Tag Archive for Mamata Banerjee

Nonadanga: Kolkata Says No to Its Poor

Nonademo Kolkata

Slum-dwellers who were forcibly evicted from their hutment colony in Nonadanga continue to face brutal attacks, lathicharge and arrests at the hands of West Bengal police

Team FI

In a bid to turn Kolkata into London, the state Government of West Bengal headed by Mamata Banerjee, has rendered hundreds of families homeless. Hutments belonging to nearly 200 families living in Nonadanga in east Kolkata were bulldozed by Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) last month. Some huts were set on fire. According to a 2003 UN Habitat report, one-third of Kolkata lives in slums.

The hutment colony is on a 2.4 hectare prime real estate plot in east Kolkata. Activists allege that this is yet another ploy by the ruling government to give away land to big corporations at the expense of India’s urban poor’s right to live. Various news reports suggest that the KMDA is planning to lease out the land for 99 years to some private developer.

As the state Government refuses compensation, the displaced slum-dwellers have started an indefinite resistance movement supported by human rights and civil rights organisations in West Bengal. Last Saturday ( April 28 ) morning witnessed KMDA authorities blocking both entry and exit roads at Nonadanga. When the slum-dwellers who have been living in makeshift shanties, protested, a violent battle ensued between a heavy police force and a few slum dwellers. The fight ended with the police arresting 14 persons, including seven women and a one-year-old. They were booked for assaulting cops and illegal assembly.

On 8thApril, a nine-year-old girl had spent 9 hours locked up with her mother at the Lalbazar police HQ after the police attacked and arrested protestors.

Here is the statement released by Sanhati Collective condemning the police attacks in Nonadanga and the continued detention of two democratic rights activists:

The evicted residents of Nonadanga slums are under continual assault. TMC musclemen, the law enforcement agencies, property speculators, and KMDA have joined hands to ensure that the residents can’t resume their normal lives. Even as the residents, after their heroic resistance to the earlier phase of eviction, have started reconstructing their dwellings, the KMDA has moved in to fence off the plot of land.

On April 28, when the KMDA attempted to further close off the entry and exit points of the wall that they had constructed around the plot, the people resisted this inhuman move. Then the police attacked them viciously, beat up and manhandled the evictees and arrested five women and six male residents of Nonadanga slums and slapped them with a host of charges, three of which are non-bailable, under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. The arrested persons are: Pratima Baidya, Minati Sardar, Saraswati Dasi, Ranjita Baidya, Pratima Baij, Bapi Mandal, Manindra Mandal, Purna Mandal, Ujjwal Saha, Sona Bar and Rabin Haldar. In fact, during the initial arrests, a woman with an infant was also detained, but was later released and thereafter slapped with some charges.

nonademo eviction Protest - FeministsIndia

Photo by Sayan Das

We condemn the brutal police attack and lathicharge on the evicted residents in Nonadanga on April 28 and demand that the arrested persons be immediately released. The double standards of the West Bengal government is becoming increasingly clear through such actions. While the Chief Minister made claims to the press on Friday that she was pro-poor and anti-eviction, the police and TMC goons came charging on Saturday morning to Nonadanga.

We demand that the ongoing State policy of harassment, intimidation and slow attrition to evict and punish the residents of Nonadanga be immediately stopped. Moreover, we demand that the residents be suitably rehabilitated and compensated for being forcibly evicted from their homes. We also reaffirm our solidarity with the heroic struggle of these vulnerable and destitute residents.

Meanwhile, we welcome the granting of bail, albeit in a staggered manner, to all the seven activists, Debolina Chakroborty, Samik Chakrobarty, Manas Chatterjee, Debjani Ghosh, Siddhartha Gupta, Partho Sarathi Ray, and Abhijnan Sarkar, who had been detained following the mass arrests during a peaceful protest against the evictions at Nonadanga. However, the fabricated cases slapped against these activists are still in place and we demand that the charges be withdrawn immediately to bring an end to this harassment of dissenting voices.

