14 Jun 13
A group of women wanting to meet chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday to tell her how unsafe they feel in Bengal was herded into prison vans and put in the Lalbazar lock-up for several hours.
Police commissioner Surajit Kar Purkayastha justified the move, saying the force could not have taken chances with the chief minister’s Z+ security. Some of those arrested for trying to meet Mamata at her Kalighat residence — they were released on bail around 3.30pm — called the police’s concern over Mamata’s security “misplaced”.
Sarmistha Dutta Gupta, who was in the group, tells Sreecheta Das of Metro what had taken her to Harish Chatterjee Street and how disappointed she felt when the police cracked down on a “peaceful rally”.
Being associated with the feminist movement for over 30 years and taking part in innumerable protests and processions, I used to think I was prepared for every kind of resistance. I was mistaken. I had no idea that participating in a peaceful rally, where the only thing that people do is sing protest songs, could land me in a police lock-up.
I reached the Hazra Road-Harish Chatterjee Street crossing around 8am to submit a memorandum to the chief minister regarding the gruesome gang rape and murder at Barasat and the general safety of women in our state. I joined the group because my conscience told me to. While our protest was against what happened in Barasat on June 7, the scope of our demands went beyond that.
Crimes against women have increased in the past one-and-a-half years. What I find more alarming is that more and more girl students are being targeted. Barasat has earned notoriety for different kinds of crimes against women — from men making lewd remarks and gestures at schoolgirls to Friday’s incident, that area has witnessed everything in the past year.
But the administration doesn’t seem to be perturbed. All that we see are a few arrests following every shocking incident. But there is hardly any follow-up, there is barely any effort to make women feel secure.
The administration doesn’t seem interested in reflecting on why such incidents are repeatedly taking place in a particular area. There are several schools, colleges and a university in Barasat, where many students are first-generation learners. We have interacted with students and teachers and found that there is no electricity in many places, let alone street lamps. Local toughs have been employed as watchmen in large plots of land meant for future commercial purposes.
Local girls say they are petrified of returning home after evening tuitions.
I am also deeply disturbed by the fact that people in the administration did not think it necessary to express their concern or anguish regarding any of the incidents.
Whenever we have sought an appointment with the chief minister, we have been turned down. On Monday, my friends from Maitree (an NGO) had gone to Writers’ Buildings to submit a memorandum to Mamata Banerjee. She did not meet them.
On Thursday morning, there were 30 of us, far fewer than the cops already stationed there when we arrived.
Six of our friends were arrested first, but I started walking towards Hazra with the rest. As we marched, we could see the police following us, some on foot and others on bikes. They blocked our way, pointed at the vans and told us to get inside.
When we said it was our right to stand wherever we wanted to, an officer replied: “Oto kotha jani na…cholun (we don’t know all that…get inside).”
They dragged us into the vans. They did not lathicharge us, but they did display brute force. My friend Swapna’s hand swelled up because of the manner in which she was pulled.
We still don’t know what the charges against us are and we can’t understand how singing songs could be construed as disruption of peace.
The trauma that we underwent would make some sense only when the administration realises that they have to come forward and do their bit to make Calcutta — and Bengal — safe for women.
AS TOLD TO SREECHETA DAS
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- #India -13 Women activists from Maitree arrested for protesting in Kolkata #Vaw #WTFnews (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Complaint to NHRC on arrest of Maitree women activists in Kolkata #Vaw (kractivist.wordpress.com)
June 15, 2013 at 2:27 pm
It is a sad day for India and Bengal. Since when people singing song and putting across their grievances to the elected candidate has become a threat? And if it counted so then this is no longer a democracy it has become an autocracy.