Posts Tagged ‘West Bengal’

Picture taken from internet

Picture taken from internet

At a time when Indian men are making headlines for all the wrong reasons, this story comes as a breath of fresh air – reinforcing the fact that there are more good men in this world than bad. This story is about four men, who went out of their way to make a difference in a woman’s life.

This story takes off when a few months back my close friend from South Point School, Joydeep Sengupta, who works at CESC and lives in Kolkata, was running his last check on Facebook before he retired to bed. A status update drew his attention.

Joydeep Sengupta didn't have Samrajni's address. He just knew he had to stop her.

Joydeep Sengupta didn’t have Samrajni’s address. He just knew he had to stop her from committing suicide

From here I am penning the story in Joydeep’s own words:

“Her message on FB said she wanted to end her life that night”

10.30pm

I had joined a group of like-minded people on FB. Few I knew in this group, most I didn’t and some I had met at a get-together organised by the group. Now the status that was in front of me was written by a lady named Samrajni Sengupta, who belonged to the same group. The update on her Timeline said she wanted to end her life that night because she didn’t find life worth living. I was in shock. I had met her just once at the get-together and knew from a common friend that she was having some issues in her marriage. Beyond that I didn’t know anything.

Within seconds other people had seen the message too and we started talking in the group wall, although there was no way of reaching out to her because she had logged out.

“I didn’t know where she lived but I left home to find her”

11pm

Once I recovered from my shock, I decided that I could not sit back at home and do nothing about it. I had to try and stop her. People in our group could tell vaguely that she lived in Garia, located in the southern fringes of Kolkata, but beyond that no information was available. Another member of our group, Sourav Sarkar, who works as a crew member in Air India International and lives in Behala like me, wanted to join me too. We managed to hail a cab and left for Garia.

Sourav Sarkar joined Joydeep in his mission to find Samrajni

Sourav Sarkar joined Joydeep in his mission to find Samrajni

“We wandered aimlessly on the streets as the minutes ticked by

12am

Let alone an address, we didn’t even know a proper landmark near her house. We just had the belief that we had to stop her, somehow. Standing in the middle of the road in the middle of the night, we were not willing to give up hope. Nor were at least 30 people from our group, not only from Kolkata, but even the US and other parts of India, who were all logged in and were desperately trying to use their networks to find someone, who could give her address. Finally, Somnath Chowdhury, a law graduate, who lives in Baranagar, and belongs to our group, said that one day he was travelling with Samrajni in the bus and she pointed at an apartment building and told him it was her home. He vaguely remembered where it was and could guide us.

“Monali Sengupta woke up her husband and told him to help us out

1am

While Somnath was on the phone describing landmarks to us and we were trying to follow his directions, the exasperation was building up. We were really worried that we might have lost all the time in our search and wouldn’t be successful in our mission. On top of that there was nobody on the road to ask for directions and all the gates of the apartment buildings were locked.

Meanwhile, Monali Sengupta, mother of a one-year-old, who lives in the same area, was awake and was just browsing through FB when she chanced upon our exchanges on the wall. She didn’t know any of us, just saw a connection through a common friend, but she woke up her husband Sayan Sengupta and told him to call me. My number was on the wall by then. She felt that since her husband knew the area well, he might be able to help in the search. At 1am Sayan came down from his apartment and joined us but we failed to find the building despite his help and Somnath’s directions.

Sayan Sengupta did not know any of them but joined them in the search

Sayan Sengupta did not know any of them but joined them in the search

“Somnath travelled an hour to join us”

2am

After trying so hard I wasn’t ready to live with the fact that I wasn’t successful in reaching Samrajni. Both Saurav and Somnath agreed with me. That is why Somnath decided to come down from Baranagar – which is located in north Kolkata and is more than an hour’s journey from Garia – to join us. He was sure if he was in the area he would be able to recognize the apartment building.

