By Ishita Mukherjee
WEST Bengal now stands out among the states in terms of atrocities against women. National Commission for Women had to intervene more than once and was forced to visit the state. There is a strong association between increased violence against women in the state and the rule of Trinamul Congress after 2011. Immediately after the party came to power in May 2011, atrocities against women began to rise. This association cannot be seen as accidental, there is a politics behind this association. During the 34 years of Left Front rule, the state was never in this kind of miserable situation. It is not to say that there were no incidents of violence against women under Left Front regime. But never such daily attacks on women took place then. Also, the culprits were punished whenever the incidents occurred and the victims along with their families did not have to live under threats even after the acts of violence. The culprits were also not protected by the ruling party, claiming to be their party men. There is no single state in the country now where the culprits are moving around and the victims are under threats. Even if cases of violence are taking place in the country as a whole, what is happening in West Bengal currently is unheard of anywhere.
In Madhyamgram, a young girl of a migrant family from Bihar was raped and when she was coming home after lodging complaint with the police, she was raped for the second time. The culprits were arrested but the victim’s family was attacked by Trinamul Congress goons and the victim’s family fled to a different place, fearing further attacks. But in a shocking manner the girl was torched to death before the identification of perpetrators process began. The police tried to hush up the case by taking away the dead body while the girl’s parents were surrounded by Trinamul Congress antisocials. Brutality to this extent is still unheard in any part of India.
In Labhpur, a tribal girl was gang raped on the verdict of a kangaroo court in a village. The kangaroo court was allegedly attended by Trinamul Congress representatives. In Amta, Trinamul Congress goons attacked a village and the CPI(M) activists and supporters were evicted out of the village. Only women were left behind. Later they disconnected power supply and in a most gruesome incident ever heard, they raped two of a family in the dark and ransacked the house. Such incidents are occurring each and every day across the state.
CRIMINALS IN POWER
The question arises why are such incidents of violence against women taking place in West Bengal? It is now clear to all that Trinamul Congress has directly given shelter to the criminals and has won the polls with their help. They are running the state government also with their help. So the criminals will have to be given freedom in the state. They are also to be used for keeping the people obedient under the control of the party. The party without any political ideology, without any vision to work towards the welfare of the people is only trying to silence people’s voices. For this they need the help of the criminals and lumpens in the state. The alliance between Trinamul Congress and lumpens is for mutual benefit. TMC needs criminals to frighten and silence people’s voices and criminals need them for shelter. However, the process is not easy in a state like West Bengal, which has been under Left Front regime for more than three decades.
The Left Front rule in the state had brought in consciousness about one’s rights. Poor people of the state had learnt to live with dignity. Peasant families in the rural areas obtained land under Operation Barga. People in the state became empowered through welfare programmes and decentralised three-tier panchayats and municipalities developmental activity. Even if they voted for TMC in the past assembly elections, it is not possible for them to become submissive to TMC rule in the state. They have learnt to question and critique, which is not being allowed under present TMC rule.
PROGRESS OF WOMEN UNDER LF
One of the major problems for this sort of jungle raj in the state has been the opposition of women in the state. Women have progressed much under the earlier Left Front regime. Female literacy gained. Juvenile sex ratio improved much during the last two decades. They became aware of their right to education and health. Women also got their right to land through joint patta system. Girl’s education in the state reached high. Thousands and lakhs of girls now pass out from schools, colleges and universities each year. The public examination results show how the girls from poor families in the districts are faring better in the examinations each year. There has been seat reservation for women in the panchayats and women were used to running panchayats and municipalities. Over 23 lakhs of Self Help Groups were registered under Left Front rule. It is difficult to convert this women population into docile followers. There exists a glass ceiling for women everywhere. Though not visible in terms of legislations, this glass ceiling is a social construct. What is expected out of a gender sensitive State is pushing up the glass ceiling as far as possible to yield women of the country more space day by day. This was done by the Left Front government in West Bengal. Throughout the last three decades women have become more and more independent, more and more active in the state. Young girls aspire to be educated and working. Education, political participation and work have made women of the state to cross the gender-class barriers in the society. Before the coming of Left Front in 1977, the generation of women who did not dream to go to college now sent their daughters to be educated in colleges and universities.