Despite the bail related to the Nonadanga case, two of the activists – Debolina Chakraborty and Abhijnan Sarkar – continue to remain in judicial custody, having been tagged to old cases, including one under the draconian UAPA. We feel that the government has taken advantage of the mass arrests to capture Debolina Chakraborty who is a dedicated grassroots activist and mass organizer and someone whom the security setup has been attempting to put behind bars since the days of the Left Front government, but had been hesitating to do so due to constant public pressure. It also seems that the police has used this opportunity to continue their harassment of Abhijnan Sarkar, a media activist and a member of the Sanhati Collective and someone who has extensively participated in and reported about the people’s movements shaking up contemporary West Bengal. We urge all civil liberties organizations and other democratic voices to join us in demanding that both these activists be immediately released and the cases against them be withdrawn.

Related reading: Kolkata evicts ecological refugees

The Unforgivable Crime of the Homeless in Nonadanga

Questioning the Right to the City


West Bengal: Women Say Not On Our Bodies Anymore

Maitree March 1

In West Bengal, violence against women has been trivialised into being ammunition for the power conflict between political parties

Sayantoni Datta

West Bengal has been irking for change. That is why Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) election buzzword, ‘Poriborton’ or ‘change’ humoured the masses of Bengal, who voted for it. While many of us now sit to discuss what we really mean by ‘change’, at that time it probably meant bringing in a new force that would enrich democratic politics in West Bengal, bring in new agendas and improvement of governance systems, create a formidable oppositional politics in the State and West Bengal’s first woman Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee.

Monobina Gupta writes “The 2011 polls may be billed as the great unraveling of West Bengal, its politics and culture – but also, I think, of gender relations. Banerjee is on the verge of acquiring a unique status, becoming the first woman head of a state well known for its misogynist culture, notwithstanding many claims to the contrary.”

It is also interesting to note here that Gupta, while situating Mamata’s predicament amidst ‘Bengal’s thriving culture of male chauvinism’, clearly articulates that in spite of the various ways in which this leader has managed to shake a few myths and stereotypes which continue to exist in this Land of Renaissance, she does not have the adequate feminist analytical tools to deal with her predicament. It is this sheer lack of an adequate feminist ideology that could partially explain her almost awkward and misinformed responses to the several incidents of violence against women that have recently been highlighted by the media in the State.

Now coming back to the rallying point ‘change’, I think what most people in Bengal were waiting for was a break in the ‘vicious cycle of violence’ that the political culture seems to have continuously promoted all these years. The question is not about ‘track records’ and who had a worse history of violence against women during their years of governance in comparison to whom. The question is whether we can break out of it.

Maitree, an autonomous women’s network in West Bengal, observed a somber Women’s Day this year in the context of the rising cases of rape against women in West Bengal. Maitree also organised a protest rally this month calling attention of the political actors to the fact that ‘Our bodies are not battlefields or spaces to show prowess’.

Maitree Morcha Feminists India

Protest rally organised by Maitree in Kolkata. Photos by Maitree

According to data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau, West Bengal has continuously recorded the 2nd highest incidents of rape in India, for the last seven years (2004-2010).  Between, 2006-2010, the incidents of rape across the country increased by 15 per cent but increased by 34 per cent, in West Bengal.

In the media, in February alone, at least nine cases of rape have been reported. Amongst the reported cases were — a woman who was trying to return home from a night club in Park Street, raped inside a car; a woman in Baranagar, who had gone out in the early morning to pick papers; a woman in Katwa who had gone to a businessman to take orders for sewing clothes, a young girl in Falta who had gone missing on her way to a private tutor, and was gang-raped; a deaf and mute girl admitted to a hospital in Bankura and raped by a doctor pretending to examine her; a woman in Egra raped while she was closing up her shop at nine in the evening and returning home; an Adivasi woman employed as the helper of a mason in Siuri was gang- raped while returning home; the wife of a carpenter was invited by an official of the Forest Department on the pretext that he would give low cost wood for her husband and raped near the forest in Chanchol, Malda.

The rape victim of Baranagar died of internal bleeding because of the callousness of the police and the administration. In the Falta gang rape case, the police initially refused to record the victim’s complaint but the Calcutta High Court Orders forced the Falta police station to investigate the allegation. The police inaction emboldened the accused, who kept threatening the victim’s father to withdraw the case. The father was forced to stay in the hospital premises fearing an attempt on his life. The accused also ransacked the victim’s house.

