'Tribals protest rape cover-up'

MALDA: Hundreds of tribals launched an agitation at Salbona village in Malda on Thursday to demand the arrest of CPM leaders who had allegedly
gone to the village on Wednesday to settle an issue of rape. The leaders were thrashed by villagers and tied to a tree.

Before that, the CPM leaders had allegedly convinced the rape victim to withdraw the complaint against the culprits.

Among the leaders who were roughed up were Habibpur panchayat samiti sabhapati Dhiren Muriai, CPM zonal committee secretary Sunil Burman, and former CPM zonal secretary Santi Oraon. Police later rescued them. The father of the rape victim had alleged that the leaders were pressuring them to withdraw the complaint.

It all started on June 16, when a 12-year-old girl of the village had been allegedly raped by four youths. A student of Class VI, the girl stays at a hostel for tribal girls at Eklakhi. She was at home during her vacation. On that afternoon, she had been to a neighbouring village, Tajpur, to attend a marriage ceremony. She was picked up from there by the miscreants and raped. Villagers found her lying unconscious on a field and took her to a hospital.

Next day, the victim's mother, along with some neighbours, went to Habibpur police station to lodge a complaint against four miscreants, who allegedly had a CPM connection.

But IC Avijit Saha allegedly asked them to settle the case mutually. After two days, the victim's father was allegedly called to the police station. There, two local middlemen, Madias Mardi and Sambhu Burman, allegedly tried to convince him to withdraw the allegation, which he didn't agree. He was also asked to give his thumb impression on a piece of paper. "I was said that after this signature, the case would start," said the father of the girl. However, the paper actually said that he was withdrawing the complaint.

After the girl was released from hospital and returned home, the angry villagers hit the streets. The agitators alleged that the IC refused to take the complaint and allowed the accused to go scot-free.

Finally, a police force was sent to the spot to assure the mob that the culprits would be arrested within 24 hours. Accordingly, one person was arrested the next day. But on Wednesday, three CPM leaders allegedly visited the village on Wednesday and offered the girl's father Rs 1 lakh to withdraw the complaint, but were reportedly turned down.

CPM district secretary Jiban Maitra, however, said, "It is a planned attack on our leaders. They went there to review panchayat samiti works." He also demanded the arrest of those who attacked the leaders.