Dear Chief Minister,
Roughly a decade back, my trip back home from college began with a fair bit of wrestling with College Street. Ducking the boy lost in his mobile phone and skirting past the elderly gentleman rummaging through little hillocks of old books at a roadside stall. Saying a polite no to the zealous shopkeeper waving a copy of Competition Success at my face. And finally making sure that I was far away by the time the unsuspecting stationary-shopper realised I had spilled my entire two-rupee cup of lebu cha on her saree.
After sun down, College Street would pull a long face and curl up dismissively under the feeble orange glow of the street-lights. The throbbing crowd of the day would give in to a restless quiet – a dog barking here, taxi wallahs chatting loudly or a cab rolling past in haste. At times when I walked down the street sandwiched between the Calcutta University and the Calcutta Medical College, a bike would whoosh past lobbing a snatch of a sentence at me, as the rest drowned in laughter and the roar of the vehicle. Was it abuse? Was it an insult? Could be, I thought, as I hurried down the footpath trying to concentrate on not breathing the smell of hospital disinfectant that hung heavy in the air.
Was I anxious? At times. Was I afraid, that one day, one of those men would stop his bike and attack me? No. In fact, never, despite the mother worrying herself silly over the ills she imagined lurking in every corner of the city.
You know why? Because, this central city street was a sliver of everything Kolkata – infuriating, yet amusing.
Yes, you might resent home at times, are you repelled by it? Not easily.
However, the unthinkable has happened. While I will probably never revile Kolkata, I might just take to being scared of it. And I have just you to blame for it.
Why, you ask? Because, I baulk at the thought of walking down College Street after sun down. Because, who knows, one of those bike-riding boys might just decide they will only settle with groping me, a verbal pejorative is not enough. And if that does happen, your police will first ask me what business I had walking down a half-deserted street after sunset. So what if it’s one that runs along two schools, one college, the Calcutta University and the city’s biggest state hospital?
And like you have done in the past, you will dismiss the whole issue, saying ‘are all women being molested?’ Because in your understanding, sexual violence is neither a challenge that the city faces, nor something that should be taken up seriously.
Otherwise, what explains your tolerance towards your MP Tapas Pal? The man threatened that he will let loose men who will rape his opponents. Unless you feel that what he said – that is get women in rival parties raped – is a threat that is neither repulsive nor intimidating, why would you not immediately act against him?
The defence of your party’s actions and consequently of Pal strangely sounded nothing like that of a chief minister of a state. “What will I do, kill him?” you asked with exasperation. Correct me if I am wrong, but that’s how I’ve seen mothers react in junior school when faced with a complaints that her child stole another’s lunch.
In fact, while the man himself had chosen to issue a ‘letter’, handed to the press from a convenient distance that shields him from distress and questioning, his wife and daughter had to appear before the media and apologise. Can a man who obviously considers rape as a currency fit for political vendetta be allowed to continue in a party that runs the government? In the book of ideals, no.
If you, or your party members managed to watch the Tapas Pal clip in its entirety, you might have noticed how the audience, mostly comprising men, were listening to your MP without much fanfare. And then he said this: “Amar chhelder dhukiye debo, rape kore diye chole ashbe. (I will send my boys, they will rape them).” As I watched with utter disgust, I thought to myself there couldn’t be anything worse than this. But I was wrong. Pal’s audience, hearing the rape threat, broke out into a deafening peal of applause, shouting, hooting, clapping like they have been just handed a prize.
Oh, wait. They were, indeed, given a prize, right?
The women, who could potentially could be raped with the blessings of their leader – as long as they belonged to a rival party.
Tapas Pal doesn’t scare me. Those men, beyond themselves with glee just at the mention of rape, they scare me. And you know what, they’re not the only ones hooting and clapping at Pal’s show of masochism. God knows how many others, watching the clip on their phones, reading about it in papers and watching him on TV, are virtually joined in this celebration of misogyny.
And tomorrow, might just think it’s quite okay to molest a girl on her way back from college.
Because, obviously, no one’s going to ‘kill him’ for that.
Girl who calls Kolkata home
(By Piyasree Dasgupta /FP)