Archive for the ‘Men’ Category

Suchismita Dasgupta

Suchismita Dasgupta

“… I think that childfree by choice is the new gay. We’re the new disenfranchised group. People think we’re irresponsible, immoral sluts and that our lifestyle is up for debate.”

Suchismita Dasgupta wrote this on her Facebook wall a few days back. I was not surprised though. She is someone who has always spoken her mind and not always done exactly what society expected her to do. That is why Suchismita, though happily married, has decided not to be a mother.

In this post Suchismita, in her inimitable bold style, has penned her thoughts on being childfree in Indian society:

What’s a good reason to have a child?

Yes, it’s a bit tiring! I got married at 33 and have been hearing since I was 23 when am I going to get married? Then around 30, if I don’t get married now then when will I have kids? Then 7 years after getting married, I am still told ‘but you will make such a wonderful mother’ or ‘you will miss them when you are older’ or ‘it is so selfish not to have a child’ or ‘who will look after you when you are old?’. It has always made me wonder are these reasons good enough to have a child when you and your partner do not want one?

My masseuse came today for the first time. Yes I am 41 and till now didn’t think massage was important. Anyway coming back to the point, she asked me my age etc. and then children? When I replied that I don’t have any her next question was ‘naoni na hoyni’, literally translated it means, you haven’t taken one or it didn’t happen???!!!

How can a child just “happen”?

I find this word ‘happen’ extremely infuriating. In India everything seems to be happening to you. Marriage happens to you, child happens to you, misfortune happens to you and the list is endless. As if we are a bunch of reproduction machines, programmed to get married, consummate the same and reproduce. If you have not done any of them, then you are an irresponsible person bringing shame to the family.

Am I supposed to feel guilty for not having a maternal instinct?

I once had a conversation with a woman; she and her husband adopted a girl when she was about 40. This was soon after our marriage and she took it upon herself to tell me how important having children was. When I told her that I love children as long as they go back to someone else’s home, she said I was plain selfish, someone who doesn’t like children is not worth talking to. Now that suited me fine, I really didn’t care but it made me wonder how patriarchal and institutionalised this whole thought process was. I am sure there would be many (in my shoes) who would have felt guilty after this conversation for not having a lot of maternal instinct.

Suchismita in a Nextiles creation

Suchismita wearing her own design

It’s a well-thought out decision made by two people

In seven and a half years of marriage my husband and I both asked each other many times if the other really wanted a child and was not saying that because of the decision we took jointly and each time after a lot of discussion and deliberation the answer has remained the same. I still think to myself sometimes what if? But then I realise I am too settled in my life as it is right now; there’s no reason why I should change it! It might be for better or for worse but since I do not feel the urge to change it, I won’t do it and I don’t think I owe this to anyone either.

I think there should be a reason to have a child

Everyone should have a reason to have a child. A child should not just ‘happen’ to you because that’s the way you have known things to ‘happen’. Some of my friends and acquaintances have given birth to a ‘bandaid’ child; they gave birth because they think the child will save their relationship.

I feel instant pity for the poor child and the baggage it is born with. Added to this will be the pressure to perform and cope with the constant competition between the parents for attention.

A child is not born to fulfill dreams

Many parents want to fulfill their unfulfilled dreams through their children. I know someone who tells his two-year-old daughter that she has to become a doctor. I see parents treating their children like a talking doll. You go to their place, they call their children and ask them to show all the skills they have acquired. Who cares if the child hates to perform in front of strangers.

I am a doting aunt but can’t do this full time

I as an individual have no such personal crisis or future plans, in fact, I have no maternal instinct either (yeah go on call me a slut) and to be absolutely honest, I feel extremely settled and comfortable in the current state of being and I somehow don’t want to disturb that. My sudden motherhood rushes (like chocolate rush) are fulfilled by my absolute gorgeous nieces and nephews with whom I have a mutual adoration club. In fact, being a favourite aunt to many for the last 16 years, I realised, I cannot do it full time. So whilst being an aunt absolutely suits me, being a mother definitely doesn’t.

Why can’t a woman challenge social norms?

Our upbringing leads us to believe that women are the reproduction agents, who “must” look after children, home etc. We have enough books, films, television to support and coax you into that system. However the time has changed, we don’t think in terms of man and woman as genders anymore. It’s also about time we treat each other as individuals. I (a woman) as an individual may not want to give birth/adopt, breast feed/look after feeding, be woken up in the middle of night, or wake up the child in the morning to take to school. My choice, right?

Making a choice does not mean disregarding a system

Just like you don’t ask an individual (at least I should think you don’t), do you have a car? A bungalow? A pet dog? A Rolex watch? An M. F. Hussain painting? Don’t ask do you have a child? They are all pretty much a matter of choice and affordability.

At this point, I must apologise to some of you who might have been upset by the points I have picked up. That definitely wasn’t my intention. To me/us children have always been a matter of choice; the likes of us don’t believe that we must condone a system if we didn’t want to.