Scanning the media reportage on this issue not only highlights a tragic ‘comedy of errors’ on the part of the ruling government in ensuring speedy access to justice for the victims but more seriously, also shows a hyper-charged reactionary political response clearly indicating a subterranean political and violent conflict that has been brewing between the Left Front and the TMC ever since it has come to power.

Mamata has resorted to denial, escapism, emotional reactions and taken careless moral positions on the incidents reported in the media. Her administration has not helped her out either. The attitudes of police officers, at local police stations, who are dealing with these cases, are alarming. Even though there is the presence of a women and children’s protection cell in the headquarters in Lal Bazar and the Deputy Commissioner of police, herself a woman cop, has shown an outstanding commitment to duty specifically in the Park street case, the story of other officers is not the same. From making sarcastic or snide remarks, to acting late on the cases, to not having women officers deal with the cases, the local police stations show an ineptness, ignorance and a total blindness to dealing with issues of rape sensitively which may even amount to criminal negligence on their part.

The abysmal record of increasing violence and state apathy calls for better ministerial intelligence and political astuteness in dealing with violence against women in the State. The only glimmer of hope lies in the fact that more and more women are reporting cases of rape in the State, and some of the victims have taken on brave and courageous battles in spite of this hostile political milieu.

Sayantoni Datta is an independent researcher working on human rights, women’s rights and environment justice issues.


Mamata Banerjee: A woman among men


An excerpt from Didi: A Political Biography, a book on Mamata Banerjee, written by Monobina Gupta, examines how being a woman of power is not synonymous with being a feminist

By Monobina Gupta

While she is that rarity, a self-made female leader, Mamata vehemently denies any affinity to feminism. ‘She is not a feminist. Mamata is just Mamata,’ writer Mahasweta Devi told me. Director Arpita Ghosh believes that even though Mamata may deny any connection to feminism, she has indeed ‘lived her life as a feminist’. She had no benevolent male patron (except, for a very brief stint, Rajiv Gandhi), no father, brother, husband, partner prodding from the sidelines. Despite many references in her books to members of her large family—sisters-in-law, brothers, nieces, nephews—the Trinamool president believes that her party is her ‘very own family’.

In fact, viewed through the gender lens, Mamata’s story does indeed stand apart from the narratives of India’s most powerful contemporary women leaders. Says Krishna Bose, ‘Mamata has not been the widow, wife, daughter or companion of somebody.’… Sujato Bhadra, of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), says Mamata, like Medha Patkar, the mass leader of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, does not challenge social and cultural conventions—or even the ground rules of patriarchy—through her politics or movements. ‘I have worked with Medha Patkar. The one time I was living with some activists in Badwani, I saw a woman activist who was actively engaged with the movement, but still continued with the feudal practices in her family.’ According to him, Medha believed in enlisting the support of the whole family and, therefore, did not risk their hostility by questioning the patriarchal, feudal norms.

In her books, Mamata deals with women’s issues like gender based violence, oppression, economic independence, and so on. As a minister in the Narasimha Rao government, she was briefly in charge of the Department of Women and Children. Her negotiation with gender is conventional and non-radical. In keeping with abstract principles of universal goodness and equality that she holds true, her understanding of women’s issues is unmediated by complexities. She falls prey to nuggets of conventional ‘wisdom’. For instance, she writes: ‘We often find opportunist women from the upper social strata living as they want to. In the name of liberation, they greatly abuse their independence. If such a woman’s family raises objections, she tends to use the law as a weapon of blackmail. Like many women, men too are victims of abuse.’

In another instance, she explains that women play a critical role in building a happy family and, therefore, contributing to the well-being of the society, but they are unfortunately also sometimes responsible for creating unrest in a family. Women often cannot stand other women, resulting in the mutual harassment of daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law. Undoubtedly, these are not the thoughts of a feminist.

Mamata Banerjee: Photo by Subrata Dutta

The issue of domestic violence surfaces repeatedly in Mamata’s books. Characteristically, she relates to these subjects through isolated incidents, personal experiences of the women she knew, her colleagues whose lives ended tragically. In her book Ekante, she narrates the experiences of three victims, Jharna, Anjali and Manju, two of whom took their own lives, while the third was set ablaze by her husband.

Mamata’s narrative does not indicate any effort on her part to contextualize domestic violence within the larger and pervasive phenomenon of patriarchy, control and masculine power. Perhaps this is not surprising given her proclivity to limit the scope of any issue at hand to lived-in experiences, sometimes her own, at other times, of people she knew and cared about.

