July 23, 2013



We always bragged to friends that Calcutta was the safest city. There was a time when two or three of us, all girls, would take a taxi and return home late… we never thought about safety. Since the Park Street rape case, it seems like there has been a spurt of incidents all around the city, not just in the seedy parts or on desolate roads but in posh areas like Jodhpur Park. Around six months back there was an incident in the lane (in Golf Gardens), which we use as a short cut, even to get things like chips and stuff. That is unthinkable now. Even as early as 8pm seems unsafe in Calcutta.
My daughter Anwesha is in Class IX and sometimes she says she is meeting friends after school or going to South City Mall and would take a rickshaw home. I tell her NO. I feel bad because I used to travel back from school alone from when I was in Class VIII. But I am very scared for my daughter because even in the afternoon I don’t think it’s safe. I tell her she has to take the car or ask one of her friends to drop her home.
Her tuition ends at 8pm and I start panicking by 8.15. I don’t send her out alone to get chips from the local shop because very often there is a group of boys hanging around.
When we plan a party we make sure there are more men than women in the group. Just having to make such calculations is so frustrating.
And the incidents just seem to keep increasing in frequency. Maybe these people have got the message that they can get away with anything. Unless exemplary punishment is meted out to the perpetrators, this issue cannot be addressed.

The street lamps on our corner of Bright Street have been temperamental for as long as I can remember. In the ’80s, Bright Street used to be a haven for dumping stolen cars, burgled goods stuffed into oversized gunny bags. And frequent calls to Karaya police station.
Cut to the present. The temperamental street lamps persevere. Bright Street is a not-so-bright hub of abuse. Manic morons mercilessly manhandling their girlfriends, wives, sisters, mothers without fear of reprieve. One of them slapped a woman so hard that I was able to pick up the thuds repeatedly through my car, with windows rolled up and air-conditioner on, parked 50 metres away!
It’s an old story, you might argue, but what is this new phenomenon that transforms these imbecile dimwits into self-proclaimed bands of puny-chest-thumping He-men? It’s insane! They swear the law can’t touch them. They believe they’re invincible (after dark only).
It’s for us to call their bluff, with or without the administration’s support. Our badge-bearing lawmen have tastier fish to fry. Our democratically elected representatives, bereft of empathy, spout conspiracy theories, and the common man laments, “We voted for change. We deserve this.”
I did not vote for change. I do not deserve this. Nor do you — even if you DID vote for change.
You don’t get to choose Calcutta. The city chose you.
This is the city I am fortunate to call my home. This is the city that is my safe haven. This is the city that taught me right from wrong. This is the city that taught me not to be afraid. This is the city that encouraged me to speak up, speak out.
I’m aware. I’m also the devil child of colour-coded politics. Believe me, that’s a fate far fatal than staying monochromatic. I can sense wrong. I know wrong. Do not mess with my sensibilities.
Blame Calcutta, if you must — it’s the colour of my skin. Little else matters.

• Attention ladies: Repair, revise and revamp the unacceptable. Be Calcutta’s sternest critic and staunchest supporter. Wear Calcutta on your sleeve. She likes it. Don’t depend upon colour-coded politicians to solve your problem. They have their own agendas. Be the change.

• Attention moron/creep/ignoramus: Feel free to unleash the depraved two-legged hounds, your para-cultivated Bablus, Jhantus, Munnas, Netais and Bubais all you wish, but we shall not be moved.
We will still return at odd-hours and expect to reach home safe. We will still frequent pubs and nightclubs and expect not to be labelled “looj-character” and prostitutes by the administration. We will still enjoy our menthol-tipped cigarettes and expect not to be molested just because we’re happy, high and feeling good.
We will still dress any way we want and expect that YOU do not expect every inch of exposed flesh is yours to grope at will. We will rally together and I promise we will not be silent this time.
And we will leave Calcutta a better place for our children.
Calcutta, I am. For this is home. This is my city. This is my safe haven. She will stay safe for my daughter. And you will not wrench that away from me.
This much is non-negotiable.
Sometime soon, the street lamps on our corner of Bright Street will shine brighter. And safer.

BERNADETTE STARONa 22-year-old from Germany, in Calcutta for over a month for an internship
I live in a PG accommodation in Salt Lake. That’s where my office is too. I came to Calcutta at a time when people were talking about various stories of rape. People in my PG had also warned me not to stay out too late.
In Calcutta, I don’t wear make-up and I bought myself kurtis and salwars. Partly because I wanted to experience the culture, partly because I didn’t want to attract attention or provoke.
One day, I did wear a bit of make-up and western clothes. At Jadavpur 8B bus stand I had boys and men come up and say: “Hi! Where are you from?” I was very short in my answers and now I also have a special tone that I put on so they know I don’t want to converse.

The newspaper headlines are becoming usual: political apathy, demoralised police, emboldened goons, victimised women and children, assaulted relatives, minors raped and murdered.
Indulgence from political parties with elections round the corner emboldens these young men to commit crimes. They don’t need to earn a living, or practise a trade, as political parties use their criminal bent of mind to achieve their ends.
My understanding is that the police are demoralised as they know that political pressure will force them to yield when they put these criminals behind bars. Besides, it takes longer to write a judgment for conviction than to pass a verdict of “lack of evidence” and set free the same criminal to commit more crimes. Witnesses are threatened or silenced when the same criminals are out on bail.
The defining incident for me has been when goons ransacked Kalighat police station because they were not allowed to go down a certain road being repaired. If they can treat the police in such a fashion, citizens like us do not stand a chance.
The responsibility of protection of citizens is the primary, fundamental, basic premise under which a government is elected. As an honest taxpayer, I feel the job of citizen protection lies squarely with this elected government.
A civilised society is defined by its ability to protect its young, its women, and its aged. Our elected government has failed on all three counts.

