India: Gallows for 8 ‘Not Enough’ for Slain Student’s Kin

Akash Vashishtha
New Delhi
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160420-IN-alcohol-620.jpg An Indian villager in Siliguri, West Bengal, pours homemade alcohol at a roadside stall.

A day after a Kolkata court sentenced to death eight of 12 people convicted of murdering his son, Saroj Chowdhury said he was “only partially satisfied” with the verdict.

“This is not enough,” Chowdhury, a driver by profession, told BenarNews on Wednesday. “I wanted the death sentence for all the 12 accused who gruesomely murdered my child.”

“The pain that my family lives through every moment, knowing his killers are still alive, is unbearable. And we won’t heal until each of the culprits is hanged,” Chowdhury said by phone from West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, situated on the outskirts of Kolkata.

Chowdhury said his 19-year-old son, Sourav, a student in the district’s Mrinalini Datta College, was “hacked to pieces” in July 2014 for raising his voice against illegal liquor, drug and gambling dens run in their neighborhood by a local crime boss, Shyamlal Karmakar.

Chowdhury alleged that Karmakar’s gang enjoyed the backing of some local leaders of All India Trinamool Congress, West Bengal’s ruling party.

On Tuesday, a court handed down the death penalty to Karmakar and seven others – Suman Sarkar, Suman Das, Amal Barui, Somnath Sardar, Tapas Biswas, Ratan Samaddar and Tarak Das – for Sourav’s murder.

The court awarded a life sentence to Rakesh Burman, another accused, and five-year terms to Karmakar’s sister Poly Maity, Shishir Mukherjee and Ratan Das for abetment of murder.

While one of those charged by the police was acquitted for want of evidence, a 14th suspect, Liton Taluqdar, is absconding.

“Although we welcome the court’s decision, we are not fully satisfied,” Chowdhury said, adding he was in talks with lawyers to challenge the Barasat district court’s verdict in the High Court.

“We won’t just sit back after our son has been murdered in such a brutal manner,” said Chowdhury, who led several rallies demanding capital punishment for all of the accused while the court was hearing the case.

Hacked up

Sourav was abducted from his neighborhood in North 24 Parganas district on July 4, 2014, days after spearheading a rally against anti-social activities in the area, including illicit liquor and gambling dens.

The student’s hacked up body was found the next day near tracks between two railway stations in the district.

Sourav’s killing sparked a state-wide furor even as both the ruling Trinamool Congress party and opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed to have close links with the student, while left-wing activists alleged that those behind Sourav’s killing were backed by leaders of the ruling party.

Sourav Chowdhury [Courtesy of Saroj Chowdhury]

Repeated efforts by BenarNews to get a comment from Trinamool Congress party spokesman Derek O’Brien failed.

A member of the Trinamool Congress rubbished allegations that those behind Sourav's killing had his party’s backing. “We don’t protect criminals,” the party official who requested anonymity told BenarNews.

Shamik Bhattacharya, a BJP leader, accused West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of allowing the type of lawlessness that claimed the life of Sourav Chowdhury.

“He was an innocent student and used to protest against the activities of anti-social elements. His family members are known to BJP workers. There is not an iota of law and order in the district. What is she [Banerjee] doing?” Bhattacharya told reporters.

Sourav’s murder came two years after Barun Biswas, a 39-year-old school teacher from the same district, was killed for allegedly raising his voice against an increasing number of sexual crimes against women in the area.

Politicians-mafia nexus

Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convener of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), blamed the Indian government for not implementing an act that aims to protect activists and witnesses who attempt to expose the “nexus between politicians and local mafia dons,” despite many similar attacks on whistleblowers across the country.

Bhardwaj was referring to the Whistleblowers Protection Act of 2011, which provides a mechanism to investigate alleged corruption and misuse of power by public servants and protect anyone who exposes alleged wrongdoing in government bodies, projects and offices.

“Even after so many years since the Act was notified, the government has not implemented and operationalized it. There are many instances of whistleblowers and witnesses being attacked and killed in India, yet, there seems to be no effort from the government to protect them,” Bhardwaj told BenarNews.

“Political factors, land mafia and industrial wrongdoings comprise the three most common reasons for such killings [of whistleblowers and witnesses],” Sanjay Parikh, a Supreme Court lawyer, who routinely represents rights activists facing threats, told BenarNews.

“It is hardly surprising that there is a lack of political will to implement the [Whistleblowers Protection Act],” he added.

Family wants protection

Chowdhury, too, fears for his family’s life, he said.

“Of my two sons, only one is left. I am scared every time he steps out of the house, because one of those accused of killing Sourav has been acquitted while another is still roaming free out there,” Chowdhury said.

Chowdhury’s family has been assigned four police guards for protection, but he has asked the police for more security as he formalizes his plan to appeal the district court’s verdict.

“There are 22,000 people residing in our locality. No one, but Sourav, had the courage to stand up against these goons. They still don’t have the courage to fight for what is right. We do, and the least we can expect from the government is to protect us,” he said.

Vasudevan Sridharan in Bengaluru, India, contributed to the report.


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