ON 20 MARCH, two tribal girls in their early 20s were allegedly tortured and gang-raped by a group of tribal men in Takka Tulsi, a remote hamlet in southern Tripura. The incident hardly found a mention in the national media. Even in the Northeast, the media failed to read between the lines of what this incident tells about the tiny state that boasts of a high literacy rate, rural development and political consciousness. But the pain and trauma of the victims can be felt and heard in almost every tribal belt in Tripura, the last bastion of the Left Front in India.
Indeed, women have been at the receiving end of the Left Front’s 19-year rule in the state. They have been tortured, gangraped and even murdered at will. Kangaroo courts have been used to brand tribal women as witches, and their moral character questioned, all for ulterior political designs.
According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), Tripura had India’s worst crime rate against women: 46.5 per lakh population in 2010. Between April 2010 and March 2011, the Tripura Commission for Women (TCW) received 913 cases of crime against women, out of which 62 were against tribals.
So, why this spurt in rapes against tribal women in Tripura? Historically, the Left Front had reigned supreme in the tribal areas but its support base has started eroding. Every day, tribals are deserting the CPM and joining regional parties because they believe that CPM leaders share benefits of government schemes only with their relatives and cadres. Rattled by the desertion and its debacle in West Bengal, the CPM cadres are trying every trick in the trade to retain power in next year’s Assembly polls. But for now, Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and the TCW have some explaining to do about these shocking crime figures.
“The high rate of crime against women in Tripura is a concern,” says CPM state secretary Bijan Dhar, adding, “I agree that since we have been in power for 19 years, a section of our people got inclined towards power and at times ideology takes a back seat.”
The magnitude of the political pressure is so intense that the watchdog TCW is almost parroting the state government’s tune. “Politics on a sensitive issue like rape is not desirable. We are alarmed by the increase in rape cases and we have been taking action but it is not like that the government is not sensitive,” says TCW chairperson Dr Tapati Chakraborty.
But the Congress is in no mood to desist from politicking on the issue. “It is the tribal vote bank that has kept the Left in power for so long; they have done nothing for them,” says Leader of the Opposition and Congress MLA Ratan Lal Nath. “The CPM cadres have done heinous crimes against women and got away with it, but we will fight against this menace.”
TEHELKA travelled to some of the remotest villages to understand why the tribal women are at peril. The driver who took us around, gave us a primer. “Tripura has adequate power and good roads, even in remote areas. It has been the best state in the implementation of MGNREGA,” he says. “But the truth is that one can enjoy the fruits of development only if he/she supports the ruling party. Political rivals are boycotted economically and socially, mentally harassed and assaulted by CPM cadres.”
There are numerous cases of violence against tribals that paint a shoddy picture of the state of affairs in Tripura, where the Left Front won 19 of the 20 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in the 60-member Assembly in 2008. However, it’s not just the tribals who are bearing the brunt. The TCW records between April 2010 and March 2011 show that 28.37 percent of the crimes were against SCs, 13.14 percent against Muslims and 20.37 percent against OBCs. These numbers are enough for the Left Front to realise that its final bastion is in big trouble.
1 AND 2 ‘We were warned of dire consequences if we mingled with Congress members’ Pinky Tripura, 22 & Rakhimala Tripura, 22 Takka Tulsi, South Tripura District