CHIRU SURa resident of Entally who has hosted many foreign nationals in the city
Things have become bad, especially in the last one year. In places like Lord’s Bakery in Lake Gardens and the stretch from Navina cinema to the Tollygunge Phari crossing, or the Lake level crossing, there are biker gangs that hang around at cigarette shops that stay open till late. They pass lewd comments when they see a white woman. I have a bunch of friends, including women who are foreign nationals. The moment they see a white woman, they stare, act rough and make passes. And after 1am it’s dangerous. Probably because the women are not local residents, these boys think they’re more vulnerable. That’s the attitude.

BRITTA LEICK-MILDEa German national and the new general manager of Hyatt Regency
The Jodhpur Park incident is really unfortunate and I feel empathetic towards the victim, who will probably have this memory for a long time. Even though I am still new here, I have found Calcutta to be a very safe, metropolitan city, which I think has fewer incidents like the one that recently took place, than many other places in the world.
The only suggestions I have for female travellers is to be always on the side of caution and not take anything for granted — especially when they are in a new city. From the bureaucratic angle, I would push for enhancement of the public transportation system and have more policing at key points and times.

NINA SAXERwife of the general manager of Swissotel
What happened was very scary. I attend many social functions and often dress up, so this worried me. Luckily, I have a driver and a car. But I think here, in Calcutta, young women should not take a cab late at night. Incidents like this are happening too often and it’s frightening.

PRIYA SARKARa 27-year-old event manager and resident of Tollygunge
Given my work, I often have to stay back at the venue and thus get late. I am a regular clubber as well, but I always make sure I am with close friends or cousins. The stretch near my home gets pretty empty by 11pm. I never avail of public transport after that hour. I stay back at a friend’s place if I have no one to drop me home.
It feels sad to see the mentality of people in the city. I would never ever dare to wear a short skirt and walk on the streets here. If I, belonging to the city, do not feel safe alone, how can I ask my friends from other countries to come here?

PRIYANKA GHOSHa 24-year-old resident of Howrah
On Friday, I told a friend who has come from Cyprus not to talk to strangers and advised her to return home before 7.30pm. She gave me a bewildered expression, because instead of asking her to enjoy herself in Calcutta, I was going on and on about safety. Later I realised that the concern came very naturally and immediately to me, because deep down I know my city is no longer safe.

GARIMA BARMECHAa signatory to the citizens’ petition that was submitted to the governor on Thursday
I work on Sarat Chatterjee Avenue, which is the same road on which you have Menoka cinema. There are many occasions when one has needed to take the Metro post-8pm from Rabindra Sarobar to Belgachhia en route to Lake Town, where I live.
Earlier, there would be no worries in walking down Sarat Chatterjee Avenue. But now there is an unspoken fear, as a result of which I usually seek someone from my office to accompany me to the Metro station, which is no more than a six-minute walk.
There is one spot that is particularly vulnerable: alongside the Tollygunge rail bridge on SP Mukherjee Road, which is badly lit and has hardly any pavement. Groups of boys coming from Rabindra Sarobar find this a convenient spot to make advances. I am actually going to check whether the OC of the Charu Market area will read this and post policemen there to protect citizens.
These are some of my suggestions: A police outpost on Sarat Chatterjee Avenue has been discontinued for the last five years and the booth has become a relic. Can it be revived? Can women police constables be deployed in this area where there are so many young girls and women coming to visit Rabindra Sarobar? Can the area below the rail bridge be lit better? Can a CCTV camera be installed at the entrance of the Sarobar Metro station (which serves as a junction of Metro and the local train station) with a poster clearly mentioning the surveillance?
Or would even this be too much to ask of my city?

CHARULATHA BANERJEEa doctor and resident of Sarat Bose Road
I travel outside the city and country frequently on work and use public transport in most places. Unfortunately, I can’t in Calcutta. My husband is obliged to bring me back home each time I return on a late evening flight from the airport. I have this luxury, but cannot say the same for many of my female colleagues who prefer to stay overnight and return on morning flights.
The simple joy of spending time with friends late in the evening and returning home unchaperoned after dark is now a ritual of text messages — after one reaches, when one leaves, when one is halfway in the cab and so on.
Walking down from the gym on Sarat Bose Road in the evening fully covered in track pants and T-shirt and missing a dupatta for comfort is a feeling of despair beyond description — to back off 100 metres when you see a group of men approaching, perhaps harmless but to be doubly sure: what if they reach out and grope?
A year ago I advised a young American-Indian intern to cover herself up when she travelled on the Metro to ensure that she was safe. She could not comprehend it, she felt she was being punished in the heat. I insisted.
Living in fear of being molested in a city that welcomes the Devi every year but abuses us ordinary women in a million ways every day is one of the many contradictions that needs to be corrected.
EINA AHLUWALIA, jewellery designer
I t’s like suddenly all the psychos in Calcutta have been told there will be no consequences. Do what you like, no one will stop you. They’ve become unafraid. They go about in groups, on bikes, and they molest and rape for entertainment, on a whim. There is arrogance in the way they speak, a sense of entitlement.
“I want to **** her.” WHAT???
Who is this new Calcuttan?! Where did he come from? What is this sudden degradation of our system? We have forgiven Calcutta a lot, for its industrial devolution, the lack of corporate opportunity, the fact that everything comes here last. But now we’re talking about a fear for our safety and lives. A constitutional right to freedom and the right to walk our streets.
And this is 50 per cent of Calcutta’s citizens we’re talking about.

Why do you think Calcutta has become more unsafe for women in recent years? Tellttmetro@abpmail.com

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