My choice comes with huge responsibility

To me this world has lost its story; and I must say I don’t think that this world deserves another new life, definitely not someone I will be bringing up. So let’s go back to the matter of choice. We all have a right to choose, like you choose to have a child, I choose not to have one. And to be honest this choice too comes with a huge responsibility. One day may be we will learn to respect that. Till then I live with hope.

About Suchismita:

If you have been raving about Sujoy Ghosh’s short film Ahalya then you should also know that Suchismita was the dress designer of the film. Not only that one she was the designer for Kahaani, and some of her designs were used in Parineeta. She was the winner of the Best Costume Award at Madrid International Film Festival 2013 for her work in the Bengali film Koyekti Meyer Galpo. Till date she was been the costume designer for more than two dozen films and one of the noted recent releases is Kadambari.

(From left:) Radhika Apte, make-up artist Aniruddha Chakladar, Tota Roy Choudhury and Suchismita on the sets of Ahalya

(From left:) Radhika Apte, make-up artist Aniruddha Chakladar, Tota Roy Choudhury and Suchismita on the sets of Ahalya

Growing up in Kolkata, Suchismita Dasgupta felt the need of creating comfortable yet exclusive garments using the traditional textiles and techniques. Hence, she formed Nextiles in 2004.

Nextiles focuses on the most important aspects: fabric, fit, and tailoring quality. Working closely with the weavers, embroiderers and printers from all over India, Nextiles’ main focus is to translate the traditional handwork into styles that suit the urban needs.

Nasseruddin Shah, Sujoy Ghosh, Soumik Sen, Swastika Mukherjee, Paoli Dam, Sahana Bajpayee, Aniruddha Chakladar, Ananya Chatterjee, Bidipta Chakraborty and Aparajita Ghosh are celebs who swear by Nextiles.

Photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay with Ritu and Chanchal.

Photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay with Ritu and Chanchal.

Sheroes Cafe in Agra opened recently is managed by acid-attack survivors. Pix from Al Jazeera.

Sheroes Cafe in Agra opened recently is managed by acid-attack survivors. Pix from Al Jazeera.

There are acid attack survivors who have been suffering for as long as 15 years and nothing has changed after 23 operations but they hardly get any media attention. On the Stop Acid Attacks website I was reading the story of a lady who actually said no to further operations because it did little to better her appearance and discomfort.

There are stories of hope too. The bustling Sheroes Cafe at Agra, near the Taj, which is run by acid attack survivors is a story of triumph.

I have never met an acid attack survivor but photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay has.

Delhi-based photographer Anindya Chattopadhyay (employed with Times of India) is an activist at heart. He uses the social media to keep reminding us about what’s happening around us through his photographs and keeps doing it even when the frenzy around an issue has died down.

Here Anindya talks about meeting acid attack survivors on an assignment and how it changed him as a person.

Over to Anindya….

A couple of years back I was assigned to shoot acid-attack victim Chanchal Paswan in Bihar. She was a high school student when four guys poured acid on her when she was asleep with her family on the terrace.

I cried after meeting Chanchal Paswan

I literally cried after meeting her. I was ashamed to represent a society that harbours such heartless men who could do this to a young girl.

We are supposed to be objective in our outlook and treat every assignment as a job. But it was very hard for me not to feel her pain. Or probably I didn’t? I would probably never know what she felt or feels now.

Ritu and Chanchal. photograph by Anindya Chattopadhyay.

Ritu and Chanchal. photograph by Anindya Chattopadhyay.

They are about inner strength and beauty

Later I again met her at a seminar attended by several acid attack survivors like her and human rights activists.
This was an inspirational shoot for me. I had interacted with almost all of them for assignments before. So they knew I want to focus on their inner strength and beauty through my lens.

The very definition of womanhood has changed for me
I have a daughter. I couldn’t sleep at night after
meeting Chanchal for the first time. After meeting those survivors I realised what is inner strength and mental power. For me the very definition of womanhood has changed after knowing them. I am grateful to Ritu and Chanchal that they allowed me to pose with them.

It is illegal to stock acid, hope the shopkeepers know that

I refuse to call them victims they are survivors for me. It is important to spread awareness about how
harmful commonly available acid is. Shopkeepers need to be made aware that it is no longer legal to stock these in their stores without a license.

Why can’t we employ an acid-attack survivor?

acid 5 Rupa

Rupa is designing clothes and setting up a boutique

As for the survivors, one should know that they need to be treated with as much dignity as the next physically fit person. They are sometimes turned away from jobs that require direct client-dealing, as employers feel it will discourage customers. That needs to change. It is the attackers who should be denied opportunities and be sent away
for reformation, not those who are attacked. Any help has to begin with acceptance. It makes me immensely happy to know Rupa has become a dress designer and Ritu is helping her and Chanchal plans to go back to college. This cafe that they have started is a very positive step and I wish them all the success.

Monetary help is important

Surgeries required by acid attack survivors is very expensive and they need stringent post-operative care. Raising funds for their surgeries can be another way of helping them. Right now, there is no institutional framework to provide acid attack survivors with psychological counseling and monetary help from the state can only go so far. Rs 3 lakhs given by the government is nothing for the treatments they have to go through.

