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The lady from the Left has no dogma blues and is very clear about what she believes in

RINDA KARAT, General-Secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association (Aidwa) was in Bangalore recently for the three-day conference of the State unit. A few days before the conference was when Prathibha, the 18-year-old PU student, had committed suicide fearing she would be unable to pay high fees for her higher professional education. Brinda was quick to grasp the family's plight and blamed the the plethora of policy confusions for Prathibha's suicide. In an exclusive chat with MetroPlus, she spoke on a range of issues, starting with Manorama Devi's death in Manipur that triggered a chain of momentous events and demos. "No one can excuse the rape and murder of Manorama by the (Assam Rifles) soldiers. It is incredible how soldiers do not even appear before their own court. Aidwa and the Left are opposed to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. We do not support secession, but the Act — it should go."

While this stance is largely non-controversial, Brinda approved of Dhananjoy Chatterjee's execution because it was "rarest of the rare cases, where a 14-year-old was raped and then murdered".

A bold stand, considering many human rights forums are opposed to capital punishment. And, as though in vindication of her stand in all the three instances, two recent events were telling. The first was the lynching by women of the notorious Akku Yadav in a Nagpur court. The man had allegedly molested and raped neighbourhood women for over 11 years. As a local lawyer put it: "The women had to take law into their hands because the police and the court did not act." And in a lower Mumbai court, a man received capital punishment for raping and killing a four-year-old girl.

What argument can there be that does not support capital punishment for such crimes? "It's not that we support capital punishment per se or that we would like a person to die. When a 14-year-old girl undergoes torture, it seems justified."

Brinda's ideology has a totality to it. It is not a mechanical connection she makes between educational policies and liberalisation in the context of Prathibha's suicide. Education, in the '70s and '80s, was managed both by Government and private institutions. Capitation fee came in the '90s. The Supreme Court's intervention, then, to legalise the fee structure, only increased the fee. "How can one pay Rs. 6 to 7 lakh for a course? Even in a Government institution, is it possible for a middle-class family to pay Rs. 2 lakh-odd a year?"

Brinda saw a connection between privatisation of education and health that, she said, was happening even in England. When the public health system is played down, education turns expensive as subsidy is cut. And private institutions, working for profits, naturally charge high. Also, banks don't forward loans on easy terms. Where does one source finance then? She suggested a quota system based on economic status to help the poor access education.

It was an opportune moment to capture the Left view of politics from Brinda. The Left is close to power and supports a party and a Prime Minister who heralded the new economic reforms. Would even outside support contradict its traditional stance on market reforms? She was clear on this: "We have no illusions about rolling back liberalisation. The Left response is realistic and is reflected in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP). We are looking at policies... a stronger PDS, prevention of starvation deaths, employment guarantee, 100 days of work in a year as a legal right, unemployment relief, and work for women ... " The recent mandate, she said, has brought back class and equity to mainstream. The core unifying the BJP, TDP, and AIADMK has been rejected and the message, she said, is the return of the working class and the secular.

PRASHANTH G.N.

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