“At 2am Sayan took two unknown men home”

2.30am

Sayan didn’t want us to stand on the road and wait for Somnath, so he took us home. The fact that he did not know us at all, and that it was 2am, did not make any difference to him or his wife Monali. Sitting in their house, we all hoped and prayed together that we would be able to save Samrajni.

“We jumped over the wall of the apartment building to reach the watchman’s room”

3.30am

Somnath came and he managed to point out the building to us. We had no option but to jump over the wall in order to reach the watchman’s room. We woke him up and asked him if Samrajni Sengupta lived in the building. Initially he wasn’t sure who we were, but sensing our urgency and proper intent said he would take us to her apartment.

Somnath Chowdhury travelled for an hour in the middle of the night to ensure Samrajni was safe

Somnath Chowdhury travelled for an hour in the middle of the night to ensure Samrajni was safe

“We were not sure if we were too late”

4am

Samrajni’s father opened the door and was shocked to see the three of us – Saurav, Somnath and I standing there. We told him to call Samrajni without asking any further questions. He said she was sleeping with her door closed. I felt a knot in my stomach and a cold sweat. Were we too late? He knocked on her door and our heart was racing. She finally opened. We were almost jumping with joy seeing her alive. When we told her why we had come she just couldn’t believe it.

SAMRAJNI SENGUPTA tells her story:

“These guys came as messiahs and taught me to think anew”

I was in severe depression due to the situation I was in and had developed a suicidal tendency. I started feeling that if I ended my life all my problems would come to an end. After writing on FB that I would end my life that night I had started making the preparations for doing so. My mother, who had been keeping a close watch on me, sensed my intent and insisted on sleeping with me that night. I remember I kept crying and my mother consoled me and tried to put sense into my head. She stroked my forehead till I fell asleep at around 4am. Then father woke us up.

I was so groggy I couldn’t understand why Joydeep, Sourav and Somnath had come. When they told me I felt like they had come like a new morning in my life. I had reached the lowest point of my self confidence and felt the world was full of horrible people and bad things kept happening to me all the time. Their efforts and those of all the people, who stayed glued to FB to make sure that I was safe, made me believe that there is good in this world.

I am a 38-year-old divorcee with a 12-year-old son, who studies in a good boarding school in Kolkata. I did not take any alimony from my husband because it hurt my pride. I met this other gentleman on Facebook, who is in his early 50s and he wanted to marry me. We had a registration marriage and soon he took me to Dubai, where he works and lives, on a resident visa. There my nightmare started. He lived in a 10X10 single room, expected me to do all the housework and he turned into a pervert and sadist the moment he came home from work. He beat me up at the slightest opportunity. Once he even broke my arm and took me to a doctor a month later when I was screaming in pain. He constantly threatened to kill me and if I raised my voice, his brutality increased. I didn’t know anyone in Dubai and I couldn’t figure out where I could go for help. I just wanted to escape from his clutches. So when he agreed to buy me tickets to see my parents I found my escape. When I did not return he kept calling me and harassing me over the phone and he even told my parents that they were actually doing “business” through me.

I was also facing acute financial woes and did not have enough money to file a divorce suit against him. I thought death would rescue me from this mess.

But these guys came as messiahs and taught me to think anew. I have never thought of suicide after that night. I know no matter what, I will have to live for my son. Now I know these wonderful people are there to support me if I need them. I am not alone in my fight anymore.

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My ex-colleague Sarah Salvadore is just livid at NCW chairperson Mamta Sharma’s advice to women to dress carefully.  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/people/A-provocatively-dressed-woman-an-easy-prey/articleshow/15043860.cms

She wrote on her FB status: The NCW wants women to “dress carefully”, this coming from a commission that revealed the identity of the Guwahati victim. Ladies, we are better off without a commission for women, which is absolutely toothless and sexist.

I would rather go by what Sarah says and not some chairperson of NCW, who, it is very clear, is living back in time. Because I know for a fact Sarah is speaking from experience. She has actually worked as an undercover reporter in Times Of India, Kolkata and exposed how risky the city can be for a woman.

