West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has recently courted controversy after she tried to downplay allegations of brutal rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl as a ‘love affair’ gone wrong. The insensitive behaviour toward the plight of a deceased child by the Head of a State has drawn the ire of civil society.
The incident, in question, took place on April 4, 2022, in the Shyamnagar locality in Hanskhali Block Number- I in Nadia district of West Bengal. The accused has been identified as one Brajgopal, the son of Trinamool Congress (TMC) Gajna Gram Panchayat member Samar Gowla.
Reportedly, the accused had invited the victim to his house under the pretext of birthday celebrations. The girl became unwell, following which she was rushed to a local doctor. She passed away the following day.
According to the family members of the victim, the girl died due to excessive bleeding. They alleged that she was raped by the son of the TMC leader. The family members also claimed that the TMC leader Samar Gowla and other party workers forcibly cremated the girl’s body at a local crematorium.
The incident had created political upheaval in the State, with the TMC supremo and incumbent CM Mamata Banerjee trying to trivialise allegations of rape and murder made by the victim’s family.
While speaking at the inauguration of the revamped Milan Mela on Monday (April 11), she claimed, “As a layman, I am saying where would someone get the evidence whether the girl was actually raped or pregnant. Or was there any other reason, like someone beat her up or she died of some illness?”
“There was a love affair for sure, her family knew about it, and their neighbours also knew about it. Now if a girl and a boy love each other, I cannot punish them”, alleged Mamata Banerjee.
Legality, statutory rape and ignorance
Although the investigation in the case has not yet been concluded, the West Bengal Chief Minister went on to insinuate that the allegations of rape and murder are nothing but a ‘love affair gone array.’
For the sake of argument, let us assume that the deceased victim had a ‘love affair’ with the accused in the case. A mere relationship, even if a committed one, does not imply an irrevocable implied consent to sexual activity.
As such, brushing off allegations of ‘rape’ as ‘consent borne out of a love affair’ is a travesty of justice. In a desperate bid to defend the son of a Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee forgot one key concept of the Indian justice system.
Minors do not have the right to consent. The victim was 14 years old and as such the West Bengal Chief Minister’s insinuation of ‘consensual sexual activity’ does not hold true. This is clearly stated in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 375 (6).
The law says that a man is said to commit ‘rape’ if he engages in a sexual act “with or without her consent when she is under eighteen years of age.” As such, sexual activity with a minor is by definition an act of ‘statutory rape.’
“In this kind of rape, the adult will get punished if he had any kind of physical interaction with a woman/girl, in the age of 18 or below, no matter if she has voluntarily participated in the act or not. The consent of the minor is immaterial and will not be considered any defence to the accused,” wrote Himanshi Srivastava in Ipleaders.
“Statutory rape law is violated in circumstances where an individual engages himself in sexual activity with a person under the age of 18. The age of consent lowers to 15 years old in case if the couple is married,” she further added.
It must be mentioned that the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) was brought into effect in June 2012 for the sole purpose of safeguarding children from sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Mamata Banerjee, TMC and contentious remarks on rape
This is not the first time when Banerjee has tried to insinuate that allegations of rape committed in the State are motivated by political vendetta. The TMC supremo has been a habitual offender in this regard, at times accusing victims of lying and staging a ‘rape’ to defame her government.
An Anglo-Indian woman, by the name Suzette Jordan, was raped in a moving car by five men on February 6, 2012, when she was returning home from Park Street in Kolkata. Soon after the news surfaced, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee had absolved the accused of all charges. She had dubbed the incident as ‘shajano ghotona‘ (concocted incident) that was allegedly ‘designed to malign the government.’
While speaking to a news channel, TMC MP Kakoli Ghose Dhastidar had cast aspersions on the character of the victim and also ruled out the rape angle. She had stated, “If you are referring to the Park Street case, see that’s a different case altogether. It’s not at all a rape case. It was a misunderstanding between two people in a professional dealing between the lady and her client.”
At the same time, the then Transport Minister had also questioned the victim’s character and called the complaint fake. 3 years later in 2015, a Kolkata Court upheld the rape charges in the Park Street case and found accused Nasir Khan, Ruman Khan and Sumit Bajaj guilty.
During another rape case in Burdwan’s Katwa in the same year, Mamata Banerjee again dismissed the rape allegations, even before the investigation was concluded. “A political party is doing all this, shouting rape. They are playing this drama. Harmader diye natok shajachhe jatey Banglar nam kharap hochhe (They are staging an act to give a bad name to West Bengal)”, she was heard as saying.
In 2013, during a debate in the West Bengal legislative assembly about the rising cases of rapes in the State, the CM had insinuated that it was due to an increase in the population of the State. She had also blamed modernisation, an increase in shopping malls and multiplexes for rising rape cases.
While her recent remarks have stirred a hullabaloo in political circles of West Bengal, there is nothing surprising given that Mamata Banerjee has a stellar record at trivialising rape and victim-blaming. The West Bengal Chief Minister stooped a bit lower when she tried to legitimise ‘statutory rape’ as a consensual affair between a minor victim and accused.