The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gender bias blamed for family tragedy

Purulia, Nov. 9: Prodded by the National Commission for Women, a two-member team of the Calcutta-based Legal Aid Forum recently visited a village here to probe what forced a mother to kill her four daughters and herself.

The incident, on July 3, came to the notice of the commission through media reports. ‘Tortured for a boy, mother kills daughters’, The Telegraph had reported on the gruesome incident.

Malati Mahato, 34, had walked over 10 km from Bandwan-Banjora village with her daughters to the Rajar Rakh forest, about 40 km from Purulia town, and fed them poisoned shonpapri before hanging herself from a tree. The girls were between two-and-a-half and eight years old. A cowherd stumbled on the bodies hours later.

Police said Malati was driven to death by poverty and torture from her in-laws and husband for not giving birth to a son.

The husband, Suchant Mahato, and his parents were arrested and later released on bail.

Based on conversations with the villagers and the investigating police officer and after a survey of the village and the Mahatos’ house, the forum team was of the view that “no single person was responsible” for the tragedy.

The team comprising retired district judge Sunil Ranjan Sarkar and forum member Jaideep Mukherjee will submit its report to Sudha Malaya, the commission member in charge of Bengal.

“A strong gender bias, illiteracy and faulty traditions were collectively responsible for the woman’s drastic behaviour,” said Mukherjee.

“The society as a whole is to blame. The government, the panchayats and the NGOs carrying out development work have been deficient in creating awareness that could prevent such incidents,” said Sarkar.

“The government has been claiming that women’s rights are protected in the state. Then how do such incidents occur' According to the annual report of the women’s commission, Bengal ranks third after Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the number of violations against women. “On an average, at least one incident takes place in the state every day,” said Mukherjee.

The forum is likely to initiate a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court over the Purulia incident. A team from the national commission is also likely to be in the district.

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