 Sarah had posed as a girl, whose delayed train arrival at Howrah Station had put her in a spot late in the night, because she didn’t know where to find a hotel. She was taken to the seediest hotels by a taxi driver, taken to the darkest corner of Metiabruz and told it was Park Street. She was subjected to perverse scrutiny by lobby managers and waiters who were hoping to bait the fish (and then do what, God only knows). Well! Sarah was dressed decently but her only crime was, her train had arrived late and she didn’t know the city well – a situation that any woman, non-pubbing and non-spaghetti-strap flaunting kinds – can get into, unless of course Mamta Sharma (strange how it’s Mamta every time) doesn’t approve of a woman travelling alone.

Is it really about clothes?

Anyway, clothes have nothing to do with sexual assault, it has been proved the world over, it’s high-time the NCW shed such archaic beliefs.

I am, like so many women out there, really confused about what’s exactly decent dressing though. Because if you are talking about a saree, I have often worn them to college on a cramped public bus and the hands got frenetic on my bare skin on the back. Now I cannot see myself putting on anything but an airhostess-cut blouse (it covers the back completely) whenever I wear a saree.

If you are talking about a salwar kurta with a generous dupatta covering the front, it does help, to minimize the groping from 10 to maybe four, on good days that is. But does it allow full cover from the perverts? No, not really.

A trouser can be provocative

Then there is the trouser paired with a full-sleeve shirt – does it help in any way? It doesn’t either.

I will talk about an incident here to present my view better. I remember I was looking particularly corporate kinds that day because I had dressed up for an important interview. I was returning home in a cab and the cabbie had a faulty meter and the bill was atrociously high. I got into an altercation with him and the cabbie tried hard to rally support from some men passing by. A group of drunk men, barged into our conversation. When I told them not to interfere, they got really aggressive and said, “What the **** do you think of yourself? Since you are wearing pants and having a mobile you think no end of yourself. We can teach you a lesson right here.”

It was 10pm, right in front of my apartment in Garia. I just took the cell phone and called our crime reporter and said loudly, “This is the number of the cab tell the OC of Garia Police Station to reach here immediately.” Hearing my conversation the cabbie instantly got behind the steering and fled leaving me to deal with the drunkards who were getting dangerously close and abusive now. Thankfully a few people came out from the neighbouring shops and my apartment. The OC didn’t have to finally intervene but I still get goose bumps when I think of that day.

The salwar kurta didn’t save my day, the police did

On another occasion I was, returning from work, in my first car, a khatara red second-hand Maruti, driven by my equally hopeless driver. Just a few yards away from office, on SN Banerjee Road, the car broke down. The driver kept trying to fix it while I stood next to him. The crowd started building up, then the questions, sneers and smirks started coming as if I had done something wrong. I looked for cover inside the car and the driver continued with his explanations but the crowd didn’t budge. I had the choice of leaving the car in my office which was difficult, because I would have had to push it against the flow on a one-way road or leave it at the police station which was just ahead. It was almost 10.30 pm by then. I chose the latter. The police readily agreed to watch over my car that night and graciously offered me tea when I went back in the morning to pick it up.

When I look back on that day the behavior of the crowd around me just gives me the chills – the nasty comments, the jeering and the uncomfortable proximity – all for what? I really don’t have an explanation. By the way, I was in a salwar kurta that day, mind it!

Now that the numbers are out – the National Crime Records have shown that in West Bengal there have been a staggering 29,133 reported incidents in 2011 accounting for 12.7 per cent of the total crime against women in India – media, political parties and governments are sitting up and taking notice of a malaise that every woman has to live with in West Bengal.

While our government, ironically headed by a woman, continues to live in blissful denial of the atrocious condition of women in our state, the kind of response my post on March 2011 headlined You are lucky if you have not been sexually harassed in Kolkata, https://amritaspeaks.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/you-are-lucky-if-you-have-not-been-sexually-harassed-in-kolkata/

had got, go on to reinforce the fact that harassment of women is an issue that touches each and everyone’s life.

