A woman and her teenaged daughter were allegedly molested and thrown off a running bus belonging to the ruling Badal family in Punjab, leaving the girl dead and mother seriously wounded, and kicking up a political storm.
The shocking incident occurred on Wednesday evening close to Gill village on Moga-Kotkapura road, about 10 km from Moga district headquarters, and four persons including the driver, cleaner and conductor of the bus were arrested on Thursday, police said.
The woman was travelling with her daughter and son in the nearly empty bus from Moga to Baghapurana when the accused began molesting them, ignoring desperate pleas to let them go.
Her 10-year-old son watched the whole drama unfold before him in horror and the stunned youngster was later handed over to the family by the police.
The 38-year-old woman and her daughter were rushed to Moga civil hospital where the girl was declared brought dead.
In her statement to the police, the injured woman has alleged that she and her 16-year-old daughter were molested by the conductor, cleaner and another person on a running bus and then “thrown off”, according to Moga’s Superintendent of Police (Detective) H S Pannu.
Earlier reports attributed to the police had said the duo had jumped off the vehicle to escape the molesters.
Punjab police chief Sumedh Saini said conductor Sukhminder Singh, cleaner Gurdip Singh and another accused known to them Amarjit Singh were the actual perpetrators, while driver Ranjit Singh has been arrested for his “culpability” of being at the wheel when the alleged incident took place.
Saini said a case of murder under section 302 and other relevant sections including 307 (attempt to murder), 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 34 (common intention) of Indian Penal Code has been registered in connection with the incident. The bus has been impounded.
An IG rank officer Gurpreet Kaur Deol has been sent to Moga to talk to the victim woman and oversee the probe, while Additional DGP (Crime) has been asked to personally monitor the investigation.
The Punjab director general of police said the bus belonged to Orbit Aviation, a company owned by the Badal famlily. “I don’t know the exact ownership but I think it is Sukhbir Singh Badal and other members of his family. But do not know the exact ownership,” Saini said.
Parkash Singh Badal is the chief minister of Punjab, his son Sukhbir is his deputy in the government, while daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur Badal is a Union minister.
As the news about the incident spread, the Badals came under attack from the opposition, with Congress demanding a judicial probe, claiming the local authorities will not be able to act fairly due to the influence wielded by the family.
Punjab Congress President Partap Singh Bajwa, who met the the injured woman in Moga, said the Punjab and Haryana high court should take suo motu cognizance of the incident.
“The district administration and the police will never act against this transport company. My request to the chief justice is that in the interest of justice, on humanitarian grounds, you please take up this matter suo motu and order a time-bound judicial inquiry,” he said.
Facing opposition fire, Parkash Singh Badal admitted that the bus belonged to a company owned by his family, but said he personally “never took interest” in its affairs nor ever visited its office.
Describing the incident as “very unfortunate and sad”, Badal said, “Law will take its course. A case of murder has been registered and other sections have been added on the basis of the statement made by the injured woman.”
“I agree it is a grave crime. But what can I do when someone else has committed a crime. I have been pained to hear this. Entire humanity gets hurt,” the 87-year-old five-time chief minister said.
His daughter-in-law and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, too, condemned the incident and said police had taken swift action and the state will ensure that the guilty get punished.
The shocking incident resonated in the Lok Sabha, with Aam Aadmi Party and Congress members storming the Well, leading to a brief adjournment.
Image: Family members of the victims protest against the Punjab state government. Photograph: ANI/Twitter