Victims Are Imprisoned, Perpetrators Still FreeMay 22, 2006
Bruce Van Voorhis - Hong Kong
(Ed. note: Human Rights at the Grassroots is regularly produced as a feature of Human Rights SOLIDARITY. Its goal is to share the realities of life that confront Asia's people as they repeatedly experience the denial of their rights and dignity.
Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha [Masum] in West Bengal has provided the Asian Human Rights Commission [AHRC] with the information for this story.)...
The nightmare of Joyeeta Bala Das and her family began as they were returning from Bangladesh to their village in India in January 2003. More than three years later the nightmare still continues.
On that day in January 2003, Joyeeta and her husband and two daughters were stopped by a Border Security Force (BSF) patrol at the border of the two countries and taken to the office of the assistant battalion commandant of the 122 Battalion, which is under the jurisdiction of the Bashirhat police station in 24 Parganas (North) District in West Bengal. According to the law, they should have been transferred to the custody of the local police. Instead, in the assistant commandant’s room, Joyeeta was gang-raped by five BSF officers—Assistant Commandant Puneet Kumar, Head Constable Gaya Prasad, Head Constable G. Birbhan Singh, Head Constable Kana Singh and Constable Hanuman Thapa. To add to the horror, anguish and humiliation, her husband and daughters were forced to watch.
The BSF held the family for several days. During their captivity, they were not charged with any crime nor did the BSF allow them to make a complaint about the gang rape of Joyeeta. They were only allowed to suffer and wonder why their lives had suddenly been violently disrupted.
The BSF officers though were not finished with their cruel abuse of power. They forced the family onto a severely damaged boat on the Ichamati River and tied them to the boat. They then sent them back in the direction of Bangladesh. The boat did not float far, however, before it began to sink. Joyeeta and her youngest daughter were able to free themselves and swim to the riverbank. Joyeeta’s husband and eldest daughter were not as fortunate: they drowned.
The next morning local villagers discovered the unconscious bodies of Joyeeta and her daughter. They were rushed to the local hospital where they received medial attention and the rape of Joyeeta was confirmed during her medical examination.
Although the Bashirhat police apparently sought to investigate the incident by confronting the five BSF officers, they were told by BSF authorities that the BSF had jurisdiction and would handle the case.
At this juncture, the criminal court ordered the arrest of the five BSF personnel accused of the rape and murder of the Das family members. The BSF officers, however, appealed this decision to the High Court of Calcutta, which ordered a stay of execution of the lower court’s decision that is still in effect today. Similarly, the appeal of the BSF is still pending in the High Court and has yet to be heard. Meanwhile, the five BSF officers have remained free for the past three years and have yet to be formally charged with any crime.
Immediately following her ordeal, Joyeeta filed a first information report, or FIR, with the police, and the case was heard by the sub divisional judicial magistrate in Bashirhat. However, because the BSF claimed that the case was an internal matter, that they were their own authority to investigate such matters, the five accused officers did not appear before the court. Only Joyeeta and her daughter attended the court hearing. Then, however, in an absurd display of judicial farce, it was they—Joyeeta and her daughter—who were sent to the presidency jail, not the BSF officers. The rationale given by the court: it was for their “safe custody.”
Today Joyeeta and her 4-year-old daughter have been imprisoned since Jan. 14, 2003. Since their incarceration, they have appeared before the Bashirhat court only twice.
Other legal irregularities have also surfaced in the case of the Das family. The Bashirhat police station has never made a charge sheet against the BSF officers, and a lawyer has never been assigned to Joyeeta and her daughter. This latter legal lapse may soon be corrected as the jail department apparently now intends to request the law department to assign a government lawyer to her. Bharati Mutsuddi, a member of the West Bengal State Commission for Women, has promised that she will study the case, as it is a gross violation of human rights.
Although she is aware that she and her daughter have been imprisoned unjustly, Joyeeta says she is too afraid to leave the prison; she is afraid that the BSF officers may injure her and her daughter or worse. Consequently, Joyeeta and her daughter may stay in the presidency jail indefinitely: the victims remain in prison, and the alleged perpetrators of gang rape and murder—BSF officers—remain free. This is justice!
(Ed. note: Additional details about this case and ways to respond can be found in the AHRC’s urgent appeal that is available on the internet at http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2005/1283.)
Bruce Van Voorhis serves as missionary with the Asian Human Rights Commission located in Hong Kong. He serves as a writer and editor with the Commission.
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