In our entire life we probably haven’t met one of them, and chances are we never would, but as soon the word “Devadasi” is mentioned to us our mind gets transported to the era of the Maharajas, to the Nat Mandir (dance hall of the temple) where a beautiful woman, resplendent in gold is dancing in front of God, in a classical dance style Odissi or Bharathanatyam.

Devadasis in ancient India

Devadasis in ancient India

But the adult and the enlightened mind knows that behind this beautiful picture is also the picture of a young girl sacrificed to the service of God, shackled to a life of sexual exploitation that throws her into a vicious cycle of social manipulation where a Davadasi’s daughter has to become a servant of God.

In fact, this post that I am writing today is about a few Devadasis in Karnataka who refused to continue to dance to the tune of Goddess Yellamma, to whose service they were dedicated at the age of six or seven. They wanted a way out of the system and send their children to school and its people like you and me who have shown them the way.

When the NGO Milaap – you must have noticed them appearing in pop ups in numerous websites asking you to loan (mind it not donate) Rs 2500, to someone who needs it to change his or her life – claimed they have been helping Devadasis find a new future I wanted to know more. I came to know Milaap has joined hands with Mahila Abhivrudhimathu Samrakshana Samsthe (MASS) a collective of former Devadasis, and has been giving out loans to Devadasis to build a life for themselves.

I wrote to Sourabh Sharma, founder of Milaap.org and wanted to know real stories. Sourabh immediately got back with the relevant information. I realized the success stories are heart-warming and what is more fascinating is so many people have played a part in these success stories just by lending a part of their own income to the people who need it more.

A former Devadasi herself, Mahananda has employed four former Devadasis in her sewing business

A former Devadasi herself, Mahananda has employed four former Devadasis in her sewing business

Success story 1: Mahananda

This 34-year-old woman now employs four former Devadasis in her sewing enterprise. Her younger daughter studies in class eight, and plans to pursue a career in science. “Girls should prosper. I have painstakingly brought my daughters up so that they are able to live a good life and I want to see them prosper,” she says.

Shobha could not find employment for years till she started on her own, raising buffalos and selling milk

Shobha could not find employment for years till she started on her own, raising buffaloes and selling milk

Success Story 2: Shobha

Every year she made a promise to herself that she would find some job to earn a legitimate living but every year she realized no one was willing to employ a Devadasi. Every year she went back to selling her body but she was determined none of her four children would see the life she had seen.

So Shobha registered for help from MASS and Milaap and learned to raise buffaloes and sell their milk. She applied for a loan, and used the money to buy a buffalo. She saved, repaid her loan, and requested another. She bought more buffaloes, earned more. Today, she is securely out of the Devadasi system and her children are in school.

After Mangal's grocery store took off she got a marriage proposal which she accepted

After Mangal’s grocery store took off she got a marriage proposal which she accepted

Success Story 3: Mangal

Mangal’s success with her grocery store not only gave her and her teenage children a new life of dignity – it also got her a husband (given that no one marries Devadasis). They have a child together. And Mangal, who realized the importance of financial independence, continues to grow her business.

Here’s what I found out about the Devadasi system:

Does the Devadasi system still exist?

Although states like Orissa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka claim that they have done away with the Devadasi system, Karnataka even passed the Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act in 1992 the National Commission of Women found out that Andhra Pradesh had 16,624 Devadasis within its state and Karnataka has around 22,941.

Mala took her first leap out of the Devadasi system when she opened her pan shop

Mala took her first leap out of the Devadasi system when she opened her pan shop

Who is a modern-day Devadasi?

French-American author Catherine Rubin Kermorgant spent four years researching among Devadasi women in Karnataka. She interviewed five women and wrote her book Servants of the Goddess: the modern-day Devadasis.

In her book she mentions Ganga who was dedicated to the Goddess because her father had promised to do so if her mother recovered from a serious ailment. Her mother recovered and she was made into a Devadasi – one woman’s life was finished to save another’s.

Although dedications are banned now but these are still carried out surreptitiously as the girl is bathed in neem and turmeric and taken before God and told about her duties which includes never retaliating to abuse and “giving shelter to strangers”.

Ganga further said, “Some landlords consider it a matter of prestige to deflower as many young girls as possible. In Mumbai, virgin Devadasis fetch a high price. By deflowering a Devadasi, a man can cure himself of disease. He can purify himself. If the goddess wills it, then it is possible.”

“And what about AIDS?” Catherine had asked
“It is said you can get rid of it by giving it to a client,” Ganga said.

The National Commission of Women say that women still become Devadasis because of dumbness, deafness and poverty. Women who are deserted by their husbands, widowed, or living with AIDS dedicate their children as Devadasis when they find it difficult to get them married. They subsist on the money that their daughter earns. In fact, most Devadasis now hail from poor families and are responsible for earning for the entire family.

So far the life expectancy of a Devadasi has been low. She usually does not live beyond 50.

And even if she get’s out of the system it’s hard to make two ends meet and lead a good life. Read Ratnamma’s story.