I would say this escalation of violence and sexual abuse is not a sudden phenomenon, it has been a process taking place over a period of time.

I believe West Bengal is leading India in crimes against women because…

We are living in denial

While West Bengal’s State Industries Minister Partha Chatterjee has summed up the general attitude in his classic comment, “There is a national propaganda to show our government in bad light and hence all these figures are now being brought into the media,” he should check out this article published in the Times Of India in December 2006, when National Crime Records showed that West Bengal held second place in domestic violence, next only to Andhra Pradesh. (By the way we were governed by the Left then.)

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/calcutta-times/If-you-prick-us-do-we-not-bleed/articleshow/793369.cms

The statistics show in 2001, there were 265 reported cases of dowry deaths and 3,859 cases of domestic violence. In 2005, there were 446 dowry deaths recording an increase of 68 per cent and 6,936 cases of domestic violence, recording an increase of 80 per cent.

A problem can be addressed if a person is ready to accept there is a problem. If there is denial in the first place the question of a solution does not arise. I think the minister has already forgotten (in true politician style) the Park Street rape case, the Katwa train rape case and the molestation of a girl on Free School Street, which happened recently in the span of a few months.

Sexual abuse is a great way of showing power

After being humiliated by a boss at work many men like to get back their dignity by beating up their wives at home. I think groping a woman on a public transport is less about sexual gratification and more about getting satisfaction out of the embarrassment caused to a woman. This zeroes down to power play once again – that a man has the power to embarrass a woman. Gross, but it’s the truth.

As frustration among men rise because of the narrowing avenues of employment, escalating prices and reference group syndrome meaning that only a certain category of men having all the purchasing power, abusing women is a great way of keeping their slipping egos in place. That’s why in West Bengal women are abused by all kinds of men they interact with. Starting from the husband at home which leads to domestic violence, from the boss and colleagues which leads to harassment in the workplace, harassment in public transports and public places and last but not the least – political harassment, when a woman becomes the target of political parties trying to prove a point. A case in point would be the Nandigram rape case which became a complete political drama.

Chivalry is dying

Only a decade back if a woman had been harassed by a man all she needed to do was raise her voice and there would be a pack of men coming to her rescue. The dialogue would inevitably start with, “Didi apni jan. Amra dekhe nicchi. Ki byapar dada, ki hocchey?”  (Didi you go we will handle this. So dada what are you up to?).

I wonder where those men have gone now. Instead we have a pack of wolves waiting for a chance to pounce. They readily side with the perpetrator and keep questioning the woman’s dignity. In this regard I will mention two incidents. One was shared by my ex-colleague Moumita De Das on my blog.

Moumita wrote: “but i wud never forget  the day before dhanonjoy (hetal parekh rape n murder case) was about  to be hanged to death on 15TH August, 2004…the time was 10pm santoshpur mini bus…i boarded the bus from exide crossing as i was returning from my office (hindustan times). A drunk guy was too uncomfortably close…just then when i reacted… the entire menfolk were suddenly united and abusing me verbally… all were supporting dhanonjoy’s actions criticising our legal system for his verdict and so on and so forth…i felt as if i had been verbally gangraped….that day i sensed that dhanonjoy’s humiliation was affected personally all kolkata’s bhadralok and i realised MEN ARE NOT BHADRALOK…”

The other incident happened with my late brother Anirban Mukherjee. He was returning from work in a mini bus when a woman slapped a man because he was harassing her. All the men in the bus egged the man to slap her back. My brother was the only one to stand up for her and brought the situation under control.

I know there are a lot of men like my brother who have come to our rescue so many times. Wonder why they have become a vanishing lot these days.

Law keeps its eyes widely shut

It is the fear of law that keeps all kinds of criminals in check. But when it comes to crimes against women most often the criminals go scot-free or the trial becomes such a long-drawn affair that the crime itself is forgotten. If a criminal gets to know that he can get away with his crime, and quite easily too, why won’t he do it again?

