Patna: Cycle-riding girl students of Bihar were once the symbol of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s good governance. His carefully crafted image as ‘Sushasan Babu’ has now taken a beating with a spike in incidents of rape across the state, the last being the gangrape of a BBA student in Patna Monday.
Nitish has sought to deflect blame by writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month to demand a ban on pornographic sites, which he held responsible for the rise in the incidents of rape and sexual abuse.
Opposition parties have, however, made it an issue in the election year.
The main opposition in Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), has held state-wide dharnas and agitations on the law and order situation, particularly crime against women.
“For the last six months, it has been a central issue. But Nitish Kumar by demanding ban on pornographic sites in social media is trying to divert attention from the incompetence of policing in Bihar,” said RJD MLA and national general secretary Alok Kumar Mehta.
“The state government lets the situation drift so that people will forget such heinous crimes. The main problem is that in most cases, police do not lodge a genuine FIR unless the incident catches the attention of media. The police shows low crime rates because the FIRs are not registered. In real terms, crime, specially against women, is spiralling.”
The ruling JD(U) dismisses the RJD charges.
“Under the present regime, police cracks down on a case and the culprits are caught. Even RJD MLA Raj Yadav was not spared when he allegedly raped a minor girl. His arrest happened when JD(U) was an ally of the RJD in the Grand Alliance government,” said JD(U) spokesperson Sanjay Singh. “Under the Nitish Kumar government, no criminal has been spared. After the gangrape incident on Boring Road (Patna), one of the four accused has been arrested. The police is going to nab the rest.”
A CM under fire
The crimes against women in Bihar have been acknowledged by the chief minister.
On 17 December, he wrote to Modi asking him to ban pornographic sites, which he held responsible for the rise in sexual abuse of girls and women. “It will be my request to take appropriate action to ban all porn sites and inappropriate content available on internet immediately, after giving due consideration to the serious issue,” his letter read.
“People make videos of heinous acts (rape) against girls and women and get them uploaded on social media such as WhatsApp, Facebook etc. Such content, which seriously affect the minds of children and youths, have been found as factors responsible for crimes (against women),” the letter added.
Union minister Ravishankar Prasad acknowledged receiving the letter but made it clear that banning pornographic sites would be difficult.
One of the chief reasons that should have the chief minister worried is that women have been his foremost supporters.
In the 2010 assembly elections, when the NDA won 206 of the 243 seats under Nitish Kumar, women voters outnumbered male voters in nine districts. The chief minister has also nurtured this constituency.
He enforced Prohibition on the demand of women at a public meeting in 2015. He has also distributed free cycles to girl students, ensured 50 per cent of seats are reserved for women in panchayat and municipal bodies and a 33 per cent quota in government jobs.
But there is a growing perception that women are unsafe in his rule.
“That is the perception growing at least for the last few years,” said Nivedita Jha, acting president of the Bihar Mahila Samaj. “Since laws on crime against women have been tightened, there is a new trend — killing the survivor to wipe out evidence off rape. Last year, there was a case in Jehanabad when a video was made by the culprits of the victim being raped.”
“The perception has to be fought not by statistics but by quick action,” she added.
Spate of crimes against women
There has been a spate of high-profile crimes against women in Bihar in recent months.
In Patna, the BBA student was picked up from a busy commercial locality of Boring Road and gangraped by four youngsters.
On Tuesday, a teenager girl was allegedly gangraped near Khusropur railway station.
In December, Bihar was in news when in Buxar and Samastipur districts, charred bodies of young women were recovered. Both turned out to be cases of honour killing. But the brazen manner in which the crime were committed has amazed even police officers.
“Minimising or not registering crime and subsequent inaction leads to growing confidence of criminals. This is true not only for crimes against women but also for the increase in mob-lynching”, remarked an IG ranked police officer not wanting to be quoted.
The spike in rape incidents is not reflected in the official records though. The number of cognisable offences in Bihar in 2018 was 2,62,802. In 2019 when the entire position was criticising the collapse of law and order conditions in the state, the state police showed a drop in crime rates and the number came down to 2,05,652.
The number of rapes has fallen from 1,475 to 1,165 in the corresponding period. However, there are people questioning the crime figures. “During our initial days in the police service we were told to be aware of junior police officers who resorted minimising crime like registering a dacoity case as theft. It’s like a sick patient getting medical records saying everything is fine. But the patient knows he is ill. Crime is not about statistics. It is about confidence of the people” former Bihar DGP Abhyanand told The Print.
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