
The goons who were in the house suddenly hit Ritu’s father on his head and made him sit in one corner, with a gun pushed to the temple of his head. “Even when they made him sit in the corner after hitting him on his head, they did not just leave him alone. They kept kicking and beating him”, Ritu says.
The main culprit, Mamun Sheikh and his accomplices dragged Ritu in front of his father, tore her clothes and proceeded to mercilessly gang-rape her. Her father, she says, kept pleading with Mamum and his accomplices, begging to leave his daughter, saying that he would do anything they want him to do. They refused to listen and continued to brutalise Ritu.
She got to know that another TMC goons was called Hasan when Mamun and others called out to him, “We are finished, why don’t you come now”. Ritu says he did not do anything to her. But he was called out after they were finished brutalising her so he could brutalise her too.
“It was the Muslims who gang-raped me”, Ritu said.
“After they were done gang-raping me and beating my father, he somehow managed to pry me away from them and dragged me to the backdoor of our house”, she said. Her father somehow mustered the courage because he was listening to the assailants talking about killing Ritu – so she would not “open her mouth” about what happened.
Her father did not bother what stones, broken glass etc were laying on the road. He dragged her out somehow just to get away from the barbarians. With no clothes on her body, her father took his pagdi off and covered her with it. Through a Christian cemetery, Ritu and her father kept running. While they were trying to get away, she could hear Mamun’s voice in the distance, mocking her. “How far will you run. You will have to come back here to me someday. Where did she go”. They were not really searching for her seriously, she says. They were just taunting her. She says they could not figure out which forest they ran into.
Ritu was taken to her father’s friend’s house. When asked if she ever went to the police or even the hospital after she was gang-raped, she said that they thought there was simply no point going to the police or the hospital because no matter where they went, TMC goons would find them. “Going to the police is like handing yourself over to the TMC goons”, she said. Her father’s friend prescribed some pill to her, that she took for days.
Since the 2nd of May, Ritu said that they have been running around, trying to be safe. They hardly come back to their own home and when they do, they do not go out even to the terrace. After she was gang-raped, Ritu had spent a long time in her friend’s house – friends who had also discouraged her to go to the police.
Talking about the fear she faces, Ritu says that it has come to a point where she cannot even leave her house without donning a Burqa. “I wear the Muslim attire.. the Burqa when I go out. Even my friends borrow it when they need to go out”. She says she does this so she can stay safe. If she goes out as a Hindu, she is hounded in her area by the Muslims.
She says that the TMC men, the Muslim workers who raped her, have done the same with several women from the locality. But none of them are willing to come forward and talk about it. When Ritu filed a complaint with the NHRC, she was discouraged by many, but says that she rather die before taking her complaint back. While she tried to convince the other women to come forward and talk about it, they refused, asking her to leave them alone and in peace.
Police harassment, pressure to take the complaint back and unbridled fear
There were several times that the police has tried to harass Ritu and her father, she says, to give a different version of the events and to get it on record. A few days after 2nd May (Ritu could not confirm the date), Ritu was living at her friend’s house. Her father, who is also mostly not at home after the incident, was there in their Burdwan house that day. Ritu says that the police came and asked the neighbours if they were at home. When the neighbours lied for her father and said they were not, they tried to push the door in. Failing, they had left.
She says she is confident that the police will not take any action against the culprits, in fact, if they can, they will probably put her, the victim, in jail under false charges. She says that the West Bengal police will never stand for Hindus or even help them. They will only help TMC and their supporters.
On another occasion about a few days ago (Ritu can’t confirm the date but she says it was about 6-7 days before this interview was taken on Saturday, 24 July), she was alone at her Burdwan house when some TMC goons had accompanied the police to her house. These were not the same goons who had gang-raped her, but some other TMC goons. She had however managed to keep herself hidden.
This was not all. When Ritu and a few other girls were meeting with the NHRC officers and filing their complaint, Ritu had got a shocking call to scare her into not complaining.
She says that she got a call from an unknown number, asking her whether she had gone to file a complaint with the NHRC about what happened to her. When she confirmed that she had, they asked how dare she filed a complaint with the NHRC. Further, they told her that the Muslim men had filmed her getting gang-raped and uploaded the video on YouTube.
She says she was scared after what she was told. Another BJP worker took the phone and spoke to the person threatening her on the phone. He told him that he should send the video link to him so he can check. The BJP worker though, saw what was sent, but never showed it to Ritu. They pacified her at the time, so she would not get worked up.
The local BJP workers and Ritu herself know who this man was, who had called up and threatened her. She says that he is a local man who rents cars to political parties during elections. Even BJP had rented cars from him, but he was not a part of the party. While everyone recognised who he was, nobody seemed to recall his name. The number from which she got the threat has been submitted to NHRC in her complaint.
