Mamata Banerjee has been working and succeeding for almost a decade as the Chief Minister of West Bengal. She became the first woman to hold the Chief Minister’s office of Bengal. She was also the first female Minister of Railways, Minister of Coal, Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Youth Affairs, Sports, Women & Child Development in the cabinet of the Indian government.
She has demonstrated her courage and fearlessness so many times that she is now called a “Street Fighter”. When Jayaprakash Narayan was organising a mass movement against Indira Gandhi’s emergency, she had thrown herself in front of his convoy block his way. In 1970, during the visit of the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai in Kolkata, she protested by holding black flags to defend Indira Gandhi after she lost the parliamentary elections. In 1993, she barged into Writers’ Building to protest, demanding justice for a deaf and dumb girl rape victim. She sat in front of the then CM Jyoti Basu’s chamber demanding justice, which ended with police dragging her by the hair and eventually locking her up.
She has always stood up for women, which is also why, after assuming power in 2011, one of the key focus of Mamata Banerjee has been the upliftment and empowerment of women. Through different schemes, the State Government has guaranteed that women in the state lead a life of dignity.
Kanyashree Prakalpa is one such scheme which has been given international recognition by the UNICEF and U.K. Department of International Development. It is an initiative taken by Mamata Banerjee to make life and status of girls who belong to economically weaker sections and cannot afford higher education better. Up until now, 56.25 lakh girls have benefited from this scheme. The scheme has two components, annual scholarship and one-time grant. The purpose of this scheme is simple, to ensure that women complete higher education and do not become a victim to child marriage.
Talking about marriages, the government of West Bengal has also rolled out Rupashree Prakalpa Scheme to provide financial help to women from economically weak families to get married. Under this scheme, the government provides one-time financial support of ₹25,000 directly to the girl’s bank account. While Kanyashree promotes education among women, Rupashree compliments them with marriage assistance. By 2018, over 1.26 lakh families have received financial aid for the marriages of their daughters.
Not only this, but the state government has also built universities, especially for women, to ensure that every girl in West Bengal gets a chance at higher education. Under Sabooj Sathi Scheme, over one crore students have been given bicycles, out of which 37 lakhs have been given to girls for coming to school. Recently Mamata Banerjee launched “Pink Cabs” in the city to provide a safer mode of transportation for women. Driven by and for the women, this move is aimed to encourage women to be in the driving seat.
She has also ensured that women’s voices reach the parliament. 41% of the candidates who contested in the Lok Sabha election in 2019 from AITC were women. She always takes pride in her party for having 35% of female MPs. AITC has also reserved 50% of seats in local bodies for women candidates. Her spirit to work for the empowerment of women, especially of those who come from underprivileged and impoverished backgrounds is everything that modern day feminism stands for.