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Geeta Mukherjee -- Committed to the cause

CALCUTTA, MARCH 4: Geeta Mukherjee, veteran communist leader, who died on Saturday, was easily among the most prominent parliamentarians respected for her life-long commitment to peasants and women's rights.

Her political career in the Communist Party if India (CPI), whose MP she was till her last, spanned about five and half decades. However, it is her role in the women's reservation issue which brought her into the limelight in recent Times.

Born in Calcutta in 1924, she began as a student leader at Jessore, now in Bangladesh, in the early 40s of the last century and was the general secretary of the Bengal Provincial Student Federation.

In 1942, she was married to her comrade-in-arms Biswanath Mukherjee, an important CPI luminary.

In 1946, she became a member of the Bengal state committee of the CPI. She took an active part in the post-war students and workers' upsurge against the British during the barricade fighting in the city against the Imperialist power on Rashid Ali day. She also participated in the Posts and Telegraph strike in 1946 and addressed a rally held in Calcutta when barely 22 years old.

When the CPI was banned by the Congress government in 1948, she along with Biswanath was arrested and detained without trial for six months in Presidency jail. She went underground for about three years after her release and came overground when the court declared the ban ultra vires.

She moved to Tamluk in Midnapore district where she worked tirelessly for the peasants' cause. She was elected to the state assembly for the first time in 1967.

For a decade starting from 1967, Geeta Mukherjee remained a member of the West Bengal assembly. She was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1980 from Panskura, which she represented till her death.

From 1978 onwards, she was a member of the CPI's National Council. Three years later. she joined its National executive committee. She also became the deputy leader of the party in the Lok Sabha.

As a parliamentarian, she was on various committees like those on public undertakings, welfare of scheduled caste and scheduled tribes, criminal law (amendment bill), consultative committee of the Ministry of I&B, member of the Public Accounts Committee, Standing Committee on External Affairs, joint select committee on various bills relating to women.

She was also a member of the National Commission on Rural Labour, National Commission on Women, National Children's Board, Press Council and vice-president of the National Federation of Women, besides being a secretariat member of the Women's International Democratic Federation, Berlin.

Her frail constitution, compounded by her open heart surgery in the mid-80s, did not prevent her from taking up the most active role in her fight to secure 33 per cent reservation for women in elected bodies. She headed the CPI's commission on women's reservation, which proposed the legislation for it.

Mukherjee was elected chairperson of the joint select committee on one-third reservation of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies in 1996 soon after her election to Parliament for the fifth consecutive time.

Mukherjee authored several books in Bengali like "Bharat Upakatha", "Chotoder Rabindranath" (children's Rabindranath), "Hey atit katha kao" and a translation of "Naked Among Wolves."

She was known for her austerity and simplicity. Her party colleague Goutam Chattopadhyay said, "Geeta Mukherjee was respected by all cutting across political lines for her commitment and simplicity."

Her colleagues remembered her simple two-room flat in the city, her simple clothes and above all her commitment to her constituency, which she regularly visited and nurtured even ignoring her doctors' advice.

Octogenarian CPI leader Ranen Sen broke down while remembering her. He recalled her sense of commitment and said she would be remembered as a fighter. "She used to say that she would like to die fighting for the downtrodden, and she died as she wanted," he added.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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