Kallava became a Devadasi at six, gave birth to three children in her late 40s and now pays her children's school fees from her goat rearing buisness

Kallava became a Devadasi at six, gave birth to three children in her late 40s and now pays her children’s school fees from her goat rearing business

 

Former Devadasi Kasturi is in the textiles business

Former Devadasi Kasturi is in the textiles business

If you want to help another Devadasi to break free from the oppressive system go to www.milaap.org and give a loan. You will get your money back along with the satisfaction that you have changed somebody’s life.

If women are expected to dress decently in Kolkata men should be expected to do the same

If women are expected to follow a dress code in Kolkata men should too

Bidhannagar Police recently came up with tips to keep women safe in Kolkata, but they were criticized for being regressive and sexist. I think it is perfectly fine for the police to come up with tips for women to follow to ensure their own safety but the same ones should apply to men also. I have interpreted the same 12 tips for men and here it is….

1. Dress decently: Men should avoid wearing those sleeveless Ts with their underarms screaming for a shave, avoid those micro under wears while taking a bath openly right on the main road at community tube wells and avoid those lungis …about which the lesser said the better.

2. Have emergency speed dial numbers in your phone…so that you can be a real man and help people if they are in a difficult situation and not walk away thinking it’s none of your business.

3. Self defense…yes, more precisely martial arts. Learn the values of honouring women and protecting the weak and poor that these art forms stand for.

4. Be aware of people around you…and not keep scratching your crotch in public or urinate in public places, smoke on people’s faces, use the choicest expletives while conversing loudly in a public place with friends or over your mobile, huddle together in front of “FL Liquor” shops and drink openly.

5. Avoid late nights…this is a must. Inebriated men, motorbike gangs, men on the prowl, should retire to bed early.

6. Carry pepper spray...then you will be aware of the fear and the desperation that drives a woman to carry a spray.

7. Be well behaved… ensure that you do not stare at the breasts and bums of every passing woman, don’t pass comments and cat calls, don’t attempt rape, molest or commit rape.

8. Stay in groups…Grouping sensitized men with insensitive ones will help in halting moral degeneration. Ensure you stay with such groups.

9. Avoid travelling in crowded buses or trains…because this way you get into a situation when you can’t keep a check on your libido and your hands start wandering around. Avoid it.

10. Avoid going to isolated places…once again if you spot a lone woman in an isolated place your urge to show your power and manhood might get the better of you.

11. Walk in well-lit and frequented areas…this way people can see you and you can keep your animal instincts under check.

12. Be street smart…Urban dictionary interprets street smart as: “A person who has a lot of common sense and knows  what’s going on in the world. This person knows what every type of person has to deal with daily and understands all groups of people and how to act around them. This person also knows all the current things going on in the streets and knows how to make his own right decisions, knows how to deal with different situations and has his own independent state of mind.” Every man should be this.

 (This post is not meant to generalise men in Kolkata but it has been written to make a point.)

Salman Khan (photograph from the internet)

Salman Khan (photograph from the internet)

Controversy’s favourite child Salman Khan has done it again. This time he has rubbed the media the wrong way. At the promotion of his film Kick, his bouncers roughed up a few photographers while Salman added insult to injury saying that those who wanted to stay back, could do so and the rest could carry on (read details http://www.ibtimes.co.in/after-shraddha-kapoor-photographers-boycott-salman-khan-kick-actor-says-he-respect-their-604409)

While the photographers have come together and put a ban on clicking this Khan till July 25, the date of release of his film, many Khan friends and associates are putting the blame on them for being too aggressive and high-handed.

While reading this report my interaction with Salman Khan in 2009 came to my mind. He had come to Dubai to promote his film London Dreams. He was supposed to make a late night entry and the PR who was coordinating with us accordingly, even told us that we might have to hop in to his hotel as late as 11pm or even midnight. Salman never arrived and the PR stopped taking calls.

A couple of days later another PR informed us that he would meet the press at Grand Hyatt at a more reasonable time, 12noon, and he was willing to give one-on-one interviews. When I arrived, we were told that he was running late so all journalists were asked to gather together as an informal press conference.

I was particularly keen to meet Salman because most of my journo friends said that he was a delight to interview. One even went on to say that in the explosive quotes department, Salman might just take second place to Rakhi Sawant if he was in the right mood.

I was disappointed that there would be no one-on-one interaction, but I was more than happy to see that I had been given a chair just next to Salman’s empty one.

I always thought among the Khans, Salman was the only one who had really shaped up like good wine – he had become more handsome with age, more entertaining, a better dancer and a better person, considering that when he broke up with Aishwarya he went and broke down her apartment door and then when he broke up with Katrina he let her have a life with Ranbir…or whoever…minus the threats and the persecution from him.

I had really started liking his Being Human endeavours and wanted to ask him a host of questions on that.

Salman entered the room, looking as handsome as ever, his long hair tied back with a hair band – a fashion statement not many people could carry off. He came and sat next to me. Then my troubles started.

Salman lit a cigarette. I was three months pregnant then but wasn’t showing or hadn’t broken the news to my other journo friends present there. And I felt odd breaking the news like that in order to stop Salman Khan from smoking. So I started thinking quickly.

