Muslim girls molested, one raped at school in West Bengal

By Zaidul Haque,,

Kolkata: About one dozen Muslim girls were molested and one of them gang-raped at their school in the Muslim-dominated Panchla area of Howrah district in West Bengal. The victims have approached the state Women Commission and Minority Commission. Even one and half months after the incident, the victims are awaiting justice as the culprits are at large.

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The shameful incident took place at Biki-Hakola Jr High School on 9th November when a gang of miscreants, under the garb of a dispute with the school, barged into the school premises, wounded the headmaster and two teachers and molested 11-12 girl students of class IX. The criminals took one of the girls – Shabnam Khatun (name changed) – inside a classroom and allegedly gang-raped her. Khatun underwent treatment at Kolkata Medical College and Hospital for a month and was recently discharged.

Victims are giving statement in front of the State Minority Commission of West Bengal Chairman S Z Adnan.

It all happened after Hindu religious festival ‘Kali Puja’ in November 2010. To celebrate the festival the local residents had raised a pandal adjacent to the school, which they did not remove even after the festival ended, leading difficulty in approaching the school. When the school opened after the festival the students found the bamboo barrier was not removed from the school gate. Some girls wearing sari could not reach the campus due to the barrier. The school authorities reported it to the local Panchla police station on 6th November, but the police did not care. On 9th November four policemen appeared on the spot and tried to remove the barrier with the help of students of the school.

Soon after, a group of 18-20 people entered the school and attacked the students. When the staff intervened to protect the students the culprits also beat them. Two teachers and the headmaster were brutally beaten. Then the miscreants molested 11-12 girl students and even allegedly gang-raped one of them.

According to the victims’ statement, the culprits included: father and son duo Rajkumar and Sujit Kolle, along with Mithu Kolle, Binoy Manna, Dakando Kolle, Boikontho, Bubai, Tokai and others. The victims told a team of the state Women Commission led by Chairperson Malini Bhattacharya that a gang of 18-20 people came inside the school and assaulted two teachers, including the Headmaster and some girls.

The parents of the victims allege the miscreants are getting shelter from a local leader of Trinamool Congress, and that’s why the police did not take the case seriously though an FIR was lodged on the very day of the incident. While the victims have identified all the culprits, the police are not taking action against them.

No mainstream media of West Bengal highlighted this incident. The community-run Bengali newspaper ‘Kalom Weekly’ published the incident on its front page, forcing authorities to take notice. Ahmed Hassan Imran, Editor of the weekly, told, ‘Panchla is a Muslim-dominated area of Howrah district. Though Biki-Hakola Jr High School is managed by the Hindu community, the school Headmaster is a Muslim, named Dilwar. It was a conspiracy to remove the Muslim Headmaster’s Post from the school and it was planned by some communal forces’.

Mr Imran also said, he carried the news on front page and then the State Women Commission and Minority Commission visited the place. He also helped the victims to come to the Women Commission and Minority Commission offices to lodge their complaint.

Women Commission Chairperson Malini Bhattacharya told TCN that her commission visited the school on 11th December 2010 and talked to the students and school officials. “The commission’s team will submit a report before the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mr Bhuddhadev Bhatacharya after the end of the commission meeting on Tuesday (28 Dec), urging a probe into the matter and to provide security to the students,” Ms Bhattacharya said. She also told TCN, a copy of that report will be submitted to the State Minority Commission and District Magistrate of Howrah also. But she did not disclose the report, saying that after submitting to the CM the report will be given to the media.

Malini Bhattacharya, however, denied commenting on the rape incident. But she admitted that girls were assaulted definitely. She informed that the school was closed for long since the incident and she has requested the administration to open the school as soon as possible.

Victims are giving statement to the State Women Commission Chairperson Malini Bhattacharya.

Meanwhile, a team of State Minority Commission headed by Chairman S Z Adnan also visited the school. Team member Bilkis Begum talked to all victims. All the victims have appeared in front of the commission and given their legal statement. The commission is preparing a report.

The Asian Human Rights Society has also met the girls. The state women wing’s secretary Dr Manju Mukherjee told TCN: “We talked to the raped girl in the Medical College Hospital.” She condemned hospital authorities for denying rape in their medical report, due to which some of the culprits arrested have got bail. She said, her group has advised the girls to give the legal statement in front of a magistrate under section 164, which can deny bail to the main culprits. She also informed that the Asian Human Rights Society will move the court shortly to get justice for the victim girls.

Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind of West Bengal also held a demonstration under the leadership of state president Siddiqullah Chowdhury on 1st Dec. Chowdhury told TCN that the victims must get justice and the culprits severe punishment.

To protest against the crime and police inaction, the villagers have also once gheraoed the Panchla Police Station.

Meanwhile, Biki Hakola Jr High School has reopened recently but Muslim girls fear to go the school. They say when a small rape happened in West Bengal then all the political parties shouted their voice, but when minor Muslim girls were raped they were silent. They are awaiting justice, but not sure if ever they will get it.

[Photos Courtesy: Kalom Weekly]