The murder of two women, after suspected sexual assault, in separate trains in Assam within 24 hours has exposed serious lapses in rail security and sparked public anger against junior rail minister Rajen Gohain, an MP from the state.
A student of the Assam Agricultural University in Jorhat was found dead in a toilet of the Kamakhya Express on Tuesday morning while the body of another woman was found in a toilet of the Avadh-Assam Express on Wednesday. According to police, both the victims were killed in similar fashion.
Assam has been rocked by several incidents of rape and murder in recent times and sparked a political debate after a top BJP minister told the assembly that most of these crimes are committed by illegal Bangladeshi Muslims.
Police said they have detained two persons and also released the sketch of a potential assailant.
Police in Sivasagar, a small town about 360 km east of state capital Guwahati, said a suspended railway employee, Kanak Gogoi, was detained for interrogation on Thursday. Another person has also been detained but police didn’t reveal his identity.
“Kanak Gogoi has a past record of criminal activities. Interrogation is on. We are not in a position to say anything now,” said a police officer.
Women’s rights activists slammed the railways for lack of security. Activists of Asom Jatiyatabadi Chatra Parishad (AJYCP), a students' body, burnt the effigy of Gohain in Jorhat over the ongoing crime against women.
“This is serious matter of concern. A woman or say a passenger is not safe in a train and in a coach meant for differently-abled people. I have no words to condemn the incident. It indicates the failure of the railways department,” Sumitra Hazarika told Outlook.
Leader of the Opposition in the Assam assembly, Debabrata Saikia, came down heavily on Rajen Gohain, saying the junior railway minister has “become an object of ridicule”.
“Unlike some other parts of the country, this type of violent crime inside trains is fairly new to Assam and must be nipped in the bud. The need of the hour is safe trains, not bullet trains,” Saikia wrote in a letter to the Union minister.
Saikia said Gohain has failed to do justice to his responsibility as the first parliamentarian from Assam to hold the post of minister of state for railways.
The Northeast Frontier Railways said that they have tightened security arrangements following the twin incidents.
“After two untoward incidents occurred in passenger trains during last two days, security arrangements have been tightened. Security personnel have been deployed in all passenger trains in between Dibrugarh- Tinsukia- Dimapur of Tinsukia division,” a railway official said in Guwahati.
Police roped in Kolkata-based artist Debasish Banerjee to draw a sketch based on the description provided by the mother of one of the victims, an 21-year-old fourth semester student returning to her institute after a vacation.
“There was no body except one individual in that compartment when my daughter got into the train. After I helped her seat near the window, I couldn’t find the man,” the mother said. The other victim, a resident of Dibrugarh, was on her way to Bihar for work related to her husband’s pension.
Though many suspect the women were sexually assaulted before they were killed, police are yet to release the findings of the post-mortems.
Assam Director General of Police (DGP), Kuladhar Saikia, announced a Special Investigation Team (SIT) led by additional DGP RP Meena to investigate the murders.
Crime against women in trains is not a new thing in Assam. A few weeks back, a female journalist was harassed in a lady’s compartment in Nalbari district.
In the recently-released study ‘World of India’s Girls 2018’ by Save the Children, 65% of adolescent girls in Assam do not feel safe while travelling on public transport. About 51 percent said they find road to their schools, local markets and private tuitions unsafe. It also found that 73 percent of adolescent girls find lewd comments in public spaces their biggest safety concern.