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West Bengal Politics: A Saga of Blood And Violence

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The story of Kolkata is the story of India in the true sense. The story of Kolkata is the story of the Industrial Revolution. The story of Kolkata is the story of the united revolutionary laborers and their slogans which to led the change of power. The story of Kolkata is the story of an empty political strait filled with the struggle of conflict. It said if one wants to experience the shine and dine, Delhi is the place, if one wants to see the fame and glory Mumbai is the burgh, but if one wants to feel the soul, Kolkata is the city.

Kolkata has occupied the minds and hearts of many people.

When Prime Minister addressed people in Brigade Parade ground, did he feel the gravitas? Highly doubted. Kolkata is not a city that will dazzle itself and darken the country. Kolkata is that city that dwelled in darkness and led the freedom struggle in its way. And when the whole country was shimmering, Kolkata was living in murkiness.

Last week PM flew from Delhi to Kolkata and rallied in Brigade Parade Ground where he addressed the masses using the phrase used by revolutionary leader Jayaprakash Narayan who led the struggle movement against Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi but the only difference is PM used the phrase just in the context of West Bengal Elections and Jayaprakash Narayan meant the phrase for the entire country then.

The phrase is “Asol Parivartan (real change)”. During the struggle against Indira’s government Jayaprakash Narayan also coined the slogan “Sampoorna Kranti (total revolution)” and now PM is just chanting “Asol Parivartan” to fight the Mighty Mamata Banerjee. The “Asol Parivartan” PM is addressing should not be just limited to West Bengal but applicable to the country as a whole.

PM arrived in Kolkata and then boarded the Helicopter took rounds around the city, unfortunately, the annual income of the majority of families of Kolkata is less than the cost of fuel used in the PM’s aircraft.

This is Kolkata. Under the open sky, generations have passed. Rajendra Prasad while residing in Rashtrapati Bhavan recalled the impoverished streets of Kolkata as he graduated from Presidency College. Kolkata is that city from where the most number of rebel students has emerged from its universities. West Bengal has witnessed the highest number of riots since 1947. But until one’s soul is not connected to the city of Kolkata, one will never grasp the profundity. And just by saying one will change ‘City of Joy’ to ‘City of future’ will not make any difference.

This city has its own fanatics. Churchill once told his mother that an evening in Kolkata feels like London, Robert Clive said Kolkata is the worst colony in the universe and a British Reporter wrote in his book that there is no place on planet earth that is more feeble than Kolkata. Everyone had their own perceptions and prism through which they viewed Kolkata. Ghalib fell in love with the city, started with the pension struggle ended up falling for the city. That is Kolkata in a socio-economic context.

The Political History Of West Bengal

Coming to the political scuffle of the state of West Bengal. A deeper dive into the geneses of endemic political violence in West Bengal. If politics sees only the immediate scenario, if it eyes the iron throne exclusively and let slip the history, the social norms, cultural and financial situation of the nation then it’d be a far-fetching status quo, compellingly seems like India is heading in that direction. There is Punjab on the one hand and West Bengal on the other, the beefy line of division trespassed from those very states.

Amit Shah’s invocation of “Shonar Bangla” is hypocritical and ironic on many levels.

The nation was rived on religious lines. It is a mere coincidence when the Home Minister visits West Bengal, in every interview and public gatherings he reiterated the phrase “Shonar Bangla (Golden Bengal)”. Perhaps he might have forgotten Rabindranath Tagore sang “Shonar Bangla” at the point when West Bengal was then cleft based on religion by the Britishers. In the year 1906 Rabindranath Tagore wrote “Amar Shonar Bangla (My Golden Bengal)” and after that, the social and political struggle which led to the integration of Bengal was consequential.

But today’s political experiment of the current regime concerning framers in Punjab and a move in West Bengal to breach the TMC fortress and claim the iron throne based on religious lines by playing the subtle card of “Shonar Bangla” sends a strong message across the country. Indeed the current scenario has become so expeditious where it is looking forward to toppling the entire political affair. “Amar Shonar Bangla”, the first ten verses are manifested in the national anthem of Bangladesh, perhaps the Minister of Home Affairs is unaware of this.

The hollowness and superficiality of the political predicament today will certainly hurt that very state whose politics is stained with blood lately. Bengal has a history of political violence. The contemporary politics and generation are well aware of it. May that be the INC’s reign, or the early 70s when the Naxal Movement was on the rise in West Bengal. The bloodshed that followed in the state after the growth of naxalbadi, SS Ray was certainly held accountable with the Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi being complicit.

Later in the 77s when the state was led was left regime, favorable conditions and normalcy were anticipated. In the year 97’ state government of West Bengal led by Comrade Jyoti Basu, then state home minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee presented a document in the house stating “In the stint between 1977-1996, 28000 people had lost their lives due to political violence in West Bengal”. Why is it that Violence is the most fertile fertilizer of politics in West Bengal?

Why Is Violence So Entrenched?

