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Monday, July 16, 2012

Lawlessness on Guwahati road - A Bar, a hapless girl, 20 ruffians and non-existent humanity

Are we, the citizens of India, on a progressive or regressive path? The question popped up because of numerous incidents of human rights violations, which have occurred in recent times. Ideally, such incidents should not have occurred in a law-abiding, genteel, cultured and to a large extent, educated society. Unfortunately, there is no sign of a decline of similar incidents; rather, these have, over the period of time, grown in numbers. It has almost become a routine for us to be greeted with some news of abuses and tortures being committed on, common citizens, especially women. In spite of our senses being somewhat blunted by repeated occurrence of these, the free for all attack on a hapless girl on the late evening of 9th July at Guwahati, came as a real shocker. The brazen manner, in which a group of around 20 men pulled the girl by her hair, slapped and kicked her, torn her dresses and all the while smiled and posed for the benefit of the camera crew capturing the incident, clearly showed the perpetrators to be appallingly imperious and devoid of any respect or fear for the law of the land. That the incidence took place on the busiest road of Guwahati, the GS Road, at 9.30 pm, only makes it more chilling. 
shovon chakraborty
The perpetrators of the crime, as identified from
the video, that was recorded by a news crew.
Image source: IBN Live.
When I first saw the clippings of a girl being slapped around, manhandled, abused and insulted in every conceivable manner, by a group of men, who were least bothered about the fact that they were being captured live in the act, I was shocked to the core. Was this the same Guwahati which I know, or should I say, I knew? What happened that late evening was not a part of Guwahati that I hold so dear to my heart.
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The different pieces of the Monday night's jigsaw, when added, show a really disturbing pattern. There have been multiple versions of the incidents that led to the public humiliation of the girl, who had lost her parents at a very tender age and was staying with a friend's family.
punishment for all culprits
According to the official statements by the police chief of Guwahati, the girl, along with some friends, had gone to the lounge bar for celebrating a friend's birthday. Once inside, a fight broke out among them and all members of the group were thrown out of the bar. Outside, a group of youths passed some lewd comments and the girl protested, leading to the abominable incident. There are some counter arguments too. According to some eyewitness account, two girls had come out of the bar. Seeing them alone, a group of youths standing by the nearby pan shop, tried to act in a vulgar way, and when the girl slapped one of them, all hell broke loose. 
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Main accused Amar Jyoti Kalita, in a red tee, is
seen abusing the girl. I have "jittered" her face.
Image Source: Captured from YouTube Video.
But, noted social and rights activist Akhil Gogoi, has altogether a different story to tell. He told NDTV that Gaurav Jyoti Neog, a reporter from NewsLive, the television channel owned by Congress leader and Health Minister of Assam, Himanta Bishwa Sharma, was the mastermind behind the ghastly attack. He alleged that Neog had tried to pull the girls to a waiting car and when they resisted, he incited the mob to attack the girl, while her friend somehow ran away. Mr. Gogoi also held a press conference to claim that he had the necessary evidence, in the form of raw video footage of the incident, to implicate Neog. He also alleged that Neog was heard telling the leader of the mob, to bring the girl to a well-lit area, because the video quality was suffering due to low light. It has to be noted that the incidence occurred at a place that was barely 300-400 meters from the News Live's office and the whole incident was captured by the on duty correspondent and camera crew of News Live.
shovon chakraborty guwahati attack
Mr. Mukul Kalita, Editor, Ajir Oxom. He was the only
person to come forward and save the girl.
Image Source: OhFish.
Whatever may be the cause, the fact remains that a 20 year old girl was abused on the main arterial road of Guwahati, the G.S. Road, for 40 minutes, without anybody raising their voice in protest. More surprisingly, the place was barely one kilometer away from the nearest police station and also from the seat of power, the state secretariat. After being informed, probably by NewsLive personnel, it took the Assam Police more than 40 minutes, to cover the 1 kilometer distance. While the ordeal of the girl lasted for 40 odd minutes, no one came forward to help her, although hundreds of vehicles passed through the road. Some of the passersby were seen capturing the incident in their mobile, while others simply looked the other way. Only when Mr. Mukul Kalita, editor of the Assamese daily Ajir Oxom, reached the spot, the girl found a savior. He valiantly saved her from her attackers and in the process was himself heckled too. Soon afterwards, the police ultimately arrived at the scene and the girl was handed over to them. Surprisingly, they did not even try to arrest the attackers and were seen chatting with some of them! Mr. Kalita told NDTV that even after the police had rescued the girl, the mob followed her into the police jeep that was filled with armed cops, and hit her. One need not be a rocket scientist to understand the nexus between the protectors of the law and the lawbreakers.
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Although, this incident happened on 9th July, Monday, the Assam Police did not do anything till Wednesday, 11th July. They simply sat on the incident without even conducting an inquiry or recording the statement of the victim. On 10th July, Tuesday, News Live showed an edited footage of the incident during their evening news. The next day, Mr. Atanu Bhuyan, the Chief Editor of News Live, uploaded the same clipping to YouTube from his personal account. It was then that the national media and the rights group picked up the incident and gave it a wide publicity. Only after this happened, the Assam Police woke up from the slumber and started a probe. From the video taken by News Live, 13 persons could be identified, including the supposed leader, Amar Jyoti Kalita. But, even after 5 days had passed, the police could only arrest 3 persons, including one, who was identified by the local people of Bijni and handed over to the police.
