KAMDUNI (BARASAT): “Shut up”, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee
had shouted atKamduni women
on Monday. Her party toughs ensured they did. When TOI
visited the village
on Tuesday, the roar of a hundred women the previous day had been replaced by a deadening stillness.
Branded “CPM supporters” and browbeaten by the CM, the women shut up and shut themselves indoors. On Monday, they had rushed to their Didi simply to seek safety in an area where sexual brutality is the order of the day. Mamata’s outburst shocked them. Trinamool Congress‘ scare tactics silenced them.
Party toughs targeted Tumpa Koyal, who had gone eyeball to eyeball with Mamata on Monday, demanding that the Kamduni women be heard. Tumpa was a friend of the rape-murder victim and had studied with her till Class X. She had left her lunch on Monday and run after the CM, pleading to be heard. Mamata turned around and called her a CPM supporter.
On Tuesday, a rough-talking lungi-clad man, who identified himself as gram sabhapati Goutam Naskar, arrived at Tumpa’s doorstep along with seven-eight musclemen and threatened her parents, demanding that she apologize publicly for “insulting our beloved chief minister”.
“Mind it, this is for your own good,” he cautioned.
Luckily, her husband had whisked her away in the dead of night. Naskar then demanded her mobile number. Her parents said they didn’t have it. “You want me to believe that you don’t have your daughter’s contact number?” he thundered, warning everyone around that “party leaders” had started collecting “bio-data on all Kamduni women”.
Tumpa’s parents pleaded with folded hands to spare her, but Naskar shooed them away, saying Tumpa had to “stand in the middle of the village courtyard and confess she had committed a grave mistake”.
“Do you know how easy it is to get hold of someone’s mobile number,” Naskar warned her parents as he walked off.
The village courtyard, which was bustling for the past few days, looked deserted. The lanes were all but empty. The local school couldn’t even muster 30% attendance as the frightened villagers kept their kids indoors. Some women sitting at a tubewell scurried off when TOI tried to talk to them. One of them covered her face with her hands and said: “Don’t ask us anything. We haven’t seen anything, said anything or know anything. We don’t even exist.” The stink of fear was stifling.
It took an hour or so of knocking on doors before they opened up. “We ran after Didi just to tell our problems. We thought she would understand the village women’s fear. Instead, she treated us like dogs,” said Shankari Mondal. “She (Mamata Banerjee) has ruthlessly shattered our confidence. The message is clear to the culprits, they’ll reclaim their territory in a few days. The whole village fears the worst.”
Their fear is understandable, said Debu Mondal, a villager. “The women had lost all hope on the police and local leaders. Yesterday, they lost their last, very deep-rooted hope when Didi cursed them. Where will they go now?”
“We are scared. The whole village is tagged as ‘CPM’. Tell me, do you see a single CPM flag anywhere? This time, only one Left Front candidate could file his nomination in the 12 seats. Trinamool has a clean sweep here. We apprehend her anger will give rise to an evil force. We were only trying to bring some peace and stability in this unfortunate village,” said Poritosh Mondal, a farmer.
Another woman said: “We didn’t go for a movement. Didi was our last refuge. We just wanted to hold her hand but she let us down. We feel helpless. Who do we turn to?” Kamduni primary school headmaster Pradip Mukherjee understood the villagers’ plight. “When the villagers referred to her as ‘Didi’, how can they be in the opposition? The call ‘Didi’ itself is so affectionate and cordial. There must have been some miscommunication,” he said.
Tumpa’s father Probhas, a daily wage worker in a fishery, and her mother Molina were scared even to disclose their identity. “Look at our ramshackle hut. Do you think we work for CPM? My worry is whether I can feed my family the next meal,” said Probhas.
On the way back, we saw a young woman hurrying across the culvert on Bidyadhari canal, looking back now and then. It was just getting dark under a cloudy sky. A group of women armed with a lantern and torch emerged from a bylane and rebuked her for daring to move out alone “so late”. It was only 5.15pm. One of the women said: “Be careful. The times have changed.”