Later, the plight worsened. May that be Singur, Nandigram, Lalgarh, and the responses from the state governors were far-fetched. Nandigram violence broke out under the tenure of Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, numerous farmers and laborers were killed. Governor then said democracy is being annihilated, he also said the law and order in the state has swallowed the democracy.

Followed by Lalgarh violence where 8-10 people lost their lives, under the tenure of Governor MK Narayan. He also stated the worrisome plight of deteriorating democracy in the states. He said, “No Democracy can allow such violence, discredit for human beings and no state can accept such mindless disturbance”. And today, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar reiterates his predecessors to target CM Mamata Banerjee.

What has changed? The government changed, ruling parties changed, INC to Left, Left to TMC led by the mighty Mamata Banerjee. Now the line of violence has been drawn on communal underpinning, slogans are being minted. Due to political friction, the Left cannot share the stage with Mamata Banerjee. TMC cadre is crammed with Ram ahead and Vam (Left) behind them.

If we roll back the years and analyze the 93’ in West Bengal which was then led by Comrade Jyoti Basu and Mamata happened to be the INC Chief of West Bengal, where she led the movement against the left, and then government ordered to open fire which led to the deaths of 13 INC’s political workers. Till today Mamata Banerjee commemorates that day as “Martyrdom Day” in West Bengal despite Mamata parting ways with INC. Ironically, today INC has tied its knots with the Left in West Bengal and Mamata has become an adversary. On this chessboard on politics, where will the voter stand?

Mamata Banerjee

Mamata Banerjee became a political figure during the state repression of the left front.

The persistent question is why violence has always been brewing in the state of West Bengal? Why the violence has been on the red carpet in the state? Every political party sees the plight of bloody red land, comes in full force opposing the violence and why does it end up being more fierce and violent?

Recently when there were Panchayat Elections, on nearly 6000 seats out of 58000 seats there was not a single enrolment against TMC candidates. We have seen from SS Ray to Comrade Jyothi Basu then Comrade Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and now Mamata Banerjee. Nothing has changed. In fact, over time legislators like Mukul Roy, Suvendu Adhikari, Dipali Biswas, and almost 40 other TMC functionaries who use to influence West Bengal have now quit the party and colluded with the BJP.

Is there an ideological shift in the state? Not really. The cadre led by the left has changed its flag and color. Even the color around the statue of Karl Marx in Midnapore has been changed from red to blue. Slogans changed, revolutionary slogans which were being chanted until yesterday, then got deduced to ‘Maa Mati Manush (Mother, Motherland, and People)’ and now steadily and connivingly it is being replaced by ‘Jai Shree Ram (Hail Lord Ram)’. What is the difference? How will the situation change for good?

Governance of Mamata indeed has blood on its hands, there couldn’t be any ifs or buts. Nevertheless, this election is vehemently intense, for the first time the central government has thrown itself in this political wildfire. Cabinet ministers are coming down to West Bengal for rallying and urging voters to tip the scale in their favor.

The Battle For Bengal

Why is West Bengal so important? That is precise because West Bengal is the only fortress that had kept communalism outside its courtyard. Most important it is one of the very few states where BJP had never formed the government. And if that fortress is breached the constitution will be bent according to the present regime’s covet.

In a state like Uttar Pradesh where there is ‘Ganga Jamuna Thezib’, the ruling party did not allow a single election ticket to a Muslim candidate across the state. More or less it was the same condition in Bihar. Why are Muslims always the talking point one may ask, that is because the Indian constitution avows special rights to the minorities of the country.

The entire country is being played bizarrely. We have witnessed it during Citizenship Amendment Act and now during the new farm laws, when the center passes a law, the state is left with no choice but within the Vidhan Sabha. They pass a motion against the laws and knock on the doors of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Oddly, The President refuses to meet the head of the state. Then the CM of the state protests at Jantar Mantar. The federal structure is dismantled.

Seven states (Mizoram, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, and Jharkhand) have said they will not allow CBI in their state. Amid all these chaotic predicaments, when we speak of political violence and political murders, the line becomes a blur and it doesn’t matter. But the words on the tongue are “Shonar Bangla”. How ironic, Shonar Bangla was quoted to unite people and it is shamelessly being used to draw the line of divide. Home Minister had a meal at a Bengali Farmers house, in this country West Bengal is ranked the second bottom in the agricultural aspect.

As the BJP shifts gear to mount a frontal attack on Mamata’s TMC in Bengal, it has made political violence its primary weapon, coming from none other than the prime minister himself. “Those who are unable to challenge us through democratic ways have adopted violent means to eliminate BJP workers. If they think that they will be able to fulfill their dreams, I would like to say that people will teach them a lesson. Elections will come and go, maut ke Khel se mat nahi mil sakta (you can not get votes by killings),” he said during his Bihar victory speech.

And the attack of Mamata in Nandigram was a barbaric gambit.

This is the tale of West Bengal and its people. There is no Left nor INC in the picture, now the loggerheads are TMC and the BJP. Two mighty parties of the same pod. When it comes to curbing dissent and administering violence. But now it would be sagacious if political parties can spare the state with a repeat of the violence in the pre and post-poll period starting March 27.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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