West Bengal was one of the states that were pioneers in reservation of thirty-three percent of seats in panchayats and municipalities for women. Experience of political empowerment of women in the state has been remarkable. There were all-women panchayats where the entire panchayat was run by only women. In the initial year of reservation, Kultikri was one such panchayat. Women were participating actively in the process of development. Women panchayat representatives along with other women in the villages were all gaining empowerment in the process. Women were part of political process and they were taking part in political movements in the state. This has enabled the state to raise the level of women’s seats to more than 42 per cent in the natural way. Leadership emerged among women in the process. After this experience, it was difficult for TMC to convert women into submissive crowds who will only praise TMC chief minister without asking questions.
Left Front in its last state budget also expressed priority spending on women’s welfare, particularly welfare of scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and minority women. The priority was in setting up schools, colleges everywhere and the number of girl students were increasing. Women self-help groups were tied to the welfare schemes of women and children and the child development units. Monthly allowances of Anganwadi and health workers were also increased. In 2010-11 itself, which is the last year of Left Front rule, Rs 10,468 lakh were spent for development of 22 lakh self help groups. After TMC regime this was reduced to Rs 6902 lakh. Self-help groups were dismantled, and in its place microfinance institutions and chit funds were promoted by the present state government. These women may have voted for TMC in the last polls, but it is not possible for them to submit to the rule, which was a hurdle before the TMC.
VIOLENCE & RAPE AS INSTRUMENTS
Violence and rape were taken up as instruments to make women as well as men submissive. A fascist party wants clear submissive voters and if they are not so, they had to be converted to submissive forces. Rape and violence are also instruments to silence the voices of men also. The message is to be given that they cannot protect their women. Only this weapon can surely bring them to submission. To execute this weapon they need lumpens and anti-socials who are already their allies. There has to be unrestricted lumpenisation to covert people into submissive mobs to the fascist regime. If they submit to the lumpens, they will submit to the TMC party. Women who have been already pampered by the earlier Left Front regime had to be moved indoors. Rape has always acted as a weapon to push women indoors. This happened against minority women in Gujarat riots steered by Modi, unfortunately projected as prime ministerial candidate by the BJP.
The same tactics were taken up by TMC in Bengal. Most of the rapes that took place in Bengal in recent times are gang rapes. Gang rapes are organised crimes, which are conducted by organised lumpens who chalk out and execute the crime. This has happened in Park Street, Katwa, Kamduni, Madhyamgram, Amta and all other places. The culprits are more than one in all the cases. This also records complete breakdown of law and order so that the culprits are getting the opportunity to organise and execute. Without the pampering of the state administration there cannot be consecutive gang rapes held one after another in the state. The ruling party is keen to resist women’s liberation in the state. Women’s liberation is not to be there. It is not to be allowed that women are taking decisions. If they do so, they will learn to question and protest. TMC cannot allow that. Women and men are to be taught a lesson that they are vulnerable. Rape is an instrument to do so. This is the reason why Anganwadi workers CPI(M) activists, AIDWA activists are most targeted for rape and violence. Most of the culprits in all the cases are TMC men and protected by TMC government. Culprits are generally set free. After the barbarous Kamduni incident of rape and murder, culprits are yet to be punished. West Bengal has been turned into the unsafe place for women in the country. Women are to be turned indoors, this is the goal of TMC. But how will a government plan to survive if they pursue this policy? They also have policies for women. They launched a policy Kanyasri of providing education to girls. Whatever can be done will come out of women looked as targets or beneficiaries of development policy of the State. Policies should not be such which will enable them to be empowered themselves. Most of the victims are disabled, most of the victims are poor, most of the victims are coming from backward community, and most of the victims are underprivileged.
However, this is not being tolerated any more in the state. Women, men of the affected families, people of all sections, students, youth, and employees are all getting organised. Mammoth protest rallies are being held regularly in the state against such assaults and violence, rape against women. Trinamul Congress also is watching this but is failing to estimate the repercussions of all such anger, grief and protest of the people.