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All-woman rural fightback

Kultikri, March 24: Five CPM members of the only all-woman panchayat in the state want to contest the rural polls despite alleged Trinamul threats in this Jungle Mahal pocket where women have won for 20 years.

Four of the seven women functionaries resigned in July 2011 after they were threatened with dire consequences by Trinamul workers. They alleged that Trinamul workers told them their husbands would be killed if they did not quit their posts.

However, seven months later, two of the four women — Ramani Singh and Sushma Kisku — withdrew their resignations because of their resolve to carry on development work, Kultikri panchayat chief Anamika Sahoo said.

“If the party (the CPM) wants, they are willing to contest despite Trinamul intimidation,” Sahoo said.

The CPM has repeatedly fielded women in this panchayat, and the ladies have won it for the Left party in the last four elections.

The five women who run the panchayat now are aged between 23 and 38 years.

Except for Sahoo, who is a second-time panchayat chief, this was the first term as panchayat member for the others.

Kultikri in West Midnapore, about 5km from Sankrail police station, has witnessed Maoists abducting a police officer in 2009.

In other parts of Bengal, too, the CPM has complained that its panchayat members, mostly men, were being hounded out of their villages allegedly by Trinamul activists. Such complaints have come from areas in Keshpur and Garbeta, also in West Midnapore.

“This panchayat is a perfect example of woman power. Women have been running this rural body for the past 20 years,” Sahoo said. “Our work should have been appreciated by Mamata Banerjee, who is a woman herself. Unfortunately, her party workers are trying to remove us.”

Sahoo said: “In June 2011, around 1,000 Trinamul supporters gheraoed the panchayat office and demanded that we resign. Our only fault is that we are CPM candidates. The Trinamul supporters passed lewd comments.” Threats to them about their families followed.

The next month, four of the women resigned. The two members, who decided not to rejoin the rural body, refused comment.

Trinamul has denied the allegation that its workers threatened any of the panchayat members.

The party’s West Midnapore district committee member, Nirmal Ghosh, said: “We never threatened anyone. The members put in their resignations on their own.”

According to Sahoo, the panchayat, covering 26 villages, has provided 38 days’ work on average under the 100-day rural job scheme.

“We have distributed 1,726 job cards among villagers and spent Rs 1 crore under the (rural job) scheme. We have dug up 20 ponds and laid 50km of moram road in eight villages. Besides, there are 150 women working in self-help groups,” said 38-year-old Sahoo, a BA in Bengali from Burdwan University and mother of a 13-year-old son.