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Thursday, February 13, 2014

What Happened To ’City of Joy’? Is Mamta ‘Didi’ Listening?

By Debayan Das | Kolkata

COMMENTARY Just a few days ago I met a friend, staying abroad these days due to his work, after a long time. But instead of having a usual wholesome adda (meaning gossip in Bengali) session like our old days, this time around, all we discussed was something extremely grave that has become a cause of national concern lately.

Once called the ‘city of joy’ and known for all its enriching cultural and creative activities, Kolkata of today is mostly getting recognized ubiquitously as a city that is not only unsafe for women but where the violent social disease called ‘rape’ has become a routine practice. Though Kolkata isn’t the only metro city in India to have witnessed such reprehensible acts in recent times but there is little doubt that Kolkata is fast loosing its reputation of being one of the most friendly and safe destinations of this vast country.

Well, despite not having too much squeamishness about my Kolkata-connection, it does feel awful when you see your beloved city coming on the national headlines every other day for all wrong reasons. Especially in the last few years, it is an indisputable fact that the number of molestation and particularly the rape cases that have occurred in the state of West Bengal are something never experienced before by the people in this part of the country.

From Park Street to Kamduni to the bucolic corners of Malda or Birbhum; it has become heartbreaking to open newspapers in the morning to see one after one, brutal cases of rape or some sort of ugly molestation, taking place in every nook and corner of the state. There have been a galore of such cruel instances all over West Bengal but few had been able to spark the loudest buzz simply because in those cases we have seen the direst consequences.

The February 2012 Park Street gang-rape stunned the whole nation. Then a Korean student was physically abused in a bus in Kolkata daylight. The Madhyamgram horror-- in which a 16 year old girl was gang-raped twice— made us dumbstruck. Next a 20 year old tribal woman was allegedly gang-raped at Labhpur in Birbhum district by 13 persons, ordered by the local salishi sabha or kangaroo court!

And this list goes on and on…. At this critical juncture, ‘Where are we heading up to?’-- has undoubtedly become the most frequently asked question by all in Bengal in addition to those who have ever been here.

Eyebrows have started rising even more because ironically the current chief minister of West Bengal is also a female, Mamata Banerjee, popularly known as Didi by her ardent followers. Though nobody is pointing fingers at her directly for the ongoing massacre, but being the head of the state, she can’t evade her accountability either.

Coming into the power with utter commitment towards 'Maa, Mati, Manush' (Mother, Earth and Mankind) of the state, today, when a series of horrifying rapes and vicious sexual assaults have shattered people's faith in the city of joy, she has to answer some awkward questions. Police inactions have also been a great reason behind the public rage. Many believe that the state police aren’t doing a single bit except the CM’s order. Then, where will the common people go for seeking their fundamental social protection?

Forget the abandoned streets at late nights, even in the crowded bus and that too on open daylight, despite seeing sexual molestations, police on many occasions, hardly seem to be proactive, strongly pointing out towards the credibility of the government and its will to eradicate this peril from the state. Apart from that we have also seen cases where rapists got away for having connection with the top leaders of the ruling party.

Amidst such grave circumstances, when the CM has been repeatedly asked about why Bengal becoming more unsafe for women, she has tried to dodge the question. In fact while reacting to the Park Street and Kamduni rape cases, Mamata had said it was a 'cooked up conspiracy' by a section of the opposition and media to deliberately tarnish the image of her government.

However, she can’t go on like this given that there are adequate evidences on why people have started saying Kolkata have turned into a city of horror and molestations. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Bengal has topped the table in crime against women since 2004; second only to Madhya Pradesh in rapes.

More staggeringly, when rape increased by 33% in 2011, it shot up by almost 60% in Bengal, a clear indication of the fact that, with time, the situation has only become ominous and nothing substantial has yet been done to resolve the problem.

Meanwhile the blame game, TV debates and newspaper attacks from both sides are also going on in full swim in various local media. The opponents are relentlessly bashing the state supremo and Mamata in constant denial moods, ultimately giving very little hopes for the people of the state.

Well, whatever the people or media says, the truth is that it’s high time and Mamata must take some stringent measures to ensure the women in the city of Kolkata and in other fringes of the state feel safe and protected. We all know how the deadly gang rape in New Delhi raised mass outrage allover the country and ultimately Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had to go.


Hence, it is time, Mamata too, quickly learn from history and take the current issue of women safety in Bengal seriously or else the very people, who made her the first woman chief minister of West Bengal, won’t take much time to throw her from the reign. 
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