Minister's job at Writers': Tell 'what kind of woman' a teacher is
Calcutta, April 27: Writers' Buildings was used today by a senior minister to tell everyone "what kind of a woman (kemon mahila)" a teacher was because she allegedly dared to wag a finger and raise her voice at a Trinamul politician who is president of her college.
Subrata Mukherjee, a high-profile minister in the Mamata Banerjee government and the former mayor of Calcutta, also paraded a tenant and publicised the tenant's private dispute with the teacher's family to launch one of the fiercest state-sponsored attacks against an individual Bengal has ever seen.
If the arrest of a Jadavpur University professor for circulating an Internet joke set unparalleled limits on personal freedom, today's performance from the seat of power sent several messages:
If you don't toe the line laid down by supporters of the ruling party, be prepared for your entire life to be put under merciless scrutiny — no matter whether you are in public life or not;
No matter how private a dispute and no matter how irrelevant it is to governance or to any other form of administration, the state will make the issue its voyeuristic business;
Having dug up some dirt —imaginary or otherwise — the state will lend its space, time and voice to publicise the controversy and malign the target;
If any of the target's relatives is a government employee, a minister will personally refer to the post and then leave his fate twisting in the wind without issuing a direct threat.
All these and more unfolded at Writers' in two instalments — the first minutes after chief minister Mamata Banerjee vacated the podium outside her office for minister Mukherjee.
The minister fielded questions on Debjani Dey, the college teacher who suffered an injury allegedly when a former Trinamul MLA and the current president of the institute, Arabul Islam, flew into a rage in the staff room because of dissent over a nominee to a union council and his hand hit a jug that slammed into her chin.
The jug episode itself may or may not have been an accident but the run-up and the aftermath were symptomatic of the disease that set in when the Left was in power and appeared to be thriving even under Trinamul which had promised change.
At Writers', after the initial round of responses, Mukherjee again addressed reporters from the press corner on the same floor, this time along with an elderly man. Mukherjee held aloft copies of the person's purported police complaints against his landlords — the family of Dey.
"Je mahila abhijog korchhen, angul tulchhen, tini ke sheita example hishebe rakhchhi(The woman who is complaining, raising her finger… I am presenting this as an example of who she is)," Mukherjee said.
"This man is Debashish Ghosh, a tenant of Debjani Dey. Tini kemon mahila eta shabar jana uchit (everyone should know what kind of woman she is)," the minister said and proceeded to enlighten Bengal on what is essentially a private dispute.
"For one year he has been mentally tortured by her and her family members. She had threatened him to vacate the premises by May this year or she would have thrown him out. He has complained to the police eight times. He has even filed court cases. Police did nothing because of political reasons," Mukherjee said.
The minister then revealed why a personal dispute is of immense public interest. "This woman has gone public talking against Arabul, Trinamul, and even Mamata Banerjee. This (issue) has become the talk of the town. It has become a political issue," Mukherjee said.
Dey's husband Sabyasachi Sarkar is a WBCS officer who works in Mukherjee's panchayat department. The minister announced that from the podium.
When a reporter asked Mukherjee "where he (Sarkar) is (posted)", the minister responded: "Ask where he will be."
The minister did not elaborate but little analytical skills are needed to figure out what he meant.
Dey, who was part of a teachers' delegation that called on the governor this evening seeking security, reacted with dismay outside Raj Bhavan.
"Do I have to pay such a price because I dared to protest? What a state are we living in? It is my college. If I don't protest there, where will I? Have we lost the voice of protest? I have faith in the chief minister," said Dey.
Dey and nine other teachers of Bhangar Mahavidyalaya today lodged a written complaint with the additional superintendent in the absence of the district police chief at the South 24-Parganas police superintendent's office.
They named Arabul and accused him of assaulting Dey and intimidating other teachers.
"The complaint is being forwarded to Bhangar police station," superintendent Praveen Tripathi told The Telegraph. "At the police station, the officers would go through the content and take necessary action."
"The complaint marks the beginning of the legal process and this is very important," said a senior police officer.
This afternoon, Mukherjee had referred to the absence of a police complaint. "If someone is hit by a jug, she would be injured. Then she should go to the police with a medical report and lodge a complaint. Instead of complaining to the police, she went to the media," he said.
When Mukherjee appeared in the press corner around 4.30pm, Ghosh, the Deys' tenant at New Alipore, defended Arabul. "He (Arabul) is right. She is that sort of woman. She wags her finger at me and bangs the table." Mukherjee nodded in agreement.
Dey was aghast when told about the allegations. "He is a tenant of my father. I don't know him much. I live in my father's house in New Alipore with my husband because his job is transferable…. I fail to understand why my personal life is being dragged into this. My husband's professional life is also being dragged in. My personal life has become hell. I'm struggling to cope with so much pressure," she said.
How did only Ghosh land up at Writers' when there are hundreds of thousands of tenancy disputes in the state?
Ghosh told The Telegraph he immediately felt the urge to meet the chief minister "after reading newspaper reports about this mahila".
"This morning, I went to her Kalighat house and submitted a written complaint. In the afternoon, I received a call from the chief minister's office (CMO) and I turned up at Writers' Buildings. I met the chief minister and apprised her of my problem. Then Subrata Mukherjee turned up and he asked me if I would like to share my problem with the media. I did," Ghosh said.
CMO insiders said they receive over 100 letters daily on an average and the officers concerned respond depending on the content. In case of issues relating to health, the appeals are immediately attended to. The rest are considered on a case-to-case basis.
Minister Mukherjee did not forget to mention that he holds teachers in high esteem. "I am ready to touch the feet of a teacher. But if he happens to be a CPM worker, my language will change," Mukherjee said.
Dey isn't a CPM member. But many teachers saw in her harassment a tendency to brand all forms of dissent as the voice of the Opposition.