Frontline Volume 17 - Issue 06, Mar. 18 - 31, 2000
India's National Magazine
from the publishers of THE HINDU


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OBITUARY

A committed fighter

Geeta Mukherjee, 1924-2000.

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI

THE death of Geeta Mukherjee, veteran parliamentarian and Communist Party of India (CPI) member, has had two immediate consequences. In political terms, the CPI has lost a gritty and indefatigable representative; and for young communists there is one few er of the old guard to emulate. Geeta Mukherjee had undergone heart surgery in 1990 but that did not deter her from continuing with her party and parliamentary activities. She was the Deputy Leader of the CPI in the Lok Sabha.

K. RAMESH BABU

As chairperson of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament on the Women's Reservation Bill (which provides for the reservation of one-third of the total number of seats in State Assemblies and Parliament for women), she was determined to see the bill rea ch its logical conclusion. On March 3, a day before she succumbed to a heart attack, Geeta Mukherjee vehemently protested on the floor of the House against the Bihar Governor's decision to invite the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to form the governm ent in the State. She condemned the action as "undemocratic".

Close friends recalled that though she was unwell, she wanted to attend Parliament in the wake of the developments in Bihar and the controversy over the Gujarat government's decision to allow its employees to take part in the activities of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Although she was equally committed to other issues, her chief preoccupation since 1996, when she took over as chairperson of the Joint Select Committee, was to ensure the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill. She even reported ly turned down a ministerial berth in the I.K. Gujral government on the grounds that she wanted to concentrate fully on the bill. She strived to carry everyone along with her on the Women's Bill issue, including those who wanted a separate quota for Othe r Backward Classes (OBCs). With her strong political convictions and ideological commitment, Geeta Mukherjee was liked by people across party lines.

Mukherjee, went to school in Jessore, now in Bangladesh, was born as Geeta Roy Choudhary in a middle class family. Her father was a Rai Bahadur, a title bestowed upon him by the colonial rulers. As a student, Geeta Mukherjee joined the Bengal Provincial Students Federation (BPSF) in 1939. At that time, the BPSF was leading an agitation demanding the repatriation and release of persons imprisoned in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. She was the secretary of the Students Federation from 1947 to 1951. Geeta Mukherjee studied Bengali literature and graduated from the Ashutosh College in Calcutta. In 1942, she joined the CPI and married Biswanath Mukherjee, who was already an established student communist leader. Geeta Mukherjee first came into the limelight during the postal workers' strike of 1945. On July 29, 1945 she addressed a rally, where she was the only woman student speaker.

When the Communist Party was banned in 1948, she and Biswanath Mukherjee were detained without trial for six months in the Presidency Jail, Calcutta. Geeta Mukherjee was best known for her active role in the student, peasant and women's movements. For ma ny students of the 1960s, she was a role model. She remained with the CPI after the Communist Party split in 1964. She was elected to the West Bengal Assembly, in 1967 and 1972, from Tamluk constituency in Midnapore district. In 1978, she was elected to the Lok Sabha from Panskura and represented that constituency since then.

Geeta Mukherjee was elected to the National Council of the party in 1978 and to its National Executive in 1981. She was elected one of the national secretaries of the CPI at the 17th Congress of the party held in Chennai in 1998. Geeta Mukherjee thus bec ame the first woman secretariat member of any Indian communist party. Paying tributes to her on the occasion of the International Women's Day on March 8, women's organisations observed that under her chairpersonship the report of the Joint Select Committ ee of Parliament on the Women's Reservation Bill was completed in record time.

Geeta Mukherjee participated in various agitations including those taking up the cause of women beedi workers. However, she took particularly strong positions on gender issues. Amarjeet Kaur, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women ( NFIW), the women's wing of the CPI, said that on the dowry issue, Geeta Mukherjee was keen that CPI cadres practised what they said in public.

An Executive Council member of the NFIW since 1965, Geeta Mukherjee was also a member of the National Commission for Women in 1988 and of the National Commission on Rural Labour in 1986. She was also a member of the Press Council.

Geeta Mukherjee always wanted the mass organisations of the party to keep her posted on the issues and developments so that she could raise them in Parliament, Amarjeet Kaur said. Before raising a question, she ensured that she had a good understanding o f the subject.

In Geeta Mukherjee's life, there was no contradiction between theory and practice. A diehard optimist, she was a person of humility, simplicity and absolute ideological conviction. Her colleagues recall that despite the split in the Communist Party in 19 64, the political upheavals in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Geeta Mukherjee's commitment to the people's democratic revolution remained undiluted.

Geeta Mukherjee wrote some books for children. Bharat Upakatha (Folktales of India) and Chotoder Rabindranath (Tagore for Children) are two of them. She translated in Bengali Bruno Apitz's classic Naked Among Wolves. She loved poetry and used to read and recite Kazi Nazrul Islam and Rabindranath Tagore.

A passionate and compassionate political activist, as described by President K.R. Narayanan, Geeta Mukherjee has left a void not only in the communist movement but also in the women's and other democratic movements in the country.


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