Chief minister Mamata Banerjee will take the center stage at the celebration of the birth centenary of Dalit Matua community matriarch Binapani Debi, better known to community members as ‘Baro-ma,’ on November 15.
“Baro-ma will appear in public after a long time. She will share the dais with the chief minister who respects Baro-ma no less than her own mother. We expect a gathering of more than two lakh members of the community from different parts of the state,” said Mamata Thakur, Baro-ma’s daughter-in-law and Trinamool Congress MP from Bongaon.
Matuas are Bengal’s second most influential scheduled caste community, with an estimated population of nearly 30 lakh. With scheduled castes comprising 23.5% of the population, Bengal is India’s second largest home for Dalits. Uttar Pradesh has the highest Dalit population. On Thursday, Banerjee is expected to announce the foundation of a new university named after Harichand Thakur and Guruchand Thakur, the founding fathers of the sect, a senior Trinamool Congress leader involved in organizing the event said on condition of anonymity.
“A delegation from the Matua community in Assam will also be present. They are expected to share their harrowing experience since the publication of the second draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC),” the Trinamool leader added.
Members of the Matua community originally hailed from districts in present-day Bangladesh and migrated to India over the past five decades, mainly to escape religious persecution. A large number of these people have found their names missing in the Assam NRC list.
In West Bengal, the Matua population is concentrated in Nadia, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Kolkata and Hooghly, the districts that together have 16 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats.
The event on November 15 will be held at Thakurnagar in the North 24 Parganas where Baro-ma lives. Matua Mahasangha, the central organization of the community, is headquartered here.
Banerjee announced the formation of a development board for the community earlier this month. Trinamool Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are engaged in a tug-of-war over the Matua community since 2014. This led to a split in Matua Mahasangha a couple of years ago.
While a faction of the Mahasangha is led by Mamata Thakur, wife of late Trinamool MP and Baro-ma’s eldest son Kapil Krishna Thakur, the other is led by Shantanu, son of Baro-ma’s younger son Manjul Krishna Thakur.
Manjul Krishna’s sons, Subrata and Shantanu, are both aligned with BJP. However, till Sunday evening this faction could not announce any programme for November 15.
Mukul Roy, BJP national executive member and convener of the party’s Lok Sabha election committee for Bengal, maintains contact with a section of Matua community leaders. He alleged that Trinamool Congress is using Baro-ma politically.
“Baro-ma is suffering from various ailments and should be kept above politics. At her age and given the position she holds, Baro-ma deserves this respect. She should be the symbol of unity for all members of the community,” Roy, who plans to visit Thakurnagar soon, said.
“If Banerjee really wants to help members of the community she should join hands with BJP and help us get the citizenship amendment bill passed when it is presented in Parliament,” said Roy.