And now I won’t be surprised if after all this brouhaha about the National Crime Records statistics there is an even bigger leap in the crimes against women. The perpetrators can have a free run because they are now sure they can get away with it. All the more thanks to ministers like Partha Chatterjee.

(What is your opinion about crimes against women in West Bengal? Please click the dialogue box on the right side of the headline and leave your comment. I would like to include your opinion in my next post.)

Kolkata

Women protesting against sexual violence in Kolkata. (Pic: The Hindu)

We were a bunch of enthusiastic Sociology students attending a seminar on violence against women organized by well-known NGOs of West Bengal. Inside the auditorium, people were animatedly discussing ways of averting abuse on women, while the tea counter outside buzzed with talk about a certain Trinamool leader named Mamata Banerjee, who had done an unthinkable feat, the night before.

From the snatches of conversation I gathered that some women were being trafficked into the notorious red-light area Sonagachi when they were rescued by some NGO workers and moved to a police station. The head of the NGO had called the Trinamool leader late in the night, asking if she could help in organizing the release of these hapless women from the police station. Banerjee said that she would look into it and had hung up. Moments later, to the surprise and relief of the NGO head, she was walking into the police station to personally see to it that the women were not harassed any further and were moved to a safe haven. The year I am talking about is 1997.

Fast forward to 2012 and we have the Chief Minister of West Bengal, the same Mamata Banerjee, who does not think twice before saying that the rape on Park Streetwas a “cooked-up incident” to malign her government. It’s easy to see that like all big stars – political or filmi – she has taken the easy way out by blaming the media for distorting her words.

I was wondering how could a woman, who was so sensitive to the plight of trafficked women, do such a volte-face just 15 years later. But I guess if you are constantly accompanied by half a dozen men in black safari suits with guns tucked in their holsters, you do lose touch with ground realities. So you take the easy way out again, put the blame on a woman, since trying to change the psyche of lecherous men in the state will be like trying to bend an iron rod with bare hands.

Frankly speaking, in West Bengal if you have not been sexually harassed in some way or the other it does not imply that you live in a safe environment, it’s just that you have been plain lucky. As a born and bred Kolkatan all I can say is, life for the fairer sex is a perpetual struggle. As soon as you step out of your home you constantly risk being groped, pinched, elbowed, lewdly commented at and if the time and situation permits your persecutor, you can be molested or even raped.

I am sure if a poll is run on the women of West Bengal on the abuses they face everyday, the answer in the affirmative will be a record high. But, of course, at the end of the day, the onus of being safe lies on the woman. If she can’t ensure her own safety then in the quest for justice she runs the bigger risk of being mentally molested by the police, the court, by the entire system.

Life in Kolkata has become such that women are becoming immune to the abuses that are perpetrated on them by unknown men because chances are, you end up in a bigger soup if you try to protest.

I am talking from my own experience here. I used to walk down SN Banerjee Road from the metro station to reach my office. The first day someone groped me I tried to raise my voice against him. Instantly I was surrounded by around 50 men, who asked me to point out where exactly I had been groped. Seething and embarrassed, I walked away.

What did I do to survive? I became more cautious. I always carried a file that covered my breasts and dodged the elbows and the hands with a precision that only boxers in the ring develop. I was successful this way for months till one day I was talking to my friend on the mobile and I was distracted. Result? Someone pinched my derriere. Reacting to my muffled shriek my friend asked, “What happened?” I answered, “Nothing! Someone pinched me.”

I realized that after being exposed to the abuse on Kolkata streets from my teens, I had finally become immune to that strange touch that used to initially feel like electric shock passing through my skin.

After I read about the rape of a widow on a train on the Ahmedpur-Katwa track, my mind travelled to my eventful train journeys both on local and long-distance passenger trains. During my college and university days if public buses were my nightmare, after marriage, when I had to travel to my in-laws’ home in Ichapur on weekends, I realized the groping men on the locals could give their counterparts on the Kolkata buses some stiff competition.

