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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 18, New Delhi, April 17, 2021

Mystery of Sitalkuchi Firing - Where is the CCTV Footage? | Barun Das Gupta

Friday 16 April 2021, by Barun Das Gupta

The CISF fired on people standing in a queue to cast their votes at a booth at Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal on April 10. Four people were killed — all of them belonging to the minority community. The CISF story is that about 50 or 60 women had come menacingly toward them and tried to snatch their firearms. It is then that in self-defence they were forced to open fire. The first question is, if it were women who confronted the CISF, why no woman was killed or injured? The CISF also claimed that a mob of about 250 to 300 men had tried to storm the polling booth. If so, why no member of the mob was killed or injured in firing? Why voters standing in the queue were killed? There is no answer, no explanation.

Strangest of all, no CCTV or video footage of the incident of that day is available till now, although it is mandatory to videograph everything happening in or outside a polling booth on the polling day. In the absence of the footage it is not possible to ascertain what actually happened, what were the circumstances that forced the CISF to open fire? Is it because the Election Commission does not, for reasons of its own, want to reveal the truth which may be embarrassing to itself and the Union Government?

There is another relevant question. Unlike the CRPF, it is not the job of the CISF to maintain law and order. This force is meant for protecting vital central installations like steel factories, airports and other industrial establishments. That is why it is called the Central Industrial Security Force. Why are they being used for duties that fall in the domain of the State police or the CRPF? Handling an angry mob requires special training and experience so that the quantum of force to be applied is not disproportionate to the severity of the situation. The CISF does not have this experience because they are not meant to maintain law and order.

But what about the video tapes? Where have they gone? Perry Mason might well have found the title of a new novel from this incident: “The Case of the Missing Video Tapes”. It is strange that the Election Commission still maintains a stony silence about the tapes and so does the Union Home Ministry. Till the tapes are found, it will never be clear what happened at Sitalkuchi on that fateful day and what led to the firing. Everything will remain a mystery. The other mystery will be the Election Commission’s total disinterestedness in finding the tapes.

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