West Bengal Chief Minister interacted briefly with the women while inaugurating a puja pandal

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday offered all assistance to rehabilitate the Vrindavan widows, who are here to celebrate Durga Puja, if they chose to return to the State. Ms. Banerjee is, perhaps, the first Chief Minister of the State to have taken up the cause of these abandoned women.

Speaking at the inauguration of a puja pandal at Lake View, Ms. Banerjee said: “The government will make all arrangements for them if they want to return.”

Ms. Banerjee met the widows briefly and was presented with a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and garlanded. The Chief Minister was unable, however, to sit and chat with the women, who had waited to meet her for over two hours amid heavy downpour. “It would have been nice if she [Ms. Banerjee] had spoken to us but we are still thankful that she found the time to come here,” said Manu Maa, clutching the saree that Ms. Banerjee presented her with. “I spoke to her in Bangla,” Kunjalila reported proudly, recalling their brief moment of interaction. The Samaj Sebi Sangh, which organised the pandal with the theme ‘Books, Books and Books’, would now take up the cause of widows, said member Vasvari Sarkar. Earlier, the group has supported spastic and mentally retarded children, trafficked women and prostitutes. West Bengal’s State Policy for Empowerment of Women recognises gender equality as a key human development issue — “the social role prescribed for women by generations, kept them confined within their home with traditional role of motherhood and taking care of family and kept them beyond the reach of most developmental programmes”.

The policy aims at bringing about holistic development, advancement in all fields and empowerment of women such that “every field of life, no differential exists between male and female”. The objectives of the policy are “to create an [equitable] environment through just social, economic and political policies conducive to holistic development of women so that they can realise their full potential, to empower women [to seek] equal participation in decision-making in the social, economic and political life of the State, and to strengthen legal systems and infrastructure.”