I told him, “I am acutely allergic to cigarette smoke. Can you please not smoke?”

Salman did not say a word but kept looking at me unapologetically as he took another drag from the cigarette.

My mind was racing. I thought that just for sitting next to Salman Khan I could not expose my unborn to cigarette smoke. I quickly got up and told him that I needed to sit far away from him. He just shrugged.

I found a place at the farthest corner of the room. I shouted my questions from there and he shouted back his answers. I even managed to snap him out of his disinterested mood by asking questions on Being Human, the only thing he was ready to talk about apart from London Dreams of course.

Later on I thought would Salman have stopped smoking if I had told him that I was pregnant? I have my doubts. Because allergy to cigarette smoke is a grave enough reason to make anyone stop smoking. In fact, it’s basic human courtesy to stop smoking if anyone says he/she finds it uncomfortable to inhale cigarette smoke for health reasons. I feel this basic courtesy applies to film stars also. And I have met many stars who are actually courteous enough to ask, “Can I smoke?” before they light up.

But Salman treated me with the same attitude he extended towards the photographers at the Mumbai event – stay if you want to, go if you want to. I came back with a very bitter taste in my mouth but I was happy I could take my stand, not expose my baby to the smoke toxins and get my job done, get the interview that is.

PS: It’s another matter that my 4-year-old son is now a big Salman Khan fan.

 

A beautiful short story by fellow blogger Fiza…

insaneowl

Kasha: The love of a Hijra

by Fiza Pathan

DIGITAL CAMERA

My name is Lily and I am a Hijra belonging to the Hijra or the eunuch community of Mumbai. My Guru baptized me with this name after my operation, when my private parts were chopped off from my body infront of all my Hijra friends and elders, as a sign that now I had become one of them. My Guru named me Lily, for she felt that I was as pure as a lily flower and because I spread the fragrance of my love all through the shambles of the shanty in which we resided in.

After my operation I started to wear a sari like a woman. My Guru taught me the body language of a Hijra, and after a few months, I was acting like a regular Hijra. I would spend my morning and afternoon at signal stops begging…

View original post 2,059 more words

Picture from the internet

Picture from the internet

This post is a follow up of my earlier post Framed by wife, tortured by cops, threatened with sodomy by HIV+ prisoners – did he survive? which is a first person account of Aarav, who landed up in jail because his wife filed a case of domestic violence against him under Section 498A, IPC.

Aarav was jailed for 14 days pending investigation at the Alipore Central Jail, Kolkata, which Aarav claims was one of the highest days served by anyone behind bars in a case like this.Before that, for one day and one night he was at the police station.

Aarav said:

The worst thing was since I was jailed people around me believed that I had been actually hitting my wife. In our society people pass their judgment on you long before the courts do. Even if they didn’t say it on my face I knew it was always on their mind. Dealing with this stigma was really harrowing.

 

  • The 498A case dragged on for six years. The case was lodged at a police station in the suburbs of Kolkata. I had at least one appearance in the court every two months. I had got a job in Delhi and had moved there.  Every two months I came all the way from Delhi to appear in court. I did that for six years.
  • They also filed a case for alimony and litigation costs etc at the Alipore Court. This was in addition to the case of 498A. This also dragged on for six years and I had to keep a separate lawyer for this.
  • She had good local contacts and got help from them but fighting the case from Delhi proved to be double hard for me.
  • The 498A case went on for such a long time because every time I just had to file a hazira (mark my presence in court) nobody from the other side would be there. I remember that during the fifth year when nobody came to the court she was summoned by the court. When she didn’t respond to the court summons, a court warrant was issued. It was withdrawn later when she promised to appear in court.
  • The real clincher was the case of compensation and alimony, litigation costs. The lower Alipore Court contended that since she was an earning lady, I needed to give her a one-time payment of Rs 15,000 only. I didn’t understand why I needed to give her any payment when she earned more than me and we both had ill parents to look after.
  • My lawyer argued the case at the Calcutta High Court. It ruled in my favour and set aside the earlier court order. It ruled that I need not pay any money to her.
  • The moment it became clear that there would not be any monetary benefit, a few months later her father met me at the court and offered to withdraw the case, but on one condition, I had to withdraw the case too.
  • Criminal cases cannot be withdrawn. So she was cross examined at the court where she admitted that I had not hit her and that I was innocent. This is on record in front of the magistrate.
  • The court passed an order that I am innocent and that there was not an “iota of proof against me”. It also commented that it was wrong on the police’s part to put me in jail without valid proof.
  • The policemen who had hit me have now been transferred to remote areas of Bengal.
  • The Alipore Court, after the High Court ruling which settled the financial issues, granted us a divorce too.

 

prison

Picture from the internet

Rape, molestation, domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace – women have finally come forward to tell their stories. But some stories are never told. Not many men would discuss how their wives harassed them, how they were slapped with the wife-beater tag for no fault of theirs, and how they had to fight the stigma of being jailed for something they hadn’t done. Misuse of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, which is meant to protect a woman from cruelty by her husband and relatives, have landed so many innocent men in trouble that 498A has been branded as a section used for “legal terrorism”.

