Bengal women’s commission head seeks force withdrawal from Junglemahal

August 21st, 2011 - 3:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Mamata Banerjee Kolkata, Aug 21 (IANS) West Bengal’s new Women’s Commission chief says that joint forces should be withdrawn from the Maoist-dominated Junglemahal to save tribal women from atrocities and restore their rights. She also wants fast-track courts to try trafficking offenders.

“We want withdrawal of joint forces from the Junglemahal area because tribal women are most prone to atrocities by the forces,” commission chairperson Sunanda Mukherjee told IANS in an interview. “Actually, it is in the nature of war that women suffer the most.”

It echoes the view Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed while in the opposition but appears to have gone back on since coming to power.

Mukherjee, who was handpicked by Banerjee for the chair in June, said: “The forces have to be removed. Even if it is withdrawn step by step it has to be done to restore the rights of the women.”

Junglemahal, named by the British to designate forested parts of five western districts - West Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura, Burdwan and Birbhum - is now broadly used to denote the Maoist-dominated areas under 28 police stations of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia.

Patrolling by the state police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) since the launch of the anti-Maoist operation in June 2009 has led to killings and arrests of several Maoist leaders.

Pro-Maoist civil rights bodies, including the ‘Bandi Mukti Committee’ and ‘Association for Protection of Democratic Rights’ (APDR), have also alleged torture and rape of women and demanded the withdrawal of the joint forces .

Banerjee, during her tenure as opposition leader time and again, pressed for the withdrawal of the forces but has shied away after assuming power after the last assembly elections.

When asked what she felt about Banerjee’s changed stand on the issue, Mukherjee said: “Maybe she feels that this is not the right time to withdraw. Perhaps it will be withdrawn some time later.”

There are around 35 companies of CRPF personnel deployed in West Midnapore district alone.

Mukherjee’s political career goes back to early 1980s when she was a leader of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), an ally of the Left Front, but parted ways in 1994 amid serious differences.

Since then, she has been associated with social activities and is also an active member of APDR. Under her stewardship, APDR has led many anti-government agitations during the Left regime.

According to Mukherjee, West Bengal has become a transit point for women trafficking, due to its international borders with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal. She feels that there is an urgent need of fast-track courts to attend to the problem of women trafficking, especially in rural areas.

“If we have fast trial courts, we can punish the culprits easily and check the problem of trafficking and stop women, rendered impatient by long trials, from leaving shelters,” she said.

Asked about her plans to tackle the menace, Mukherjee said: “Consciousness among the masses and citizen-friendly police are the two ways to tackle the problem effectively.”

Hailing Banerjee for giving her a free hand for tackling women’s problems, Mukherjee said that the construction of more shelters for women and recruitment of additional protection officers in the districts were needed to bring down the rising cases of atrocities against women.

Banerjee’s selection of Mukherjee - wife of former Left Front minister and RSP heavyweight Kshiti Goswami - has raised questions in Bengal’s political circles.

Asked whether she agreed with the view that her selection was a part of Banerjee’s strategy to divide the Left Front, Mukherjee said: “I am not aware of any strategy. What I liked about her is her conviction in restoring democracy, her positive energy and emotion.”

(Pradipta Tapadar can be contacted at pradipta.t@ians.in)

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