A series of cases of political killings and violent crime incidents against women, including rape and murder, shocked West Bengal in March and April this year. According to media reports, more than 25 political murders were allegedly committed in March, while more than 15 alleged rape cases were registered in the two months.
A massive political turmoil had gripped the state with oppositions launching a full-fledged attack against the Trinamool Congress (TMC)-led state government on the grounds of safety and security. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee defended the government saying cases of political violence are much more frequent in other states. She also said the accused will be punished.
A month later, TMC state general secretary and spokesperson Kunal Ghosh said women were "safe and secure in West Bengal under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee".
FactChecker analysed data on political killings, crimes against women and conviction rate to see where West Bengal stands. What we found didn't quite make the state look safe.
Claim 1: "I am not justifying Birbhum killings, but these incidents are more frequent in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar," said Mamata Banerjee.
Her statement came after nine people were charred to death in Birbhum district's Bogtui village on March 21 as part of an alleged political vendetta following the death of TMC leader Bhadu Sheikh the same day.
Fact: West Bengal has registered the second-highest number of political murders in India with 114 such cases, behind Bihar's 150 cases, between 2011 and 2020, showed the National Crime Record Bureau's (NCRB) records.
West Bengal earned this dubious distinction despite not providing data for the NCRB report in 2018 and recording just one case each in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and three cases in 2019. Between 1999 and 2016, West Bengal averaged 20 political killings a year, revealed NCRB reports.
The above graph shows that the number of political killings in West Bengal is only second to Bihar. This shows that while Mamata Banerjee's claim about such incidents being more frequent in Bihar was true, it was factually incorrect when she mentioned Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh together.
Madhya Pradesh with 88 cases stood third, right behind West Bengal, on the list of Indian states with most political killings in the last 10 years. Uttar Pradesh with 72 cases and Gujarat with 21 are not even among the top five Indian states in that category.
"There is a law, but it's not implemented. Local administration and police have turned into pawns of politics… Rule of law and constitution doesn't apply in West Bengal anymore as administration fails to serve citizens without money and political connections. Those with resources control the law and the struggle to have the power to control those resources results in political violence," said Kirity Roy, a senior human rights activist and founder of Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM).
However, in terms of the rate of violent crimes per one lakh of population, West Bengal emerges way ahead of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. The latest NCRB report showed that in 2020, West Bengal recorded more than 51 violent crime incidents for every one lakh persons, which was second only to Assam's 73.7. On the other hand, the rate of violent crimes in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar was 22.7, 12.1, 27.8 and 41.9, respectively.
Fact: Conviction rate for all crimes in West Bengal is abysmally low in comparison to states such as Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. According to the latest NCRB report, conviction rate in West Bengal for IPC crimes was just 13.4%, while for SLL crimes the number was 22.7%. The conviction rate of IPC crimes in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Bihar were 63.2%, 57.9%, 40.7% and 30.5%, respectively. For SLL crimes, the conviction rates in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Bihar were 88.5%, 96.4%, 54.9% and 34.5% respectively.
"A sense of impunity has taken over the ruling political class. Every time an incident of violence takes place, ruling party leaders either claim 'nothing has happened' or 'it's minor incident'… Only in rarest of the rare cases do we see conviction," said the 70-year-old human rights activist.
Claim 3: "The women of the state are safe and secure in West Bengal under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee. The chief minister herself directed the police to take stern action. Police and administration always take quick action. Victims are not tortured here like in Unnao. Mamata Banerjee's administration is empathetic," claimed TMC's Ghosh.
He repeated the claim on April 19, saying "women are safest in West Bengal". "Administration tries its best to resist any crime. In many cases, one can find that efforts of police and administration have brought positive results. There's a reason why Bengal always becomes safest for women in the country," he asserted.
Fact: "If you look at the data, crimes against women have been steadily rising in West Bengal," said women's rights activist Mitali Biswas of All India Progressive Women's Association.
According to the latest NCRB report, West Bengal is only behind Uttar Pradesh in terms of crimes against women. While Uttar Pradesh registered 49,385 crime incidents against women in 2020, West Bengal saw 36,439 such incidents.
While reacting to the spurt of violent incidents in the state, Mamata Banerjee has been repeatedly seen saying the accused, if proven guilty, would be punished and justice would be served, especially in the incidents where women were at the receiving end.
However, the truth around safety and security of women in the state becomes worse when the conviction rate for crimes against them are considered.
FactChecker tried contacting CM Banerjee and Ghosh via email but had not received a response by the time of publishing this article. Once we do, it will be added here. Officials from the West Bengal Commission for Women and West Bengal Human Rights Commision were also contacted, but no one agreed to speak.