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Even after two decades of Marxism.......... - Indian Express

Posted By ashok (ashokvc@giasbm01.vsnl.net.in)

Title : Even after two decades of marxism, this `witch' has to hunt for justice in Basu's Bengal
Publication : Indian Express
Date : 29\6\96

STARVED and threatened with death, Surajmoni Mandi was
forced to step out of her home the day the Jyoti Basu
government stepped into its 20th year last month.
Her village folks, in the one of most backward regions in
the state in Purulia district, had proclaimed her a
`witch', forced her to pay heavy fines and then
threatened to kill her.
Accompained by her seven-year-old son, mother-in-law and
a social activist, Surajmoni came to the CPI(M)
headquarters at Alimuddin Street here and confronted the
party boss, Biman Basu, earlier this week.
The boy kept jumping on the cushioned chair, the like of
which he saw for the first time in life, as Surajmoni,
aided by Maheshwar Besra, the social activist, narrated
her tale.
In January this year, the janguru (priest) of the Santhal
village proclaimed Surajmoni a `witch'. She was forced to
leave her home in Tipudih village in the Boro thana area
of Manbazar II block, along with her son and mother-in-
law and take shelter in her father's place in another
As punishment, Surajmoni had to pay fines of Rs. 4,562,
Rs. 9,144 and Rs. 6,400 in three phases. She had to sell
her cattle, plough and other belongings to raise the
money. But even this did not help to return to her
In May, a group of social activists of Bandwan in Purulia
district, formed a forum against witch-hunting and
addiction and took up Surajmoni's case. "We decided that
on June 9, we would take Surajmoni her son and mother-in-
law back to her home in a procession," Maheshwar Besra,
one of the forum leaders, told The Indian Express.
At this stage, the police intervened and dissuaded the
forum leaders from taking out the procession. On June 18,
the police took Surajmoni and the other two to their home
at Tipudih. "I said I would go back to my home even if
they kill me and my son," Surajmoni said.
But the village chiefs showed no signs of relenting.
Instead, they ensured that nobody sold any food or other
stuff to the `witch'. "We practically starved for two
days. Then Maheswar said he would take us to Calcutta
where he planned a dharna by us so that the government
would act," the middle-aged woman, who lost her husband
four years ago, mumbled.
After Maheshwar came here and contacted a woman activist,
who was the principal of a Calcutta college, the `witch'
went to see Biman Basu, instead of staging a dharna.
Basu had no answer when Surajmoni and Maheswar told
that a former CPI(M) MLA and member of the party's
district committee, had joined hands with the people who
were out to destroy the family. The gram panchayat and
the panchayat samiti of her village are controlled by the
CPI(M), which also has the local MLA.
At a loss to explain his local partymen's role, Basu
immediately contacted his comrades in Purulia over
telephone and took them to task for not attending to
Surajmoni's case.
Next morning, Surajmoni had another audience with Nakul
Mahato, Secretary of the CPI(M)'s Purulia District
Committee, who promised to rehabilitate the woman in her
"Surajmoni's brother-in-law, Sahadev Mandi, is behind all
this. Once they can get done with the woman and her son,
Sahadev can take over her nine bighas of paddyfield,"

Maheswar explained.
The village chiefs were apparently bribed with shares of
the penalty money and the villagers with the "feast"
arranged for the ritual of witch-hunting.
"I have been fighting these ills since 1984 and never got
any help from the political parties," Maheswar
complained. Biman Basu admitted that evils like
witchhunting were still rampant among tribals after 20
years of Marxist rule, despite campaigns by the
government and the parties. "The truth is," Maheswar
said, "that they don't strike at the root of these evils
for fear of losing their vote bank."
Can the spectre be laid to rest?

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