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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 1

Abduction Simpliciter!

Tuesday 25 December 2007, by D. Bandyopadhyay


On November 22, 2007, Ms Taslima Nasreen, the noted Bengali writer, was clandestinely and forcibly whisked away from her residence at 7, Rowdon Street, Kolkata, by a posse of plainclothes men presumably of the West Bengal Intelligence Branch and or, the Special Branch. She was made to board an IC flight bound for Ahmedabad and Jaipur, reportedly under a false name. She was taken to Jaipur where she was not welcome by the Rajasthan Government and had to be moved out to a secret location in the National Capital Region. The Statesman, Kolkata, November 24, 2007, reported under the caption “The Mystery Deepens…” that “Ms Taslima Nasreem who was moved to Jaipur from Kolkata last night is now believed to have been kept at a secret location in or around the National Capital Region. The mystery about her whereabouts deepened when the Rajasthan Government said in a press release issued tonight that it was ‘left with no alternative except to have Nasreen as a guest of Government of Rajasthan till such time the (Union) Ministry of Home Afairs, takes a final view regarding her stay and security’. The press release further said that it toyed with the idea of sending the writer back to Kolkata but the West Bengal Government ‘simply refused to countenance this idea’!” That was the official version of the Government of Rajasthan.

The same day’s Statesman carried a statement of Prasad Ranjan Ray, the State Home Secretary, in which he observed, inter alia, “She (Taslima Nasreen) is a free person and as such she won’t come and go according to our dictates. It was only from the television channels that I came to know that she had left the city … We did not ask her to move out.”

Prasad Ranjan Ray is known to be a gentleman. I would go by what he said. Obviously, this clandestine and covert operation was conducted without his knowledge and sanction. To put it mildly, it is now clear that some foul and nefarious actions were being done by a section of the Home Department of West Bengal behind the back of the Home Secretary and obviously without any legal sanction. This is a very ominous sign.

THE State Home Secretary’s statement stands negated not only by the press release of the Rajasthan Government but also by the bill of Rs 10,000 preferred by the management of the Hotel Shikha of Jaipur for the occupation of their five rooms by Ms Nasreen (one room) and police and security persons (four rooms) who flew with her from Kolkata to Jaipur or later on joined the group at Jaipur. The policemen decamped the hotel with the writer without settling the bill, true to their tradition of enjoying “free lunch” anywhere and everywhere.

What is this ‘dirty tricks department’ of the West Bengal Government? Is it a government within the government without any accountability to anybody? From whom do the operatives of this shady organisation take their orders? To whom are they accountable? Do they take their directives for their sinister and unfair activities from any political caucus outside the formal set-up of the government established by law? Is the Government of West Bengal being run by gangsters in plain- clothes? Is the West Bengal Government following the technique of involuntary disappearance perfected by General Pinochet after toppling and killing Salvador Allende in Chile?

These are some of the serious issues arising out of the Taslima episode which the Chief Minister and the Police Minister have to respond to. All the basic issues of good governance have been systematically flouted with utter contempt by the party and its Chief Minister. Unless this nefarious and wicked organisation is exposed publicly and dismantled totally, life, liberty and property of every person residing in this State would be unsafe. We are living here in highly perilous times. Everyone has to understand it and lodge protest against it individually and collectively. After all, this loathsome organisation is being run by our money—the tax payers’ money. We have a right to know what is going on and why?

The CPI-M as a party had been losing hold on their traditional minority vote-bank. In all the cases of mass murder and civil strife sponsored by the party beginning with Nanoor, through Chhoto Angaria, Keshpur, Garbeta, Nandigram to Rizwanur Rehman, a large number of victims had been from minority community. The fragile veneer of “secularism” of the CPI-M party got torn and tattered again and again by their anti-minority action and statements. In the Sachar Committee Report, West Bengal has the dubious honour of standing second from the bottom in regard to the State’s effort regarding the welfare and well-being of Muslims after their 30 years glorious rule. In the Rizwanur Rehman case, in the first statement of the CM he mentioned that there was “a communal angle” where there was none. Communalism was sought to be injected in a purely private love affair of two educated and civilised young man and woman belonging to different communities. People of Kolkata—Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis and others—stood shoulder to shoulder together and exposed the communalism of the CM and his party.

The CPI-M had been wooing the fundamentalist groups among the Muslims for a long time. The Government of West Bengal proscribed Ms Nasreen’s book Dwikhandita on the ground that it offended the sentiments of a section of Muslims. It was done on a public demand of some Maulanas and on the basis of a report of an Assistant Commissioner of Police of questionable literary competence. After a full hearing the Calcutta High Court set aside the order. But the party and its government, shameless and brazen faced as they were, did not show any contrition or remorse. They started a fresh move to harass, tease and torment Taslima Nasreen to make her leave the country out of disgust.

