In this Issue
- Punish All Responsible for the West Bengal Government’s Patriarchal Offensive on a Rape Complainant
- WB: CPI(ML)’s 9th State Conference
- Hosiery Workers’ Struggle
- Panchayat Polls in Odisha
- Reports from Madhya Pradesh
Punish All Responsible for the West Bengal Government’s Patriarchal Offensive on a Rape Complainant
The response of the West Bengal Government to a recent complaint of gang rape in the state capital, is yet another instance that has underlined the deeply patriarchal biases embedded in institutions of power and in the state machinery.
A woman reported that she had been gang-raped at gun-point in a moving car in Kolkata. She further stated that when she sought to file a complaint, she was subjected to humiliation and sexually suggestive remarks at the hands of the police. As this incident came to the light of the public, the West Bengal Police establishment and senior leaders of the Cabinet including even the Chief Minister herself, branded the rape complaint as false.
The Police Commissioner of Kolkata, RK Pachnanda, and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, both said the rape complaint was fabricated and ‘staged’ to malign the Government. The Chief Minister’s media adviser said that the police was looking into the rape complainant’s family background, cheating cases against her father, etc. Supposed ‘holes’ and ‘inconsistencies’ in the complainant’s version were leaked selectively by police to the media. In other words, the complainant herself was treated as though she were a suspect whose innocence was on trial!
Meanwhile, a close aide of the Chief Minister, Minister Madan Mitra, resorted to the age-old patriarchal strategy to discredit rape complainants: insinuating that the complainant was of questionable moral character, since she was separated from her husband and visited nightclubs. Speaking to a TV channel, Mitra said, “Why did a woman with kids at home, who is separated from her husband, go to a nightclub? For all you know, she may still be drinking at a club.”
Moral judgements on a woman’s personal life, and all sorts of details about her family background, were invoked in order to discredit her complaint of rape – in violation of the well-established principle, oft upheld by the Supreme Court, that irrelevant details about the rape complainant’s personal life and ‘character’ cannot be used to undermine rape complaints.
Eventually, the rape complaint was vindicated, with the Kolkata police arresting three of the accused. The medical evidence clearly showed injuries consistent with the assault described by the complainant. Also, it emerged that so-called ‘inconsistencies’ and ‘falsehoods’ in the complainant’s statement had a perfectly logical explanation.
The kind of attitudes displayed by the West Bengal police and government are, unfortunately, all too common when it comes to rape complaints, and this is undoubtedly one of the factors contributing to the rise in sexual violence on women. Recently, a DGP of Andhra Pradesh blamed women for ‘provoking’ rape by wearing fashionable clothes. His remarks were soon echoed by many in responsible positions in other states, too. According to such patriarchal discourse, rape is not rape, when it happens to women who do not conform to prescribed norms of behaviour. And the credibility of any rape complainant can be undermined by questioning her clothes, her behaviour, or her morality. And Governments, realising that rape cases and police insensitivity reflect badly on their regime, are often quick to stoke patriarchal ‘doubts’ about the rape complainant’s character and credibility. Not long ago, Bihar’s Deputy Chief Minister, eager to cover up allegations of rape against an MLA of his party, questioned Rupam Pathak’s character on TV channels. The Delhi Police chief, responding to charges of police insensitivity in cases relating to violence against women, said that women who ventured out without a (male) guardian at 2 am, have only themselves to blame for rape.
In West Bengal itself, the statements made by Mamata Banerjee and Madan Mitra echo the remarks made by their predecessors in similar circumstances. Responding to the mass rape at Birati in 1990, a leader of the ruling CPIM’s women’s organisation had referred to the questionable moral antecedents of the victims. In the Dhantala mass rape case of 2003, the West Bengal Women’s Commission had dismissed the rape charges as ‘concocted lies.’ In another instance of rape of a woman CPI(M) supporter in Cooch Behar in 2003, allegedly by CPIM activists, the then State Secretary of the CPIM had deemed the charge to be ‘concocted’, and had questioned the ‘character and lifestyle’ of the complainant. In the case of the rape and murder of Tapasi Malik in Singur, too, senior CPIM leaders had made patriarchal insinuations about Tapasi and her family, in order to defend their own cadre who were accused.
This trend of branding rape complainants as liars by invoking their ‘character’ is rampant in society. But when those in positions of power and responsibility do so, it is even more serious and condemnable. If such persons go unpunished, it can only encourage this trend, and embolden perpetrators of violence on women.
The West Bengal Chief Minister owes a public apology to the rape complainant, for the shameful way in which the latter was branded a liar by the Government, and by the CM personally. The Chief Minister should also relinquish the Home portfolio that she now holds, as a penalty for the way in which she sought to malign a rape complainant, and bias the police proceedings. For his highly offensive remarks, Madan Mitra must be removed from his position in the Cabinet. The charges of sexual harassment against police personnel must be speedily investigated and sternly punished. The Kolkata Police Commissioner must be dismissed for his irresponsible statements that were a great injustice to the rape complainant. It may be remembered that, following his public pronouncements justifying the honour crimes of industrialist Ashok Todi towards Rizwan-ur Rehman, the then Police Commissioner had to lose his post. This time, too, the current Police Commissioner must go.
