When Tapas Paul threatened his political rivals that he would get their women raped, the Trinamool Congress MP was only resorting to a well-entrenched political culture in West Bengal — to use rape and the threat of rape as a tool for vendetta. Largely a legacy of when the Left was in power and now being carried forward by the ruling Trinamool Congress’s supporters, political enmity has often degenerated into the worst forms of criminal acts against women.
Nadia district, where Tapas Paul made his speech, is notorious for such politically motivated crimes against women. Since 2012, at least nine major incidents of gangrape were registered at police stations in Dhantala, Nakashipara, Krishnaganj, Tehatta, Bahirgachi and Ranaghat areas of the district. In all these cases, the accused belonged to the Trinamool Congress.
Rama Biswas, Nadia president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association and a central committee member of the CPM, said, “In all these cases, the accused were sheltered by the ruling party. The victims are too scared to lodge police complaints. Not more than 15 per cent of the total cases are reported to the police.”
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But if Biswas is complaining now, during the Left’s long stint in power, several of her party cadres were accused of such crimes. In fact, it was political infighting within the Left in Nadia district that resulted in the infamous “Dhantala rapes” in 2003. A marriage party bus was waylaid, at least six women were gangraped and the driver of the bus was killed. The incident happened when the Left was in power and investigations later showed that it was the result of an internal conflict between two senior CPM leaders in the area. The family of one of the CPM leaders was supposed to have been on the bus after a marriage reception late in the night. But the goons attacked the wrong bus while their target bus arrived a little later.
Trinamool Congress leaders in Nandigram, where the March 2008 land agitation turned violent, allege that 47 women were raped to settle political scores after the police firing left 14 people dead. “We have witnessed this face of political violence for decades. I remember the days when 47 women of Nandigram were raped by CPM goons. We registered police cases against all of them, but no action was taken. The victims are still struggling to lead a normal life. It was a movement against land acquisition. But our mothers and sisters were attacked and assaulted. This often happens in Bengal politics because political leaders often believe that this is the ultimate way to terrorise the Opposition. We condemn it,” said Subhendu Adhikari, TMC MP of Tamluk who built a memorial in Nandigram in memory of those killed and raped in Nandigram.
In its 2010 order, the Calcutta High Court had asked the state government to give a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each to three rape victims in Nandigram. “We have moved the Supreme Court seeking compensation for the rest of the Nandigram rape victims. The case is still pending,” he
During the Singur land agitation in 2006, 17-year-old Tapasi Mallick, who played a key role in the movement, was raped and set on fire. CPM zonal secretary Suhrid Dutta and his accomplice Debu Malick were arrested. “My daughter had to pay the price for this ugly political tradition in Bengal. Political leaders provoke their cadres to assault women. For them, it is the ultimate weapon to threaten and silence people,” said Tapasi’s father Manoranjan Mallick who now runs a grocery shop that the Trinamool government helped set up.
In February this year, two women of the same family were gangraped in Howrah in what appears to be a case of political revenge. Last year, the Trinamool Congress had lost the panchayat elections in that village to CPM-backed Independents. The victims belonged to a family that supported the CPM. Among the eight accused was the Trinamool’s panchayat candidate Barun Makal.
West Bengal PCC president Adhir Chowdhury said, “If we analyse such incidents, we find that in almost every case, the accused belong to the ruling party. And more importantly, the accused move freely after a brief stay in jail. This happens because those in power in the state, now and earlier, protect them. There is a tacit indulgence. So the goons think that these cases can be managed.”
West Bengal Women’s Commission chairperson Sunanda Mukherjee said, “This is primitive thinking on the part of political parties. They think that if they sexually assault the women of their rivals’ families, they would not act against them. It has been happening here for decades because of the absence of a tough punishment system.