Krishnagar, May 30: When 20 girls of a small town stood up to their abusive husbands, police in Nadia were forced to sit up and take notice.
Officials of the district police have decided to set up committees to help tackle violence against women, three days after The Telegraph published a report about 20 women ' both Hindu and Muslim ' of Nakashipara obtaining divorce from their husbands and compelling them to return their dowry.
Another case was reported the next day.
The 12-member Mahila Ashray Committees will come up in all the 19 police station areas of Nadia district, which records a high rate of domestic violence. Each committee will have eight women.
Police officials said the decision followed a report from Nakashipara circle inspector A. Rashidujjaman detailing the events over the past four months that led to the divorces.
District social welfare officer A.R. Paik said the rate of atrocities against women in Nadia is higher than the rest of the state. 'Every month, we get information about 15 dowry-related deaths in the district. And every day, five cases of atrocities against women are reported in each police station of the district.'
Additional superintendent of police Biswarup Ghosh said the committee, apart from helping women tortured by their husbands and in-laws, would also counsel couples tangled in marital discord.
'The increase in social crimes and torture on women has led the district police to set up such a body. Young married women in small villages and towns, like in Nakashipara, are harassed everyday and come to police stations for help. We have accepted complaints and arrested the accused. But from now on, we will look at these problems more closely and try to settle amicably as many cases as possible,' he said.
'Most of these women seek redressal but do not want to get into long-drawn legal battles, he added. 'The women who rebelled in Nakashipara were trendsetters. The police also played a great role in helping them get back their dowry. It is an achievement for us, too.'
The committees will have school and college teachers, doctors, psychologists, sociologists, lawyers and women's activists.
'These committees will be totally apolitical. The officer in charge of the police station concerned will be the convener of the committee, who will hold meetings of members thrice a week. The OC will submit a report to the superintendent of police every week,' said Ghosh.
Officials said chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is keen on bringing down the rate of crimes against women in Bengal.
'We have been asked by the police brass at Writers' Buildings to formulate policies independently. The development in Nakashipara has created a precedent that will inspire tortured women and we will get more responses from victims,' said an official.
Members of the committee will also visit schools and colleges in the district to spread awareness. 'We want to make them aware about the man-woman relationship at an early age. We want to instill ideas about qualities that can lead to ideal marriages, the need for mutual respect and how not to hurt each other's dignity,' Ghosh said.
'Committee members will spread awareness about diseases, which families often hide before marriage. We will preach that tests like HIV, thalassaemia and other serious ailments are very important before marriage. The bride and groom should know details of each other's family background. And last, but not the least, every marriage should be registered,' he added.
Rina Mukherjee, the chief counsellor of a state-aided family counselling centre in Nadia, said many women in rural areas are deprived of maintenance after divorce as their marriages are not registered.
'In case of social marriages, priests who conduct Hindu marriages or qazis, in the case of Muslims, are often reluctant to come to court as witnesses. So, it becomes difficult for the women to prove the marriage and demand maintenance,' she added.