The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Silence can be more expressive than words. The long silence of the state women’s commission following the atrocities perpetrated on the women in the vehicles forcibly stopped at Dhantala in Nadia says a host of things. The loudest message is simple: the Party is above all. Unfortunately for the women’s commission, the police this time were quick to discover the kingpins behind the robbery, murder and assault. They were two local Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders, in league with known criminals of the area. This was enough to silence the state women’s commission, most of the present members of which owe allegiance to the CPI(M), and all of whom have been rewarded with such eminence because of the fiery and intellectually substantial roles they have played in defence of women’s rights.

Corruption is of many kinds, and it creeps up unregarded. The inertia of the state women’s commission is a symptom of one of the most dangerous kinds, that of the perversion of the intellect. There are just too many instances in history of such perversion among the best-intentioned, the most educated and articulate, to harbour illusions about what this spells — for democracy, civic order, justice, equality and freedom of speech. In this case, the initial silence of the commission, and the statements and decisions that have dribbled out later, show that every single principle upon which the search for justice for victimized women is based has been turned on its head. It is an added — and piercing — irony that some of the leading members of the present commission have struggled to establish these very principles. No investigating team rushed to the site, either to identify the victims and offer them support or to ensure that medical and police records were correctly made wherever possible. Instead, evidence was left to be lost according to the will of the powers that rule the area. The commission’s half-hearted invitation to the women to come and depose before it or decide on a place where they could be interviewed was obviously meaningless. The commission and other women’s bodies usually work on the assumption of women’s difficulties in speaking up. That is why such bodies do not wait for a formal complaint before investigation. More amazing is the commission’s quibbling over the words, molestation and rape. “Possibly rape” can only mean that the commission has not even tried to investigate the crime, and it is covering up its inaction with words that trivialize the sufferings of women — some still in their teens — at the hands of ruthless criminals. Apparently, the women’s commission finds it worth its while to devalue women’s sufferings upon occasion.

Not one principle has survived. The chairperson, Ms Jasodhara Bagchi, has even said that the commission will not speak to the media, since the media are politicizing the issue. Transparency is suddenly a foreign concept, since justice is no longer the goal. And the politicking villains are of course the media, because there are still voices there which dare to question the presumably non-politic silences of august bodies.

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