Trapped between hordes of men in an overwhelmingly-crowded compartment with my dupatta going in one direction and bag in the other and hungry hands trying to get into every curve of my body, I felt like a gladiator trying to win the fight but there was always a lion, who got a piece of me.

I decided to bow out of the arena and shifted to the women’s compartment. The incessant cacophony of the women fighting amongst themselves now felt like music to my ears. I was trapped between unknown sweaty women but there was a great sense of relief in it.

It was one such train ride when I had boarded a crowded ladies compartment from Sealdah at 10pm. After a hard day’s work I had dozed off in my seat. When I opened my eyes I saw the entire compartment was empty and there were four men sitting opposite me with a gaze that made me freeze with fear. I was about to call my husband from my mobile, who was in the next compartment, when one of them shifted to the seat next to me. Then they were all pretty puzzled to see me smiling. They followed my eyes and instantly started chatting amongst themselves like I did not exist.

The reason for their changed attitude and mine was my husband standing at the train door. He had seen the men boarding the ladies compartment and had jumped in behind them. That day I realized how fear actually felt and how lucky I was.

Now coming to long-distance train travel. My friend and I were going to Delhi to appear for the entrance exams at Delhi School of Economics and we were accompanied by her father and elder sister. Late in the night some men boarded the compartment and started making their bed on the floor. When uncle tried to explain to them it was a reserved compartment one man placed a shining dagger next to him on the floor and went off to sleep. Needless to say none of us slept that night. At the crack of dawn the men left the train without snatching our luggage, without forcing themselves on us. Luck was on our side again.

After I read about the Park Street rape, my mind went back to the innumerable nights spent at Tantra, the happening disco at Park Hotel. Yes, I was always there with close friends, who dropped me home later. I never accepted drinks from unknown people, although I did strike friendships there that I cherish, but you can say I was always extremely cautious. However, one particular night, I don’t know why, I threw all caution to the wind.

There was a private party at the Park Hotel banquet which I was covering from the newspaper I was working for at that time. The party promptly shifted from the banquet to Tantra. We had the office car with us but my colleagues wanted to linger on the dance floor. I was worried that my mom would be awake waiting for me, when this businessman, whom I had been introduced to earlier in the evening and had done some polite talk with, said he was leaving for his home on Ballygunge Circular Road – which was pretty near to my home on Garcha Road. I didn’t know him at all but I asked him for a lift. He readily obliged. I asked another journalist, I had met the same evening, if she would like to come along, dearly hoping she would. She joined us.

We got into his car parked in the basement, thanking him profusely for the trouble he was taking. It was 2 am and the car rolled into a deadPark Street. The gentleman stopped his car in front of the Park Hotel gate and said, “I have to pick up a friend.” The alarm bells started ringing in my head but I was glad that the other lady was in the car with me as if she would be the knight in shining armour if the men tried to get fresh.

The man, who jumped into the car, looked moneyed and sloshed and wasn’t in a state to converse. Then our lift-giver proposed that he would drop the lady at Gariahat first and then it would be my turn. I started hyperventilating hoping this was not a ploy to get me alone in the car. The lady got off at Gariahat and I continued. I could have got off there and hailed a cab. But I could not because a woman alone with a cabbie at 2am was an even more dangerous proposition than being in a car with two men- one sloshed and one apparently gentlemanly. I was safely dropped home. I was third time lucky.

But not everyone is. Women’s harassment in Kolkata is on the rise because some men have realized they can get away with it. After years of groping and elbowing and looking the other way and denying it if they are caught red-handed, these men have finally mustered the courage to go further. The rape on Park Street only proves that.

Mamata Banerjee would do well if she changed her stance on the case. If cases like this are dealt with an iron hand a lot of women might be saved from their daily ordeal. Isn’t it high-time the beasts hide in fear and we roam free?

PS: Does Didi know the meaning of International Women’s Day? I would have loved to ask her.

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