| Dipali spinning the charkha. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta, Aug. 19: She was the “face” of lawless Bengal. The deaf-mute girl, who had been raped by a CPM activist, was paraded in Writers’ Buildings to expose the state of law and order.
Mamata Banerjee, then a Youth Congress leader and a young minister in Narasimha Rao’s government, had led the charge, laying siege to Jyoti Basu’s office.
That was in 1992. Mamata hit the headlines; Dipali Basak, the deaf-mute girl, disappeared. A few months later, she quietly gave birth to a girl in an ashram at Dhapa, the garbage dumping ground.
Ever since, she has been living in anonymity in Shantipur in Nadia district along with her widowed mother, surviving on a few rupees a day she earns spinning a charkha. Occasionally, when the going gets worse, she has to beg to put together a meal.
In May, when Mamata came to Phulia, very near to where Dipali stays, to campaign for the Nabadwip parliamentary byelection, the deaf-mute girl decided to turn to the person who had first brought her into limelight more than a decade ago. But Trinamul supporters would not let her get anywhere close to their leader.
“As soon as Dipali came to know of Mamata’s Phulia visit, she decided to meet her,” said Dipali’s mother Felani.
“We went to the meeting venue two hours before Mamata arrived but she sped by us in a convoy of cars. With folded hands we begged the Trinamul supporters to let us meet her for a few minutes, but they did not allow us to get near her.”
It was in these circumstances that a 72-year-old retired government employee, Bibhas Dasgupta, got to know of her plight. He decided to do what the politicians should have been doing in the first place: help her to live with dignity.
He traced her out in Shantipur last week and donated his month’s pension — Rs 1,000 — to her. Next month, he intends to buy her clothes for the Pujas with whatever money he can afford.
“I know that whatever I give will not help her much,” Dasgupta said. “But I hope that at least this will shame the politicians to do something for people they have used to gain political mileage.”
Recalling the times when even Somen Mitra, then state Congress president, visited them, Felani said that no one comes to even enquire about them any longer. “No one even enquired whether she had given birth to a child. Somen Mitra had promised to turn our hut into a three-storied house.”
Felani said Dipali’s child is now being brought up in an ashram. “But they don’t let us see her lest any affection develops towards the girl,” Felani said.
Working at the charkha gets Dipali barely Rs 10 a day and her mother is too unwell to work. “Whenever they ask for some food, we try our best to give them something to get by,” said Angur Sarkar, a neighbour.
Trinamul leader Pankaj Banerjee admitted that Dipali had been “neglected”. “I will take up the matter after Mamata returns from Delhi,” he promised.