On May 3 this year, a day after the election results of the West Bengal state assembly were announced spelling victory for the incumbent All India Trinamool Congress (AITC or TMC), a 20-year-old nutrition student was brutally gang-raped and murdered by construction workers in an unused part of her own home in Jamna, Midnapore (Medinipur).
Soon, news of the crime surfaced on social media and Whatsapp. Most of the posts indicated that she was a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – which is in power at the Centre but lost the state elections in West Bengal – and that she had been raped and killed by TMC goons.
Fact-checking websites did clarify that neither the victim nor the perpetrators had any links to any political party. Unfortunately, by then, the impression was created that the entire episode was fake. Subsequently, the news was skipped by mainstream media organisations entirely.
Though a few local activists, friends and family did take out protest marches in Jamna in the days following the student’s murder, lockdown was imposed in the state from May 16 to 30 due to the Covid pandemic, and the protests too came to an end.
But for the family who suffered the horrific loss, the trauma is very real and continues to this day, with no resolution in sight.
The 20-year-old victim was a second-year student of Debra College, studying food and nutrition, and had a bright future ahead of her. According to her family, she was a girl of a loving disposition, and was “kind and caring beyond words”. That she was killed so cruelly in her own home, in a state with relatively lower rates of cognisable crime and violence against women, is particularly horrifying.
The student’s cousin Anwesha Bera, a structural engineer who lives in the US, created a website about the incident. Torn with grief and frustrated with the lack of urgency shown by the authorities, she – along with her parents who are both scientists – has been trying to create more awareness online and has been urging people to sign an online petition with the hope that the case may move forward and her cousin receives justice.
“We are still devastated and shaken from this tragic death in our own family. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel real. My parents who spent most of their lives in India cannot believe a crime this heinous even took place in their home country,” Anwesha tells eShe on a Zoom call from US.
Anwesha’s mother has two brothers, who live together with their family in their ancestral home in Jamna, a rural area of Midnapore. “My younger uncle who runs a shoe store has two boys, and my older uncle, a farmer, had two girls – only one now. When I lived in India, we all grew up in a joint family house together, where they all still reside. I was born and raised in this house where the crime occurred. The fact that the crime occurred in my cousin’s own home makes this so painful. It shows that this type of crime could happen anywhere,” says the 29-year-old, who now wishes she had become a lawyer or advocate so that she could better aid her family and fight for them during this gruelling time.
We spoke to Anwesha about the case.
eShe: What do you know about your cousin’s case so far?
Anwesha Bera: On May 3, 2021, my cousin went through an unspeakable nightmare. She lost her life in the hands of three depraved individuals in our own home in Jamna. She was brutally raped, tortured, and murdered by construction workers identified as Bikash Murmu from Belda (West Bengal), Chhotu Munda from Jharkhand, and Tapati Patra, a woman from Sabang (West Bengal).
These three workers carried out this horrible crime inside an abandoned part of the house, which had been vacant for years. After raping her, the culprits tortured her and then strangled her to death. Afterward, they hid her bloodied body and locked the door. The culprits had scratches on them from where my cousin had tried to fight back.
The post-mortem report confirmed rape, followed by manual strangulation, and also made clear the excruciating damage they did to her. They broke several of her bones including her nose and neck, damaged organs, and severely mutilated and cut up parts of her body. These monsters truly made my cousin’s last moments extremely painful.
Two of the culprits had been working on the construction of our family home for almost a month. Our family always treated them very well, and even shared meals and snacks with them. There were never any issues that arose between them.
For 10 days before the crime, they did not come to work. When they returned on May 3, they had an unfamiliar employee with them. But my family trusted them and did not see anything amiss. The fact that the family had been so kind and treated them so well makes this even more painful.
My family noticed my cousin was missing within the hour, and began to search desperately and frantically. During this search, when the construction workers were asked if they had seen her, the woman involved looked at my uncle in the eye and kept trying to convince him that my cousin had run away from home.
They wanted to divert attention from inside the house (where her body was) to outside the house. They planned to finish up the workday and leave without raising suspicion to never return again.
Luckily, my cousin’s family knew she would never run away from home. That was simply not her nature and she loved her family, so they continued to search within the house as well as call her relatives and friends. Her father and my older boy cousin are the ones who found her bloodied body locked in the dark abandoned room. They are still traumatised by the sight.
Why do you think this is a planned crime?
The organised nature of the crime suggests that these culprits had done this before. The crime took place within an hour. Every aspect of damage that they did to her, along with evidence, supports the claim that this diabolical plan was carefully calculated. It is impossible to believe this was their first such heinous crime. If they roam free, they will no doubt do it again.
I do believe these people have committed crimes like this before and worked together in this group. During the time they worked, they would all stay together every night in the house of their contractor. These were very deceptive people who gained the trust of their victims and their families and waited to strike.
