Moushumi Koyal pays tribute to the rape victim at Kamduni. Picture by Sanjib Chaki
Moushumi Koyal is in great demand in election time. People want her. Parties want her.
On Wednesday morning, she is in Kamduni, speaking in her measured tones and soft voice at the meeting held on the seventh of every month in memory of the girl from the village who was raped and murdered on its outskirts on her way back from college. Moushumi reminds her audience that justice is still awaited.
The next day she was to visit Kharda, at a meeting that will be attended by actors Papiya Adhikary and Paran Bandyopadhyay and CPM candidate from Barrackpore Subhasini Ali. On Friday, she would address meetings at Sulekha More in Garia.
Moushumi is the face — and a very pretty one — of the Kamduni Pratibad Mancha, the “movement” born in the village after the brutal rape. She is now a star. For every meeting she attends, she refuses several.
She also says no to television shows, picking and choosing only a few.
It’s a long way to come for someone who was an “ordinary”, young village housewife till 11 months ago, when the rape shook the village, and later the whole state. But Moushumi now is perhaps also the only recognisable face of the movement in the village.
On Wednesday, at the memorial meeting presided over by Pradip Mukherjee, the headmaster of the primary school in the village who had spearheaded the protest, only a handful of villagers are present. The bulk is formed by women members of the CPM, including Malini Bhattacharya, who have arrived to express solidarity with Kamduni.
Mukherjee, who is still at the forefront, cannot overstress the importance of Moushumi attending the meetings elsewhere, in Kharda, in Garia. “People want to see Moushumi, not me,” he says.
The Kamduni movement has moved out of Kamduni and the elections have come in handy.
The April 7 memorial meeting was attended by all mainstream parties except Trinamul. Those who were present included Samir Aich, the Congress candidate from Jadavpur, and Shamik Bhattacharya, the BJP candidate from Basirhat, and CPM leaders, besides NGOs. “Various parties wanted me to campaign too,” says Moushumi, adding she refused all of them.
Moushumi was an “ordinary” village housewife till June 18 last year. On that day Mamata Banerjee had visited Kamduni finally after the rape. Tumpa Koyal, who had studied with the deceased girl at the village primary school, had dared to raise her finger at the chief minister and ask her to listen to the village. Mamata had promptly labelled all the villagers “Maoist” and “CPM”, but Tumpa had found her voice. It resonated throughout Bengal.
Moushumi found her voice too, that day, when a TV camera picked her up. Tumpa could not participate much in later protests because of personal reasons, but Moushumi, softspoken, articulate and coolheaded, became the voice.
But her very success as a spokesperson has alienated the village. About four or five Kamduni residents attended the Wednesday meeting; when they would attend it in hundreds till five months back.
Villagers are tired of nothing having changed, except an enhancement of Moushumi’s status into a celeb, while Trinamul has worked its way into the villagers’ disenchantment, destroying any pretence of a popular movement.
The protesters’ anger, when the movement started, was directed at the state government and the ruling party. In election time, political differences are rife in Kamduni. Neighbours are seething at each other. In a big blow to the movement, the victim’s family, awarded jobs by the government, has left the village.
Mukherjee stresses that local Trinamul leaders — who have floated another “protest” forum called Shantiraksha Committee, which meets the same day that Kamduni Pratibad Mancha does — have intimidated villagers. “The villagers are with us. They can’t come to the meeting because Trinamul workers have taken away their BPL cards or have deprived them of 100 days’ work,” says Mukherjee.
There are other accusations against the powers that be. The protesters had wanted a police camp, lampposts, a proper road and a higher secondary school for the village. The only thing that happened were a few “Magic garis”.
The government has supervised the handing over of a few Tata Magic vehicles, meant to carry commuters between Rajarhat and Barasat, to Kamduni villagers. But there are allegations that only Trinamul sympathisers got the “Magic garis”, which they promptly sold off at a profit.
The alleged buyers denied the charges, pointing at the vehicles, a few of which stood on the village roads.
The case has moved to a Calcutta court and a huge concern is the chargesheet. Mukherjee feels very strongly it has been a cover-up, to spare the real culprit.
But there is a greater concern. “After strong verdicts in rape cases in Delhi and Mumbai, the state wants justice done in the Kamduni case,” says Mukherjee. Such an impulse added to a weak chargesheet makes things even more problematic, he feels.
Just where the road into Kamduni branches off the highway, a few metres from the enclosure where the young girl was dragged in, raped and killed, a stone slab bears the inscription: “Banglar dharshita bon tomaye janai shahider samman (Raped sister of Bengal, we pay you the respect due to a martyr).” It is where the politicians stop before entering Kamduni.
Barasat votes on May 12