‘Bengal safer for women’

Sandeshkhali has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. A team of the West Bengal Commission for Women had visited Sandeshkhali in North 24-Parganas in February. It is still awaiting the final report from the police on the same.

‘Bengal safer for women’

Leena Gangopadhyay (photo:SNS)

Sandeshkhali has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. A team of the West Bengal Commission for Women had visited Sandeshkhali in North 24-Parganas in February. It is still awaiting the final report from the police on the same.

Chairperson of state women’s commission Leena Gangopadhyay, spoke to Ashok Chatterjee of The Statesman. Recounting her visit to the troubled spots, she cast doubts about the manner in which the National Commission for Women team from New Delhi, which visited the village just after the state women’s commission, found 11 victims of sexual abuse.

Excerpts: Q: Sandeshkhali is now at the centre-stage of state politics. You went to the troubled village last month. What has been your observation?


A: Sandeshkhali has become the most talked-about topic. There has been too much media glare. Some incidents happen at certain places. But due to the hype, the charged-up atmosphere was not conducive for us to let out our observations. When we first went there on 12 February (after the first allegation surfaced on 10 February) we could identify two women who were sexually abused. One of them was not at home to meet us as she had gone to court (for some other reason) and the other refused to talk to us.

Q: Was there any follow-up of your visit there?

A: We had left our phone numbers with them so that they could call us or, if needed, our commission members could accompany them to our office in Kolkata, in case they felt any pressure while talking to us in their village. But no one turned up at our office. We had also kept in touch with the women there over the phone. One of the women, who had made allegations about atrocities, did not entertain our calls later.

Q: There were central teams also visiting the village after your visit.

A: We abstained from our second visit as the police was not allowing everyone at Sandeshkhali and we did not want to vitiate the atmosphere further. Around two days after our visit to Sandeshkhali, the NCW (National Commission for Women) team visited the area for the first time. They too had similar findings as us. But when the second team visited, including the NCW chairperson, they could identify 11 women and get their complaints registered at the local police station.

Q: You had asked for a report from the police. What happened to it?

A: Based on the developments, the police have given us a report, which is incomplete. We have with us the initial report and not the final report. This report will have to be given to us within this week.

Q: So, you are saying that you could not establish the facts?

A: Rest of the complaints we got were authentic; these women were called at odd hours and asked to engage in personal work. The gripe of the people about police inaction was also found to be true. But we could not find any proof of complaints of women being made to toil the whole day or night at the whims of the leaders. Beyond this, we had cases of economic exploitation.

Q: But the NCW team had recommended President’s rule after its second visit?

A: I have a few questions. How did these women (victims) feel more comfortable speaking to people who are from outside the state and do not share the same language? If these atrocities were being committed for the past 11 years, why they didn’t inform anyone so far? If I take into consideration that there are factions within the party, the other faction should have heard from them.

Q: What kind of complaints do you get from the victims at your toll-free number?

A: Most of the applications we get are of domestic violence. The home is supposed to be the most secure place. This is becoming unsafe for women, which is very disappointing. Property dispute is another reason. Acid attack cases are now getting fewer with only one or two cases coming to us per year. We are dealing with victims 24×7. Mails also come from abroad. We have a dedicated number on which we are talking to them. I also take calls. Many problems have been addressed and that is the reason they trust us and are coming out with their problems.

Q: How would you rate West Bengal in comparison to other states in terms of women’s security?

A: West Bengal is much better placed as it records far fewer incidents of crime against women. We have seen incidents in other states where there is aggression on basic needs, what women will wear, eat. We have seen that in some states they have been dictated what they can eat and what they cannot. These are basic needs of humanity. There can be no imposition of ideas on us. Women are much safer here and the biggest proof of it is that a major chunk of them are working and are employed in varied challenging professions. Rather I would say women are comparatively unsafe at home. We are getting increasing cases of domestic violence, where the police, the administration or the women’s commission cannot monitor. Still a lot more women are vocal now and are complaining. Also, rural girls are studying in greater numbers and there are fewer dropouts, post Covid. Here, girls are given much more encouragement to study but if they do not want to continue with studies, then we cannot help

Q: You are also a scriptwriter and have extensively explored human relationships. How much are they changing with time?

A: Relationships happen and then break. There are many more chances of complexities in a relationship in this modern age. People are much more driven by their ego, which leads to separation. But the bonds do not get weak easily. We all are affected by these sensibilities. Gen-Next has very little trust in themselves, they are very mechanical. This is probably the reason why they change friends very fast. Loyalty, integration are being tested by this generation. They do not even suffer from the pain of love or separation. The shift in generations’ preferences is hard to fathom. This change has affected relationships.

Q: You mean the Gen-Next has different emotions from the previous generation?

A:Without being judgmental, I’m stating my observations. The outlook has changed, they are much more focused on career, relations becoming second-fiddle to them. And this is not restricted to just lovers, it is also true to their relations with parents. These youngsters are leaving the country to build a career but never think of coming back. The earlier generation too left for abroad but the numbers were not this alarming. The city homes are transforming into oldage homes. If any of their parents die, the other one is put into old-age homes. It is a sad state of affairs.

Q. You recently brought out a book, a biography on the yesteryears’ actress Madhabi Mukherjee.

A: I have known her for many years. With her permission, I have compiled this book. During the writing of this book a lot of things which people do not know have come out in the open. We mostly know her or see her through the prism of her adulthood. She did not have to struggle much as she got name and fame pretty early and then held on to it. But people are not aware of her struggles as a five-year-old. This book has glimpses of it.