After the crime was committed, and also when the criminals were caught, they had no emotion on their faces. Even after my aunt was shouting at them for murdering her daughter, they stayed expressionless and cold. They showed no remorse or shame for their horrible actions. These appear to be cold-blooded killers.
Other indications that this was planned are that the woman was found to have a large sum of money in two distinct piles in her purse as if two people had paid her. I believe she was paid this money for her involvement in the crime in helping to lure my cousin into the dark abandoned room and trick her into the situation.
My cousin was a good-natured person who loved helping others, and so we think she was lured into the room by the woman who may have asked my cousin for help. It is in this room where ultimately my cousin was betrayed in the worst way by this tragic fate. We believe the woman also kept watch as the two men raped my cousin and murdered her.
The post-mortem report shows that the manner in which the torture was inflicted on her indicates that only people with previous knowledge or experience of how to commit a crime like this could have done it. They broke her nose and neck so she was not able to fight back or yell.
Once they incapacitated her, they proceeded with the heinous crime. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they then murdered her by manual strangulation – this is not an easy task. The window of time for this at most was an hour, which doesn’t leave any room for error.
They knew exactly which room in the house to use. They brought a weapon, which means they had planned the crime. They studied the patterns of my family and their habits over time and noted what time of day would have been possible to commit this crime.
My little cousin always had her phone on her but, at that time, her phone was not with her as they caught her when she was washing dishes. My cousin hardly had any interaction with these culprits, so we know there is no way she did anything to anger them or provoke them. We believe they targeted her due to her petite frame and fact that she was so kind and helpful.
It’s heartbreaking thinking of how much our loved one suffered and the enormous pain she went through at the hands of these perpetrators.
The social-media posts which claim that my cousin was a member of the BJP or was opposed to the TMC are all completely false. Neither she nor her family had any political connections. She was also not a part of any organisations that had any political connections. Her Facebook page also did not suggest any political party ties.
Similar information was reported on some websites but was later withdrawn. Has any mainstream newspaper or television channel reported on this so far?
There was a lot of confusion created by the people who spread the false politicisation of the crime. No mainstream newspaper or national TV channel has reported on this so far.
The little attention the crime received was very local to the village. A small report was in Anandabazar, not on the front page. There were some video stories where reporters went to the house, but they were all in Bengali and for local news. None of the local news mentioned any political ties, since there were not any.
Unfortunately, due to the chaos about political parties created on social media, the news never spread. This led to a lot of confusion for the public as they did not know what to believe, they were given a lot of false information in these posts.
Then they questioned, “Was it political? Did the crime happen?” The answer is, no, it was not political or religious. But, yes, the actual crime did occur.
It is a shame and surprising that this news did not spread. We believe it is due to false politicisation. Why else would the brutal rape and murder of an innocent, young girl in her own home not make the national and even international news?
Is there any evidence that the three people arrested are members of the TMC?
There is no evidence to support that the three people are members of the TMC.
Has the chargesheet been filed yet, and if not, what is the reason being given for the delay?
The chargesheet has not been filed yet. At this time, the police have not sent the evidence in for forensic testing. Ultimately, we have no choice but to trust the police and their investigation. We can only hope she has a very detailed, honest, and fair investigation. She deserves that.
Has any NGO or lawyer offered to take up the case?
At this time, we have not had a lawyer or NGO offer to take up this case. Our hope is that, through this story in eShe and through the website we created, we can find some of these resources such as legal aid and the support of an NGO. Both are very crucial to the path for justice.
Why do you think this case was politicised and what has been the outcome of this for the family?
I think political leaders saw this as an opportunity to further their political agenda. This outcome created chaos for my family. We not only have to fight for justice but the news coming out this way further complicated things. It added a political spin that should have never been there in the first place.
This took away from the actual crime and I believe this is why the news did not spread widely. There was so much confusion, people didn’t know what to believe. Some people thought the whole incident was fake news, which it was not.
Due to the politicisation, people have forgotten that the innocent life of a young girl was brutally taken. This horrific crime should not be used as political propaganda. It has been exactly one month now and I have yet to see this on mainstream news.
Something this tragic should not be forgotten. Nothing will bring my young cousin back to us, but we can make sure justice is served. Unless the criminals receive proper punishment, how can we keep others safe?
Have any local leaders said anything so far about this case or promised support?
No local leaders have said anything about the incident. As her family, we would like to see support from local and even high-up leaders to the case and also for her immediate family.
My aunt is devastated at the loss of her daughter and has been unable to eat or sleep ever since. She has a heart condition and uses a pacemaker. So, she is already not in the best state, and this news completely broke her. My uncle who found her body is so haunted and traumatised. He loved both of his daughters dearly.
I hope that, as the case gains the awareness it deserves, the leaders promise their support. It would be very welcomed by the family if the leaders did that, especially our chief minister of West Bengal, who is a woman.
We feel so helpless in this situation and will continue to fight, but we cannot fight this alone. We need the vocal support of leaders to aid us in this fight for justice.
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