Aarav (not his real name) agreed to speak about what he went through. He had no issues giving his name and picture for this blog but that would mean giving away his ex-wife’s identity, something he didn’t want.

Aarav’s story is spine-chilling. He was like any of us, holding a well-paying 9-5 job, had his share of differences of opinion with his wife but never thought they would part ways and never thought that his life would turn topsy-turvy on a dark, rainy evening.

Over to Aarav:

No food for two days
 Those eyes….I still remember them

I still remember his eyes. They were very dull if you looked at them. But there was a strange sparkle in those pupils, something that you would never miss.

So far as I remember, his name was Sanatan. I really felt scared when I saw him watching me at first — when I was huddled in a corner along with thugs, rapists, thieves and killers. I saw him watching me when these people were running their hands all over my body trying to figure out if I had any money hidden anywhere in my clothes. Some would squeeze my private part hard and look at me for a possible reaction. I had none. I hadn’t eaten for two days and I was not allowed water more than two times a day for the past two days.

A drastic thing happened
I was in a daze and unable to react. My body was aching. All I remembered was that it was raining heavily. It was a typically heavy rainy day in Kolkata with gusts of cold wind.

I was having a drink with a colleague — who was trying to calm me down after I had screamed at a management trainee for doing a job wrong. It was always the case. I ended up losing my cool if I saw irresponsible behaviour at the workplace. He was telling me unless something drastic happened to me, it would not change me as a person.

That ‘drastic thing’ was about to happen.

I was comfortably high after three large pegs. It started raining harder. The night was amazingly dark. I was missing my wife as usual. We had fought that morning and she had left for work in a huff. I didn’t know when I returned if she’d be home or she would still be at work.

As I came out of the pub, three burly, dark, striking looking men stopped me. I looked up at them. There were three vehicles standing in front of me. A white ambassador, a white Tata Sumo and a khaki police jeep.

The man asked me my name. He asked my dad’s name. And then my wife’s name.

I took offence to the last question. I tried to avoid a fight and just walked past them. My colleague had already started his car. As I stepped forward to walk towards his car, one man grabbed my collar and I felt something sticking to the back of my waist— it was a gun.

Then the beating started
They were cops. I remember how I was pushed and shoved inside a Tata Sumo. How it hurt when they started hitting me with their fists. They were asking all the while whether I used to beat up my wife the same way. They tore open my shirt and took my mobile away.

They told me that I had asked for dowry from my wife. They wanted to know the amount of money that I had asked from my father-in-law as dowry.

I tried to tell them that they were making a mistake. They hit me even more. The blows were specifically aimed at my back, waist and shoulders. Each time they would beat me, I would gasp for breath. It seemed the world would come crashing down on me.

The ordeal went on for about two hours. By that time, we had crossed the borders of the city and the vehicle stopped at a non-descript police outpost. They were supposed to ‘hide’ me there.

The guy who was beating me up had J as his initials, you can call him Jayen, that’s his pet name. Jayen was a tall policeman, about six feet, with a protruding gut and a thick moustache. Jayen was stark drunk and he was beating me up almost mechanically…he did that every day.

It was time to sign some papers. I didn’t want to.

They played statue
I was asked to sit on a bench. I asked Jayen and his colleagues whether I could go to the washroom. They said unless I signed the papers I woudn’t be allowed to move.

I didn’t understand them at first. ‘Don’t move’ in their terms meant DON’T MOVE. You can’t move a single limb. Not even tilt your head from side-to-side. Try doing that for 10 minutes. You will understand what I mean.

After an hour of playing ‘statue’, I made my first move. I had to. I was almost losing my consciousness, I was almost peeing in my pants and my lungs were dying to scream out.

‘Sorry you are not allowed to talk. Be still’— Jayen’s dark burly stinky colleague said. Jayen had left by then.

I was sitting straight for about three hours and I wanted to sleep. It was about four in the morning and I wanted to sleep.

I signed all the papers.

The cop behind me kicked me on my face as soon as I finished signing the last paper. He started mocking me as if he would kick my abdomen— he said that would make me pee in my pants.

Fear of HIV
The eyes still haunt me. It was Sanatan who had actually saved my life. He was the guy who came to me in the prison van and told me that I should not try to sleep…anywhere….

If any of the prisoners got to sodomise me, then I might contract HIV, he said. I must not sleep at any cost.

“Just keep your eyes open. Do whatever you want. Hit yourself…but stay awake. Don’t let those people take your a**.”

Sanatan was using very coarse Bengali which was difficult for me to follow. But I understood what he meant.

He then patted my back and said “Khub Koshto Hochhe?”

I didn’t cry but….

Sanatan’s story
Let me tell you Sanatan’s story now.

Sanatan’s wife committed suicide when he had gone to man his shop. His wife, Sanatan said, couldn’t digest the fact that he was developing a fondness for her sister. Sanatan said he was falling in love with his sister-in-law and he kissed her once.

Sanatan said God punished him for that kiss.