WB: CPI(ML)’s 9th State Conference
The 9th State Conference of West Bengal State Committee was held from 18th to 20th February 2012 at Ashokenagar, 24 North Parganas, in which 349 delegates and 31 observers and guests from all over the State participated. The delegate session was preceded by a lively cultural programme and a discussion on the present situation of West Bengal which was addressed by Nabarun Bhattacharya, eminent poet, and Party’s General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya. Comrade Dipankar highlighted the specific features under TMC rule, exposed the opportunism of CPI(M)'s left democratic alternative and clarified CPI(ML)'s position on this question. He emphasised on the need of building a fighting left democratic unity and building new areas of peasant struggle. Before the delegate session, the red flag was hoisted by veteran Party leader Comrade Sankar Mitra. Central Committee members, district secretaries, leaders of different mass organisations offered floral tributes and all the delegates and observers observed a minute’s silence in memory of the martyrs.
The delegate session started after Comrade Partho Ghosh, the outgoing State Secretary placed the draft document before the house. Altogether 97 delegates took part in the deliberation and various suggestions enriched the debate discussion. Comrade V Shankar (CCM) from Karnataka was the central observer, and veteran Politburo member Comrade Swadesh Bhattacharya also addressed this session. The leader of CPRM- Comrade Taramani Rai and leader of Marxbadi Manch were also present.
This conference was marked by a vibrant presence of the students, fighting peasants, workers, and all the delegates were of the opinion that the situation is impregnated with new possibilities. The conference resolved to take up the challenges to expand and strengthen the Party. The TMC-led Govt is fast losing its credibility and the real character of this Govt is gradually being exposed.
After debate and discussion, the final draft was accepted unanimously and 39-member new State Committee was elected, in which 10 new members were elected. Comrade Partha Ghosh was reelected as the State Secretary. The conference resolved to protest against the rape incident which took place in the heart of Kolkata and expose the role of the CM who denied this shameful incident on the pretext of a conspiracy against her Govt. The conference also resolved to make success the all India general strike on 28 February all over the state.
Hosiery Workers’ Struggle
Hosiery workers of Sobhabazar area in Kolkata are fighting back a decades old system of inadequate overtime wages and lack of basic workplace amenities. According to existing labour laws they should be getting 8 hours' equivalent of wages for 4 hours overtime. But whereas they are bound to work overtime almost everyday, they get a pittance overtime wage of Rs. 45/day (their minimum wage stands at Rs 164/day).
CPI(ML) Liberation’s AICCTU-led Kolkata Hosiery Workers' Union has waged a struggle demanding (1) proper overtime wages and (2) revision of minimum wages, which have remained stagnant for the last 13 years. Hosiery workers of this region have to work amidst extra-economic coercion. They don't have ID cards, they lack proper sanitation facilities and they don't even have an attendance registrar. 3rd January 2012 onwards, they have started the movement, skipping overtime work. On 17th January, 3rd February and 7th February, they took out massive processions reiterating their demands. On 19th January and 8th February, workers participated in a huge mass meeting where representatives from workers and All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) voiced the workers' demands. Throughout this period the workers repeatedly attempted to have a dialogue with the factory owners' association which the latter bluntly refused.
The movement was peaceful and democratic from start till 9th February. But on the night of 9th February, factory owners sent in TMC goons to break the resolve of the workers. Workers retaliated with a massive industrial strike on the next day. They gheraoed Shyampukur and Jorabagan Police stations demanding immediate intervention by law enforcement agencies.
They rallied through the entire area, where some of the workers were beaten up. But the resolve of the workers stands undaunted and they are certain about their victory. Student activists from All India Students’ Association (AISA) also joined the rallies in solidarity with the workers.
Panchayat Polls in Odisha
In the recent panchayat elections in Odisha, corporate houses, which are plundering the state’s precious resources with the collusion of the Government, came to bail out the Naveen Patnaik Government, which was facing problems in the wake of outcry against corporate plunder and atrocities, of which the Pipili gang rape was the most recent instance. To top it all, the liquor tragedy, with its death toll reaching 38 till date, too took place. However, Naveen Patnaik’s face-saving measures, combined with the money power backing of corporate houses, aided by the lack of credibility of Congress and BJP, managed to secure a majority of the zila parishad seats.
Though CPI(ML) Liberation could not retain three zila parishad seats, we won seven sarpanch seats, three samiti member seats, and more than 100 ward member seats in Raigada, Koraput, Puri, Kendujhar, and Kendrapada.
Reports from Madhya Pradesh
Bhind: A public meeting was held on 17th February in Bhind town centring on women’s oppression, State Govt’s (led by BJP) corruption and the upcoming countrywide trade unions’ strike on 28th February. The 28th February strike was the main issue discussed. The meeting decided to consistently against corruption in the State and a planned propaganda campaign was decided for the 28th February strike. The organisers of the meeting were CPI(ML), AISA, AICCTU and AIPWA. The speakers at the meeting were Comrades Prabhat Kumar (Party’s Central Committee member), veteran communist and Party leader Devendra Singh Chauhan and AIPWA’s National Secretary Suraj Rekha Tripathi.
Gwalior: Conference of municipality employees’ welfare front was held on 18th February at Bara in Gwalior that was also attended by CPI(ML) Central Committee member Comrade Prabhat Kumar besides trade union leader Comrade Ashok Khan and Comrade Haji Usman. The Conference also elected new office bearers and gave a call for making the 28th February strike successful. The Conference discussed more on the issues of sanitation workers. The workers in the conference have decided to campaign till 27th for the strike on the 28th and that they will hold a dharna at Bara on 28th wearing black badges. More than 70 delegates participated in the conference.
Make the Call by Central Trade Unions for Nationwide General Strike on 28 February
a Grand Success
Strengthen the Struggle against Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation
Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)
All India Central Council of Trade Unions