state government inept corrupt collusion criminals
Hoardings put up by Assam Public Works,
asking the people to inform the police
on the whereabouts of the perpetrators.
Image Source: India Today.
Meanwhile, activists have been demanding stern actions against the perpetrators of the crime. Local rights groups have put up hoardings at public places in Guwahati, with the mugshots of the perpetrators, with the aim of shaming them publicly. People have also come down heavily on the state government for the lawlessness prevailing in the state. They have alleged that due to the continued patronage by the corrupt and inept political leaders, criminals are enjoying a free run, leading to an increase in such incidents. Even the National Commission for Women (NCW) member Alka Lamba, who had been sent to Guwahati on a fact finding mission, has drawn flak from all quarters due to her inept handling of the case. It may be noted that Alka Lamba has been an active member of the ruling Indian National Congress' student wing NSUI and she is also one among the handpicked new generation leaders, as chosen by Rahul Gandhi. Quite logically, her actions are being seen as trying to protect her brethren in the state government. She has committed the cardinal sin by releasing the name of the victim at a press conference, which is a strict no-no as per Supreme Court of India's directive. Subsequently, Lamba was removed from the investigating team by the NCW Chairperson. In unrelated incident, both Gaurav Jyoti Neog and Atanu Bhuyan have resigned from their respective positions at News Live, purportedly to help conduct a free and fair inquiry in to the role of Neog and News Live in the incident. Although, Neog came out with a written statement claiming innocence, it was subsequently disclosed that the tormentor in chief, Amar Jyoti Kalita, is a close friend of his. A Senior Superintendent of Police has also been transferred.
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But, to me, all these are too little and came too late. The way, the girl's identity was released by Alka Lamba and even the Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, shows their insensitivity and the lack of respect for the law. The CM even had the guts to tell the media persons afterwards, to ignore the matter and not to report the name. However, till today, in one of the YouTube videos, the girl's face is visible and her name, address, class and name of the college can be clearly heard.
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And the way, the perpetrators were behaving in front of the camera, clearly exemplified that they did not fear the law. This "don't care" attitude might have resulted from the fact that they were part of a mob, and thought that the sheer numbers made them invulnerable and beyond the reach of the law. They might also have thought that their "connections" with the persons wielding power, would act as the protective shield. Or more simply, they might have thought that the toothless administration would not be able to do anything against them. The group might have been peeved at the "courage" of two girls going to a bar for drinks and probably took "offence" because one of them had dared to fight back. They might have wanted to teach the girls a lesson for being independent and probably wanted to show her the "true place", where she belongs. Such incidents, almost always, result from the perverted, medieval mentality of the perpetrators, who want to show or stamp the so called "male superiority" over women. It may be noted however, that, individually, most of these men would behave otherwise, and only when they are a part of a larger group of people, their basic instincts come out.
guwahati attack, molestation, stripping girl
Having being born and brought up in Assam, anything related to the state is close to my heart. And, the recent incidents, be it the elopement and conversion of a much married MLA and the subsequent beating, which the pair were subjected to, or the abuse heaped on the girl the other day, only pains me. Probably, people like me can only feel the deep anguish, and cannot do anything actively on our part, to change the scenario. And, the ones, who have the power to affect the changes, choose to look at the other direction. That's the irony of the situation, which makes me, and probably many other citizens, feel so helpless!
guwahati attack, molestation, stripping girl
Is there a solution to this? Is there any full-proof way to ensure that no such incidence will take place in future?
guwahati attack, molestation, stripping girl
Many have argued that exemplary punishment should be meted out to the perpetrators of such crime. Social networks are full of messages baying for blood of Amar Jyoti Kalita & Co. People are calling for capital punishment, for stoning to death a la Saudi Arab, for castrating the accused and so on. These type of extreme intolerance is also worrying. But, probably, the common man, like in "A Wednesday", is fed up by the miscarriage of justice, by the lawlessness prevailing in many areas of the country, by seeing the moneyed and the powerful breaking the law and getting away with impunity, repeatedly. In any case, has the hanging of Dhananjay Chatterjee stopped the rapes of women? No. So, at least, I don't know of any full-proof method to ensure that no more atrocities on women are committed in future. For the time being, we can only hope that all those responsible for scarring the girl for the rest of her life, would pay for their crime according to the Indian law, and such incidents will be prevented by the law enforcing agencies in future. After all, we, the common citizens of India, can only hope against hope and nothing else!

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