People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 52

December 27, 2009

AIDWA Holds Convention in

Defence of Democratic Rights in West Bengal

 

ON the December 19, Susheela Gopalan Memorial Day, AIDWA organized a meeting “In Defence of the Democratic Rights of the People of West Bengal” at the Constitution Club, New Delhi. This convention was held in the backdrop of the murder of over 160 supporters and activists of the Left and democratic movement in the state over the past few months, including children and women. While political violence in West Bengal has assumed alarming proportions, the devastating impact of gruesome violence on the next of kin of each victim as well as on the overall political and democratic culture of the state, has received insufficient attention in the mainstream media as well as among human rights activists. The unholy gang-up of a mainstream political party like the TMC with the ‘outlawed’ Maoists in order to unleash a reign of terror has also not been sufficiently exposed or held to task. As a women’s organization, the AIDWA has consistently maintained that women are ultimately the worst sufferers in an atmosphere of violence. In this instance too women have seen their children being killed, have lost their husbands, have been brutally assaulted and have had to abandon their homes and villages or face a future filled with uncertainty. Twenty women victims of political violence in different parts of West Bengal participated in the convention.

 

Subhashini Ali, president AIDWA, presided over the convention and started the proceedings by introducing all the participants from West Bengal. The participants included family members of martyrs namely Sarathi Roy, Anjali Mondol, Aloka Tudu, Kamala Mandal, Noorjahan Mondol, Anjura Begum, Manwara Begum, Jaleshwari Mahato and Mahima Bibi. Women who have faced attacks like Anjali Maity, Maya Khati, Padma Santra, Fullara Mondol, Shikha Aditya, Jharna Garudas, Indrani Mukherjee and Mina Khamuri and also three women MLAs who have faced physical attacks and abuse,  Aloka Burman, Chandana Ghosh Dastidar and Mafuja Khatoon.

 

Then Dr. Vina Mazumdar, an eminent academic and women’s rights activists released a booklet The Truth Behind the Violence in West Bengal cataloguing real-life instances of the one-sided political violence that has affected women in many ways. Its analysis reveals that the political violence in Bengal far from being spontaneous represents the coming together of politically reactionary and undemocratic forces to dislodge a popularly elected Left Front government and to decimate the cadres of the CPI (M). The Congress on its part refuses to acknowledge this unholy covert alliance between its ally and partner in Government, the Trinamool Congress, and the Maoists whom it never tires of calling ‘the biggest internal threat faced by the country today’.

 

The fact that the Left forces still command the support and commitment of large sections of the poor is what is responsible for the attacks on its cadres, supporters and on elected bodies at all levels.  Had the Left been alienated from the people as is often alleged by those who justify this violence in one way or another, these attacks and acts of coercion that its supporters are facing in such large numbers would not have been necessary.  These are being resorted to precisely to terrorize people into abandoning the Left.

 

The booklet gives details of the suffering inflicted on the victims, specially women and children, by this political violence. Methods of political violence have resulted in subjecting women and other vulnerable sections of society to a great deal of misery. They have become “internally displaced” as they have been forced to leave home and hearth to save themselves and their families. They have lost even their meager assets or low-paid work. Their access to health, education, and government supported schemes has been severely eroded. And the plight of the widows, and fatherless children, whose numbers are growing by the day, is a stark reminder that the fallout of this merciless killing is being borne by the women and children.

 

While releasing the booklet, Dr Vina Mazumdar strongly condemned this violence saying that it is ‘semi-fascistic in nature and a travesty of politics’. She asked all citizens to stand in defense of democracy and to oppose such barbaric and violent acts. She urged upon all democratic minded people to apprise themselves of the true facts and decide upon the direction that our democracy must take in the 21st century.

 

This was followed by three sessions in which nine women spoke of their experiences. The themes of these sessions were ‘Democratic and Livelihood Rights Under Threat’, ‘Women Victims of Violence’, and ‘Family Members of those Killed in Attacks’. The sessions were introduced by AIDWA leadership from West Bengal, namely, Rekha Goswami, Shyamali Gupta and Minoti Ghosh who made an impassioned plea to all present to understand that the CPI (M) is not the cause but the target of political violence. They explained that the struggle of AIDWA supporters and activists in West Bengal to defend their right to basic safety and security, earn a livelihood, and engage in political activism needs to be supported and strengthened. Opinion needs to be built all over the country against the TMC-Maoist alliance that is attacking these hard earned rights through violence and intimidation.

 

Mahfooza Khatoon, a three time MLA from Kumargunj, South Dinajpur spoke of her efforts to protest against the illegal extortion of money by the TMC, which was met with physical attack, gherao, abuse and threat by Trinamool goons. Padma Santra, a panchayat member spoke of how she was asked to resign and dissociate from the CPI (M), but she refused because the people of the area had elected her and no one else could ask her to resign. She lodged a complaint against this incident but was forced to flee the area for some time under life threat. She has now returned home, but still faces danger. The Maoists attacked Maya Khati, a cook in the Mid-day-Meal scheme in Howrah and an AIDWA activist, in front of her school children. She escaped the attack with the help of other women who rushed to her aid by combating the attackers. She however has lost her means of livelihood. She subsequently faced another attack at home in the night and has been forced to live in a relief camp.

