KOLKATA, July 7: Around 2500 people assembled at the Rani Rashmoni Road, in the heart of Kolkata to protest against the rape of a young athlete with speech and hearing impairments at Uttar Dinajpur in West Bengal. The protest was called by the Paschim Banga Rajya Pratibandi Sammelani, an affiliate of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD).
The widespread indignation that this crime and subsequent reaction of the state administration has evoked is reflected in the wide spectrum of people who had gathered to condemn the crime in unequivocal terms.
Joining the large number of persons with disabilities who had come from different parts of West Bengal were film personalities and sportspersons. Brushing shoulders with them were representatives from a host of NGOs, rights activists, academicians and civil society organisations.
At the outset, a disabled folk-singer from Bankura rendered songs specially composed for the occasion.
Speaking on the occasion, Kanti Ganguly, Convenor of the NPRD and General Secretary of the Sammelani recounted his visit to the victim’s residence and assured that the organisation will take the responsibility of rehabilitating the girl. However, he underlined that it is the responsibility of the state government to rehabilitate the victim. He was unsparing in his criticism of the role of the government agencies.
Speaker after speaker condemned the increase in the number of cases of sexual violence reported in West Bengal and sought action against insensitive officials like the police and the disability commissioner who instead of initiating action were seen as siding with the perpetrators. While educationist Subhankar Chakrobarty pledged all help for the girl, writer Azijul Haque called for broader unity to foil such crimes in the future.
Ramola Chakroborty, womens rights activist was scathing in her remarks on the role of state Government. Prof Ishita Mukhopadhyay, Director, Womens Studies, Calcutta University felt that the women’s movement itself feels threatened as no laws or court directives are being implemented in the state anymore.
Distinguished sports personalities Jyotirmoyee Sikdar and Bula Chowdhury cautioned against the casual manner in which crimes against disabled athlete were treated. Commonwealth Games medal winner, Prasant Karmakar, a disabled swimmer, pointed out that overcoming disability and becoming an achiever in sports is no mean feat. Eminent lawyer Bharati Mukherjee expressed shock at the total silence of the State Women’s Commission.
Film maker Anindita Sarbadhikari vehemently criticised the state administration for being unable to protect women. Film actor Badshah Moitra underscored the importance of people from diverse fields coming together to condemn and protest such crimes. Lina Bardhan, Director, Special Olympics and Pankaj Das, ex-Principal, Loius Braille Memorial School expressed their solidarity. Also present on the occasion to express her solidarity was Malini Bhattacharjee, former Chairperson of the state Women’s Commission. Several speakers drew attention to the fact that in the recent period Bengal has earned the dubious distinction of topping the list in crimes against women and lamented that even the suggestions made by National commission for Women have been totally ignored by the state.
The inaction and insensitivity on the part of the state administration came in for sharp criticism from all quarters.
The meeting was presided over by Sailen Chowdhury, President of the Sammelini.
The meeting unanimously resolved to meet the Governor in a delegation on August 9, with the following demands:
· Security measures for all women with disabilities
· Exemplary punishment to be given to the accused.
· Rehabilitation of the victim girl by the state.