By Tanvi Sharma
Edited by Michelle Cherian, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
Bengal, a state which reflected the struggles and achievements of colonial India; a state which was known for the distinctiveness of its population; a state which has nurtured social, religious, literary and political activism since the colonial era; a state which has built up a proud legacy. Alas! Bengal is now in danger. Political discourse in Bengal has crashed to abysmal depths and street violence, suppression as well as molestation have made room in the dusty lanes of a state which was home to India’s first metropolitan city.
The Tapas Pal incident which has been widely condemned, reveals the death of renaissance in the state and the birth of relapse. It is appalling that the West Bengal chief minister, Ms. Mamata Banerjee did not take any stringent action against her party’s minister who publicly threatened to rape ‘women’. West Bengal is the highest contributor to crimes against women in India. Ironically, it is also the state which is currently being run by its first woman chief minister. Mr Tapas has apologised, yet the continuous abuse of women in the land of Durga is unacceptable and raises serious questions on the kind of politics being played out in Bengal.
This kind of degraded political culture has transformed Bengal from a land of social and intellectual reform to a land of glaring political failure. The Renaissance culture which was identified through its educated class and was marked by the people’s fluency in English and Bengali, their passion to acquire knowledge from all corners of the world, their great taste for literature and music and their educational refinement has been replaced by the grim social reality of today which is marked by foul and abusive language, crimes against women, grinding depravation and a volatile political climate.
The likes of Raja Rammohun Roy, SN Banerjee, CR Das and Rabindranath Tagore who led many progressive movements for the emancipation of women and were precursors of the national movement have been replaced by the likes of Tapas Pal whose language has plummeted to the lowest depths, threatening women of a crime as sensitive and as heinous as ‘rape’. Unfortunately, Tapas Pal is not the only Bengali minister who has been using rape threats as a benchmark of his aggression. CPI(M) leaders Jyoti Basu and Anil Basu have also directed foul language towards Mamata Banerjee in the past. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had the audacity to address modern, progressive women as “dented, painted women who go to pubs and bars”.
Bengal’s cultural decline seems evident. There is a wide gap between the Bhadralok culture of the past and the politicisation of culture today. Bengali intellectualism and elitism has given way to anti-intellectualism and an unabashed display of so called machismo at the hands of the politicians.
The promise of social change or ‘poribortan’ still remains to be realized. Instead of putting an end to grave crimes against women, politicians are using such twisted vocabulary which equalizes rape threats to a show of strength. It is high time that the language of the suppressed, ordinary Bengali is spoken and aggressive, crude politics is left aside.
It is time that Bengalis regain their lost stature!
Tanvi firmly believes in the power of words over weapons. She is here to change the way people look at things. An avid reader, a closet singer and an inveterate foodie who can live her entire life on the Internet.