His wife committed suicide. She slit the vein on her wrist and jumped into the nearby pond. The police booked him for harassing his wife for dowry and driving her to death. Charged under ‘Abetment to suicide’ meant Sanatan would not have got bail from the court. The ‘wife torture’ law ensured that Sanatan would be in jail for at least a month. Without trial, without investigations, without any evidence — it is the only law under the IPC that says you are guilty until you are proven innocent.

Sanatan told me that I had been charged under the same clause and I should be prepared to wait for a while before I am set free.

He said when you are in jail….you should try to save yourself. It’s the survival of the toughest. The toughest bodies survive. Also, the toughest minds.

I didn’t cry.

One arm was pulled out from the shoulder joint
Back in the police station, I didn’t cry at all. The mocks and the jeers hardly made a difference. I got to pee and I was feeling very sleepy.

They let me sleep. And even showed me a bench where I was supposed to sleep.

I had slept. But a kick on my back woke me up.

I found that a rubber rod was continuously hitting me on my ankles. As I shrieked out in pain, one of the cops caught hold of my right hand and turned it from the shoulder.

Before I could scream, my shoulder had become numb. The pain was hitting me in my spine. I later understood that he had pulled my hand out of the shoulder joint. That is why it didn’t hurt there and immediately became numb. It pained terribly near the neck and spinal cord.

I can’t describe the pain. But it had one good thing about it – it was so overwhelming that it didn’t let me think about anything else.

They stuffed some dirty handkerchiefs into my mouth. They put some gunny bags on my back. They then turned me around and started hitting me on my back.

The blows rained on the gunny bags which meant that I never had a spot on my body. I felt a similar pain along my tummy.

I learnt later on that it was a hairline fracture on the last bone of my rib-cage. Five minutes of that beating seemed like five years. My senses became numb. But it was okay. I didn’t cry.

I remember a sentence but.

Rs 5000 each for the beatings
One of the guys beating me up said that they had each been paid Rs 5,000 to beat me up. They had a ‘party’ before they decided to go ahead and arrest me.

They said that it was their responsibility to beat me up since they had taken the money.

They asked me when did my wife die?

I said that she was in sound health and had gone to office that day.

They said, “Which office?”

I said the name of the company…

They had stopped beating me by then. Then they asked the constable to bring the ‘complaint book’.

They went somewhere for 10 minutes.

I guess they thought I was somebody else.

I was lifted up from the ground and placed on a wooden bench. They put some files under my head. Those files were pillows.

Tablets for pain management
I found that I had peed again in my pants. The pain was so overwhelming that it didn’t make a difference.

But now, the problem was: They stopped beating me. They even adjusted my arm back into the shoulder socket. As I screamed in pain, they offered me some chai.

They gave a handful of tablets and told me to gulp them down — they said I would feel better.

I didn’t.

The tears came
I did cry finally, in front of Sanatan, a day later inside the central jail. It was a day when they had placed a bowl of rice in front of me. Just rice and something that they called dal.

My lips and tongue burned as the dal touched my lips, probably because it had too much chilli in it. But that let me cry. I watched myself in amazement as tears rolled down my cheeks.

The medical examination said that there are no ‘visible signs of torture on my body’. But I could barely speak, couldn’t move my hands and found it difficult to sit.

But I cried.

It was a strange cry. There were no sounds, only tears rolling down my cheeks.

I knew I had survived.

But there was more to come…

 

(What happened to Aarav? Could he get out of jail? Could he prove his innocence? Read this post

Actress Sudipta Chakraborty turned reporter to interview voters before the Loksabha elections

Actress Sudipta Chakraborty turned reporter to interview voters before the Loksabha elections

Sudiptaa Chakraborty might be a National Award winning actress (Best Supporting actress for Rituparno Ghosh’s Bariwali) and one of the most well-known faces in West Bengal’s film and television industry, but there is a side to her which I have always admired and liked immensely. Sudiptaa is the kind who gets away by speaking her mind all the time and is absolutely clued in about what’s happening around her. So I was not surprised when I found Sudiptaa anchoring the television show Tarokar Chokhey Taroka Kendro (Star constituency through a star’s eyes) on ABP Ananda.

For the programme, Sudiptaa turned reporter and travelled with her boom to constituencies like Midnapore, Dakkhin (South) Kolkata and Tamluk. She travelled to Midnapore town, Kharagpur and different villages of East Midnapore. For Dakkhin Kolkata, she covered Rashbehari Avenue, Behala, Kolkata Port Area (Kidderpore dock), Parnasree, Bhowanipore and Hazra area. For Tamluk she travelled to Tamluk township, Haldia and other villages.

She has come back with a treasure trove of experiences. She shares it all in this blog. Read on, it’s indeed an eye opener….

“Many villagers have no clue that the elections are here”

A large number of people in the villages, mostly women, are not really aware of who all are contesting from their respective constituencies, what this election is for, what the difference is between an assembly election and parliament election and all that.  I have even met a number of people who actually have no clue that elections are at their doorstep.