 

Fullara Mondal, AIDWA secretary of West Midnapore, who belongs to a landless peasant family and is a resident of Lalgarh was attacked and driven out from her residence on June 14, this year by Maoist-TMC goons. She said that in her area women are forced to join the processions of PCPA under the threat of their children being harmed. Those who resist are tried by kangaroo courts and attacked, even paraded with garlands of shoes. Women SHGs, ICDS workers, teachers, doctors are all compelled to give a share of their earning to the PCPA. It is difficult for people in the area to defy the dictat of the PCPA. Anjali Maity from Nandigram spoke of how her husband had to leave the village when he was given a dictat by the TMC-Maoists to give them 3 bighas of land and 2 lakhs of rupees. She was then attacked, abducted, physically and sexually abused for several days until her brother managed to rescue her. She had to be hospitalized for 22 days to recover from her injuries. Indrani Mukherjee an AIDWA leader from Bankura has faced several attacks over the last year. In 2008 her hand was broken in an attack by the TMC after panchayat elections. On September 21, 2009 her brother was abducted and asked to sign on a stamped paper to stop the political activities of his sister. Indrani opposed this and her house was gheraoed and attacked till she was rescued by agricultural workers. Recently, when she went in aid of families in Amla whose houses were burnt by TMC activists, her car was gheraoed and attacked, but again she managed to escape.

 

Aloka Tudu, a tribal woman from Bankura gave the account of how her father was killed in front of her eyes by the Maoists disguised as policemen on the day of a marriage in the family. Her hands were tied to prevent her from intervening in the attack on both her father and uncle. Given up for dead, her uncle survived but was hospitalized for eight months. Her father Gotilal Tudu was a CPI(M) leader in her area. Today, Aloka is a member of the Zilla Parishad and actively working in her area. Anjali Mondal from Barasat described her double tragedy: first her husband Sanjoy Mondal was murdered; then, when she was attacked and abducted by TMC goons, her 18 year-old son Asit Mondal committed suicide because of his helplessness. Anjali, a member of zonal committee of the CPI (M) has been forced to flee her home due to the danger to her life. Manwara Begum, spoke of the tragedies that have forced her to live with her father:  first, her husband’s brother Manwar Sheikh was brutally murdered by TMC goons; after two years of struggle to obtain justice from the courts, her husband, Anwar Sheikh, a poor peasant from Bardwan, was murdered in a similar manner.

 

All the speakers made spirited assertions about continuing their fight against the violent and undemocratic Maoist-TMC combine, even in the face of all odds. They argued that in order to ensure the right to livelihood, security and political participation for the women of West Bengal, it was essential to politically expose as well as combat this politics of violence. The determination and resolve of these women was a source of inspiration for all those present in the audience.

 

The concluding speech of the convention was made by Rajya Sabha MP and CPI (M) Politburo member Brinda Karat who questioned the role of Cabinet Minister, Mamata Bannerjee, who is refusing to condemn Maoist activities and is in fact providing protection to the Maoists in West Bengal.  She said that the Left Front of West Bengal has stood by people’s rights and provided an alternative politics to the people of this country.  It has provided remarkable rights to the women of West Bengal in the form of land pattas and participation in politics through panchayat elections. Tribal as well as minority women have earned land pattas in large numbers and comprise a larger proportion of elected representatives much above their reserved quota. This is what has made West Bengal the epicenter of the Left and democratic movement of the entire country. The TMC-Maoist gang-up is seeking to attack precisely this heart and head of the Left movement of our country. Since the base of the Left is among the poor and the downtrodden, it is this base which is facing the brunt of the attack. She commended the women victims for their heroic resistance and for the strength of their commitment that has only been strengthened by the violence and sorrow that they face every day. She also congratulated the AIDWA leadership of West Bengal for their unflinching struggle and intervention. Brinda said that the defence of the democratic rights of the people of Bengal was essential for preserving and strengthening democratic forces, particularly the women’s movement.

 

The meeting ended with a vote of thanks by Sudha Sundararaman, the general secretary of AIDWA, who pledged to intensify efforts to take the truth about the ongoing diabolic political violence in West Bengal to the people of the country. She applauded the unwavering struggle of the women in West Bengal to safeguard the Left movement in their state and vowed to strengthen this political struggle further. She thanked all those who attended the day-long programme from different walks of like including intellectuals, media persons, representatives from CITU, DYFI, AIKS, SFI, cultural groups like Janam and SAHMAT, womens’ organizations like JWP, NFIW, AIDMAM, NACDOR, YWCA etc.