The Dainik Statesman reported on November 23, 2007 that several months before this episode, the then Police Commissioner of Calcutta, Prasun Mukherjee, had threatened and intimidated the writer several times to leave the country. He clearly stated in his usual uncivilised and rude language that he was conveying the desire of the CM. She was told that she was a security risk for West Bengal and India. It was reported that Ms Nasreen firmly and politely refused to leave stating that she desired to end her nomadic life by settling peacefully in India and, particularly, Kolkata to pursue her literary career. Though Prasun Mukherjee had to leave his post of Police Commissioner disgracefully over the Rizwanur episode, the current Deputy Commissioner of Police (Hqs.) continued to threaten her till she was forcibly moved away from Kolkata against her wish. But why was she taken to Jaipur? Thereby hangs another tale of a dubious wheeler-dealer and his questionable foundation. But let’s not digress.

On November 21, 2007 Kolkata witnessed an ugly outburst of communal frenzy on the issue of driving out Taslima Nasreen. This incident reminded people of my generation of the murderous and wild behaviour of the crowd during the Great Calcutta killings of August 16, 1946, organised by the then Premier of Bengal, Shahid Suhrawardy. There was an uncanny similarity between the two episodes separated by a time lag of over six decades. Clearly the incident of November 21, 2007 was a sponsored one. TV footage showed a posse of policemen standing silently witnessing or enjoying the scene of rampaging of young men breaking windshields of buses and cars without any attempt to intervene. It was exactly the same on August 16, 1946, when policemen allowed marauding crowds to commit murder, arson, mayhem etc., almost with their connivance. The present CM of West Bengal had the same desire like his distant predecessor of 1946. He only lacked Suhrawardy’s intelligence, efficiency, capacity, gumption and astuteness. Given firm orders his own police force could have controlled the situation easily. But he would not allow his forces to soil their hands, lest his fundamentalist friends condemned him for highhandedness. Hence he called in the Army. He used a sledge hammer to crack a hard-nut.

AFTER this incident Party Secretary Biman Bose’s immediate reaction was that Ms Nasreem should move out elsewhere if her continued stay in the State disturbed peace. More ominous was the statement of H.A. Halim, the Speaker of the West Bengal Assembly, that Taslima’s stay in the city had created problems and he thus advised the West Bengal Government to send a report about it to the Central Government. The Speaker had no business to make any such statement. His untold intention was that since she was the cause of disturbance, her visa should not be renewed by the Centre. Thus, it is evident that the ugly incident of November 21, 2007 was a well-orchestrated, well-executed and a diabolical move to endear the party to the fundamentalist elements among the Muslim community and through their good offices to regain the lost ground among them.

Now let us have a quick look at the legality of the West Bengal Government’s action regarding forcibly moving out Taslima Nasreen from Kolkata to Jaipur and then to the Rajasthan Guest House at Delhi. The Criminal Procedure Code does not provide for any extradition. Some States have local Goonda Acts which provide for such a procedure for undesirable persons. West Bengal does not have any such law. So legally Taslima Nasreen could not have been moved out of her Calcutta residence at 7 Rowdon Street and from the State of West Bengal to Jaipur and Delhi.

If the continued presence of Taslima Nasreen would have caused any cognisable offence, she could have been arrested under Section 151 of Cr.P.C. to prevent occurrence of such offence(s). In that case, she had to be produced before a Magistrate within 24 hours of her arrest. In such an event all the killers in the party’s and government’s bag would have come out mewing their own stories. The media would have lapped it up causing discomfort. Since the party and its government did not believe in the rule of law, why should one bother about it. Bypass the law totally.

The facts of this case are that Ms Taslima Nasreen was moved out of her residence on November 22, 2007 against her will by force by the plainclothes persons presumably belonging to the West Bengal Intelligence Branch and, or the Special Branch of the Kolkata Police. Section 362 of the Indian Penal Code defines abduction as follows: “Whoever by force compels, or by any deceitful means induces, any person to go from any place, is said to abduct that person.” There are two ingredients of this offence: (1) forceful compulsion or inducement by deceitful means, and, (2) the object of such compulsion or inducement must be going of a person from any place. In the case of Taslima Nasreen both these ingredients have been fulfilled. Hence it is a case of abduction simpliciter.

Those persons who have abducted her have also committed, in addition, the offence of wrongful restraint by keeping her confined in the Rajasthan Guest House, Delhi. Moreover, wrongful restraint is a continuing offence. Each additional day of restraint enhances the gravity of the offence.

Since all these offenders have committed the offence at the behest of some organ of the State Government, the police in West Bengal would not take cognisance of these offences. Hence, some public spirited lady and or gentleman should move in the Hon’ble High Court of Calcutta a Public Interest Litigation praying for issuance of a Writ of Habeas Corpus to produce Ms Taslima Nasreen before the Hon’ble High Court and writs of mandamus and quo warranto against the State Government to set in motion proper actions under the relevant laws against the offenders to bring them to justice.

The author was the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministries of Finance (Revenue) and Rural Development, and the Executive Director, Asian Development Bank, Manila.

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