“Bengal has no major issue”

With my limited knowledge gathered on this tour, all I can say is there is no big issue in Bengal. All that a common Bengali wants is a peaceful life with a decent job, a full stomach and a roof over his/her head. More than 80% voters of Bengal demand nothing more than that. It sounds crazy, yet it is true.

“Most people have no time to think about women’s issues”

Educated lot is really concerned about it. The rest have no time to think over it. They devote the entire day to earn their bread.

This lady fetching fish eggs in chest-deep water told Sudipta her election demand is a big utensil

This lady fetching fish eggs in chest-deep water told Sudiptaa her election demand is a big utensil

“One woman demanded a big utensil”

I met a woman near Haldia, who earns her living by collecting fish eggs from the river. She spoke to me with a wide smile while standing in chest-deep water. She earns Rs 150 -200 per day. She doesn’t have electricity in her home. She spoke her heart out to me and in the end all she demanded was a big utensil (ekta boro handi), in which she could accommodate maximum number of fish eggs each time she went down in the water. She was amazing. I still can’t forget her unconditional smiling face despite the toil she has to do every day to earn Rs 150.

“There isn’t a single commoner happy with a politician”

The party workers are happy for obvious reasons. But barring them, I didn’t meet a single commoner who sounded happy with the politicians. From Midnapore to Kolkata, from a village to a city, only one sentence echoed in my ears, “Vote er aage shobai eshe onek boro boro katha bole, vote chole gele aar tader khuje paoa jaye na.” (They all come before elections and promise big but after elections you can’t find them.)

“This experience has made me a more conscious citizen”

Facing the truth on the ground has made me more conscious as a citizen and as an actress as well. This experience has enriched me as a human being and I am sure it will reflect in my future projects.

 

 

 

Smit Agasti is a Class IX student of Abhinav Bharti High School

Smit Agasti is a Class IX student of Abhinav Bharti High School

It was just another normal day for Smit Agasti, a Class IX student of Abhinav Bharti High School as he boarded a bus from Central Avenue to attend his computer classes on Camac Street.

He spotted a gentleman in mid 30s dressed in a formal shirt and trouser, smoking inside the bus. Smit told himself that he could not just sit there and keep watching the other person smoke.

“I told him that he should not be smoking in the bus” said Smit.“But he behaved that he had not heard me.”

Smit told him again and this time the man reacted.

“The gentleman started using the choicest slangs and started abusing me. He even said, ‘Tor baaper paisaye cigarette khacchi?’ (Am I smoking with your father’s money?),” said Smit.

“I was a bit unnerved by his viciousness but managed to keep my cool. The conductor and a few other passengers supported me but most of the passengers didn’t seem to care.”

Smit continued to persuade the gentleman not to smoke till it came to a point when he started openly threatening him. “He said he would take me to the police if I didn’t stop. But actually I should have told him that because what he was doing was illegal. Smoking in public places is banned in India.”

(Smoking in public places in India was prohibited nationwide from October 2, 2008 under the Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rules, 2008 and COTPA. The nationwide smoke-free law pertains only to public places. Places where smoking is restricted include auditoriums, cinemas, hospitals, public transport (aircraft, buses, trains, metros, monorails, taxis and their related facilities (airports, bus stands/stations, railway stations), restaurants, hotels, bars, pubs, amusement centres, offices (government and private), libraries, courts, post offices, markets, shopping malls, canteens, refreshment rooms, banquet halls, discothèques, coffee houses, educational institutions and parks.)

It was clear that Smit’s words were having no impact on the man and many of the passengers, instead of supporting him, looked at him like he was wasting his time. “The man kept threatening me. He was so angry I thought he would beat me up. I was scared inside but put up a brave front. My stop came and I got off.”

After this experience, I asked Smit if he would again raise his voice if he saw someone smoking in a public place? “I would. One bad experience can’t stop me,” said the 14-year-old.

Smit has been inspired by actor Bobby Chakraborty’s anti-addiction campaign I Am The King Of My Mind and has been in regular touch with the actor since he visited his school in January this year. “As Bobbyda is inspiring thousands of school children, if I can inspire 10 people I will feel good about it.”

Actor Bobby Chakraborty has taken his anti-addiction campaign to schools in West Bengal and has inspired young minds

Actor Bobby Chakraborty has taken his anti-addiction campaign to schools in West Bengal and has inspired young minds

Although the youngster has not fared too well while convincing adults – “they always say things like if I don’t smoke I can’t go to the bathroom or my stress would not be under control” – but when it comes to his peers his success rate has been higher. “I had a friend who used to smoke. I calculated and showed him that he would be able to save so much more money and have more fun if he quit smoking. He listened to me and now we hang out together at the movies and the mall.”

Smit’s mother supports her son whole-heartedly. “My mother encourages me to save my pocket money and buy chocolates and goodies for the slum children or the inmates of an old age home.”

“On a trip to Siliguri I saw this man shivering in the cold without any warm clothes at Sealdah station. When I expressed my desire to help him out, my grandfather took out his own sweater from the suitcase and asked me to hand it over to him, which I did. My family is always with me in my endeavours,” said Smit.

Smit is not alone for there are many teenagers like him who are silently doing small things and making a big difference. They only need more support from us adults.