Mamata, therefore, views domestic violence through the lens of her intense emotions, as a string of terrible tragedies that befell women she had closely worked with and had wanted to protect. Anguished by the repeated occurrence of violence within the four walls of private and intimate space, Mamata’s response, typically, was passionately emotional. ‘Despite their zest for life and their energy, Jharna, Anjali and Manju ended their lives under the shadow of their personal tragedies. Several years have gone by since their deaths. But even today their faces are engraved on my heart, their thoughts I carry with me in my innermost recesses. I am pained each time I remember their faces; I do not know when the agony will end. They have ended their physical lives, but will God ever forgive those responsible for their deaths?’

Mamata’s negotiation with gender has been mediated by the spirit of welfare and social service. For instance, as a Central minister for women and children, she wanted to improve the condition of sex workers, the ‘neglected people’ in society. Unlike many feminists, whose analysis of gender-based violence and exploitation is grounded not in victimhood but ‘agency’, Mamata’s approach is traditional, centred on the notion of women as victims. It is interesting to note here that Mamata’s perception of herself is as a permanent victim of sorts.

Though she has no access to a feminist vocabulary and cannot be ideologically described as one, her emergence as a single-woman leader of lower-middle-class origin fighting with her back to the wall does situate her in a feminist context. Perhaps Mamata’s own perception of herself as a woman leader of Opposition in a state known for its political violence, headed by an essentially male establishment, has given her the image of a feminist; though she herself does not perceive herself as one.

 This article was originally published on FIRSTPOST. Monobina Gupta is a journalist with the Times of India

Kolkata Rape: Activists demand fair action from Mamata

kolkatta by Ramlath

By Team FI

Maitree, a women’s rights network in West Bengal, has demanded an apology from the State Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee. The CM allegedly made insensitive comments casting aspersions on the victim of Kolkata gang rape.

A 37-year-old woman was raped at gunpoint in a moving car in Kolkata on the night of 5th February after accepting a lift from the accused. She was returning home from a nightclub. Further, the victim was humiliated by the cops when she went to file a complaint.

The chief minister had dismissed the victim stating the complaint was “cooked up”. However, on Monday, the CM blamed a section of media for distorting her statement.

Here is the excerpt from the open letter written by Maitree.

We, the members of Maitree, are writing to protest against the manner in which the complaint of rape of a woman in a car in Kolkata on Feb 5, 2012 been dealt with by the government, especially the police.

Despite being the Chief Minister and the Home Minister of the State, without giving time for investigation, you have stated that the incident is contrived and intended to malign your government. We are extremely apprehensive that your pronouncement will discourage a just and fair investigation. Supreme Court judgements on rape, say that for such cases oral testimony is enough to initiate the case, and sensitivity has to be shown to the assaulted women who come to seek justice.

The Minister of State for Transport and Sports, Mr. Madan Mitra, also made offensive public comments about the lifestyle of the complainant and alleged that the complaint was fabricated to extort money. He said: “She has two children and so far as I know she is separated from her husband. What was she doing at a night club so late in the night?”

Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee

A section of the police officials seemed more intent on finding “inconsistencies” in the complainant’s statements, instead of taking action against the police personnel who delayed in filing the FIR, failed to get the medical investigation done in time and misbehaved with the complainant.

At the same time, we would like to point out that there are inconsistencies in the different police versions. Had the police taken a proper attitude from the beginning, the arrests would probably have come much before 18thFebruary and the woman would have had less of a trauma.

Despite the Supreme Court judgements that the name and details of the victim of a rape case must be kept anonymous, these details have been made public.

Not only was there a delay in getting the medical examination done but no woman police personnel accompanied the complainant to the hospital. The law is clear that that immediate forensic investigation is needed.

It takes immense courage for a woman to report rape and sexual assault.  It is shocking to see that the complainant is being treated as the wrongdoer in this case.

The demands:

  1. An immediate apology from you, the Chief Minister and the Transport Minister for prejudging the issue and casting aspersion on the integrity of the complainant.
  2. Action against police personnel responsible for mishandling the case and misbehaving with the complainant
  3. Immediate security for the woman
  4. Fair and just investigation of the complaint