She further said that on another night at 2 AM, she got a call from an unknown number. The man asked her if she was Ritu and then proceeded to tell her that she needs to be careful because she might be killed.
On another day, the OC of the women’s police station called her at 10 PM in the night (she cannot confirm the date). At that time, the lady officer asked Ritu to meet her to discuss the case (at 10 PM). Ritu first agreed to meet, but when she told her friend she was living with, the friend told her that she should not go and meet her and she should think about what she can do to her. The lady officer then called her a second time, when Ritu refused to meet her. On the next day, she again got a call and even then, she had refused to meet.
Ritu says that the lady officer asked her if something had happened to her and at this point (over the phone), Ritu told her how she was gang-raped. According to Ritu, the lady officer then got angry and started trying to scare her, asking her if she even knows the meaning of the allegations she was hurling. When this conversation was taking place, Ritu’s friends told her to simply tell the officer that nothing had happened, or else, the police would arrest her. Scared, Ritu lied and told the lady officer then that nothing had happened with her at all. Instead, she apologised to the lady officer and confirmed that she had not filed any complaint with the police as nothing had happened to her on the 2nd. Talking to OpIndia, Ritu also said that her friends, with whom she was taking shelter, told her that if she told the police what happened to her, then they will not let her live with them.
A night before the interview with OpIndia – another threat by the police
The interview with OpIndia took place on the 24th of July 2021. On the 23rd, Ritu and her father were both in their Burdwan house. Late that night, several police officers including a lady officer reached their house. When they reached, her father stepped out to speak to them while Ritu hid in the house, trying to record the conversation that was taking place between the police and her father.
Hiding, she managed to record a snippet of the conversation between her father and the lady police officer. In the recording, one can clearly hear the father refusing to give any statement to the police and the police officers trying to convince him to give some statement. Ritu says that the police were trying to convince him to sign some paper which the father refused to do. He repeatedly told them that they had given their statement to NHRC and they would not talk further to the police.
In the video that Ritu managed to take, her father can clearly be heard telling the police that they were not there to help him or his daughter, but the TMC goons who brutalised them. He says that now, more than the TMC goons, he is scared of the police.
Ritu says that the police was there to intimidate them into giving a statement that they could then use to say that the incident never happened. She further says that first, the police was threatening and intimidating, but then, they put on their own phone recording to record the conversation between her father and them. At this point, they became extremely polite to him. She also said that the police knew that they had spoken to the NHRC and narrated the horror they faced. The female police officer repeatedly wanted the father to open the lock of the door, probably looking for Ritu.
Ritu says that several BJP victims are languishing in jail while the perpetrators of TMC are walking around scot-free, therefore, the fear that they would arrest them was real and present.
She says that it was the same lady officer who had taken photographs and videos of Ritu and the other girls on the day they were talking to the NHRC team. When asked by a local BJP leader (BJP MLA of Dubarajpur) why she had done that, the female officer, according to Ritu, had become livid and threatened him saying “do you know who I am?”.
The NHRC complaint filed by Ritu
In her NHRC complaint, Ritu has said that she was gang-raped by 7 TMC goondas in front of her father.
In her NHRC complaint, Ritu has detailed the barbarity that was heaped upon her and her father.
She has also, in her complaint, mentioned that the TMC goons were threatening the father-daughter duo to join TMC and leave BJP.
TMC leader are constantly threatening us that “ Agar tum TMC mein nahi aaye… to tumahre ghar ko jala denge..papa aur tumko maar denge… Police ke paas jaoge to police bhi tumahara rape karegi agar unhe pata chal gaya ki tum BJP ki ho to.. Police bhi tumahari baat nahi sunegi”.
She further says, “I m not only one there many other women who has faced the same fate in the village but they are scared and terrorized not to come forward. We thought of going to police next day but police were already in collusion with TMC leaders. They were helping them so due to fear we did not go to them”.
Her message to PM Modi
Ritu, who was gang-raped by TMC goons on the 2nd of May said that there was no point giving any message to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee since she had no ‘Mamata’ left in her. However, she had an appeal for PM Modi.
She said that PM Modi should do something so Hindu girls can live with pride and security.
She demanded that PM Modi does something for the protection of Hindus so we can all live happily.
In the interview, Ritu further said that all the help that he had got and the BJP leaders who had stayed in touch with her were leaders from Delhi. The local leaders hardly came to help the victims of TMC violence. She even said that some of the leaders would switch their phone off and not response when they called for help.
Now, Ritu awaits justice. She says that even if it means that she loses her life, she will not withdraw her complaint.
(Note: This interview was arranged in collaboration with GIA, the Group of Intellectuals and Academicians that has been working with post-poll violence victims to bring their stories out)