Where men were afraid, these 30 women from Trinamool became polling agents in Phase 3

Mamata Banerjee had asked her party to appoint women if men were afraid to sit in booths.

After the first two phases of election in West Bengal, especially after Nandigram polls on April 1, Mamata Banerjee had said in two public meetings that if men were afraid to sit in booths, her party leaders should send women to be polling agents instead. This was said by the Trinamool Congress chief following reports that some of her party workers were being threatened by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) men.

Accordingly, 30 women were appointed by the Trinamool Congress to work as polling agents of the party in the third phase of election. Elections were held in 31 seats in three districts – parts of Howrah, South 24 Parganas and Hooghly in this phase. The voting percentage in this phase was recorded at 85 per cent.

In Hooghly’s Purshura constituency, at Daporchok village, Champa Manna – who is a housewife – was appointed booth agent of the Trinamool Congress. It wasn’t planned, but worked perfectly for Champa. Her husband, Pintu Manna, had gone to the local booth to join as Trinamool Congress agent, but the BJP allegedly did not allow him to sit in the booth, citing technical reasons. The moment Pintu went back home disappointed, Champa headed to the booth – she checked all documents and started working after others in the booth were satisfied with the documents.

Forty-year-old Champa said that she had learned the work of a booth agent from her husband Pintu. She also said that politics was nothing new for her family, and it came to her “naturally”. “When the BJP drove my husband away, I decided to sit in the booth. I love Mamata Didi, and I couldn’t let the polling continue without a representative from our party. They know it is difficult to scare me.”

She worked for six hours at the local booth, and was then replaced by local panchayat member Chhaya Mali, also a woman.

Another booth agent of the Trinamool Congress during the third phase of election on April 6 was Priyanka Das, who worked at the booth in Parul Basic High School of Arambagh constituency. The 24-year-old Priyanka Das from Arambagh, was not afraid, though many men in her place have been afraid of threats. Was it tough? No, she said, adding that every time she stepped out of the booth for a breath of fresh air, the BJP workers were making unsavoury comments on her. “I didn’t pay any heed to it,” she said.

Two other women polling agents of the Trinamool – Panmani Hembrom and Rasulal Hembrom – were not allowed to sit in booths by the BJP allegedly. However, they could get back to work after candidate Manas Majumdar’s intervention.

Referring to the poll day in Nandigram on April 1, Mamata Banerjee had said that some party workers had told her that they were afraid to go to booths as agents for the Trinamool Congress as the BJP workers had threatened them. “Don’t go to booths if you are afraid. But if you go, don’t return mid-way. If I go somewhere, I will stick to the job even if I were to be killed,” she said. Banerjee said that those who are leaving the battlefield are “kapurush” (cowards). The word kapurush specifically refers to coward men. Banerjee said that if the men were being coward and not brave enough to sit in booths, the party workers in the subsequent phases should appoint women in booths, indicating that they were less likely to be afraid.

The Trinamool Congress and Mamata Banerjee’s focus has been women’s empowerment not just this election, but also in the 2016 Assembly polls. Her government has made several women-friendly schemes including Kanyashree and issuing health insurance scheme (Swasthya Sathi) cards in the names of women as guardians and heads of families. In the party’s election campaigns too, women leaders and women’s empowerment has been a key focus.

And now, in the Assembly elections of 2021, women have been doing work as Trinamool Congress polling agents, something that has traditionally been a male dominated area in Bengal where high rate of violence on poll day has been reported through decades. Sources said that in the subsequent phases, more women will be appointed by the Trinamool Congress as agents in booths.

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