What exactly are political murders? If they are what common sense suggests, does a total of 26 political murders seem likely for West Bengal for the period from January 1, 2009 to February 15, 2010? But official figures are at least an indicator of the general state of things. With 26 political murders, Bengal comes second to Andhra Pradesh, which has 36. There are no records for the other regions, but what figures there are, for other crimes and including other states, are alarming enough. They seem to have stirred the chief minister of West Bengal to an acknowledgment that there has been a rise in the crime rate. For criminals, that is a big achievement: the chief minister had always insisted that Calcutta, at least, was “an oasis of peace”. His trust in his police is unshakeable, untouched by the increasingly worrisome findings of non-governmental agencies or the atmosphere of lurking menace that now surrounds everyday life in the state.
But reality has a habit of catching up. West Bengal recorded 2,284 murders in a year and one-and-a-half months, just below Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. But murders, recorded or concealed, are just one, if extreme, manifestation of criminality. Even the governor is expressing anxiety now at the swelling flow of illegal arms and explosives into the state. Since the flow of arms is not a new phenomenon, it has to be asked what the state administration, with the police under the chief minister, was doing all this time. To acknowledge officially that political parties, including the chief minister’s own, are major buyers, would not do. There is no thin red line separating political workers and criminals in West Bengal; each side needs the other. No wonder the chief minister feels the urge to play things down. The situation in West Bengal is not truly alarming, he feels, since there has been an increase in crime throughout India. It is not as if West Bengal is an exception.
This imperturbability is especially telling in the context of crimes against women. Bengal is quite exceptional in its neglect of and violence towards women, but the chief minister’s soothing words suggest that what happens to them does not matter. The crime rates are simply a reflection of that attitude. West Bengal has recorded the highest number of rapes in the last year compared to Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Tortured women number 17,571, while Andhra Pradesh leads with 17,646. Rapes and sexual violence are not always reported; when they are, the police love looking the other way. So these figures are likely to be more optimistic than real. In trafficking and female foeticide too, West Bengal occupies an honourable position. Perhaps the chief minister thinks that noises of mild concern will make the unpleasantness go away. It would take too much to undo the deliberate indifference of so many years.