March 28, 2020
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Calcutta Corner

Why don’t we get outraged each and every time – yes each and every time – a woman is raped or molested?

Calcutta Corner
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The inequality ulcer

Shonar angti bakao bhalo (a gold ring is good even when it’s twisted),” goes the saying in Bengali. What it’s supposed to connote, believe it or not, is something like this: A boy or man no matter how horrible is still male, therefore, much like gold, he still has value. Little boys and girls in many households, both in the cities and the villages, grow up hearing it and internalizing. It is reiterated both determinedly and loosely to reinforce in the psyche of both the male and the female the already deep-rooted belief that somehow the girl is nothing. Compared to the boy, who is…gold. And this is in Bengal, which many across the country believe, is a state where women are respected.

So it is rather naïve when our parliamentarians bang their heads against the wall, wondering why in the world rape is happening. Maybe what they should try and do instead is get out of their ivory towers of ignorance and step out of their cars with the flashing red lights and into the public buses and trains where women get groped and pawed everyday. And they should go their constituencies to take stock of the attitudes that pervade our homes where women are beaten black and blue, sexually abused and even burnt to death on any pretext. But then, as the allegation goes, so many of our lawmakers themselves are rapists.

As the disturbing news of the brutal torture and gangrape of the 23-year-old woman in a Delhi bus creates outrage, and our Parliamentarians condemn and even cry about it, I wonder why we allow ourselves to get to a point where this can happen? Why don’t we get outraged each and every time – yes each and every time – a woman is raped or molested? I am always alarmed by ‘small’ news items in the inside pages of daily papers that report rapes as if it was some insignificant statistic.

A few months ago, a Calcutta slum dweller was gangraped in a van and reportedly brutally tortured – much in the manner that the Delhi girl was – and later she died in hospital. It’s certainly not about whether “Delhi has become the rape capital of our country” to quote one of our MPs. It’s about the entire nation and all of us condoning everyday situations and attitudes which breed rapists. Instead of helplessly crying in Parliament or accusing in each other, can our Parliamentarians, by the powers we have invested in them, please try and reach the homes in their constituencies and try and initiate the process of changing attitudes? Can we ask them to facilitate the imparting of education that tacitly instills values? It’s the only solution I can think of.

Clinical psychiatrists who study the criminal mind, corroborates the idea that the mindset starts early. As Dr Debashish Ray, acclaimed psychiatrist, points out, “When rape is committed it is a manifestation of the psychology of female subjugation, which is woven into the cultural fabric of most societies not just in India but across the world. The only solution is to reverse that psychology and recognize that women are not just equal but also superior – as has been biologically proven – to men.”

And if that seems like a distant or utopian dream, for the time being shall we demand more effective laws and better implementation of these from our law makers? As the outrage continues in different parts of the country over the rape of the girl in Delhi, there are reports of more rapes and gangrapes. In the North Bengal district of Malda a 14-year-old schoolgirl was abducted at gunpoint and gangraped two days after the Delhi incident. What gave the culprits, who are absconding, the audacity in the midst of this nationwide outrage? Clearly they are not just not afraid but perhaps even more emboldened by the projected helplessness of our Parliamentarians, who are airing their sorrow and fears rather than reassuring the nation that the culprits would be brought to book. Can we demand more stringent punishment, which are at the moment ridiculously lenient? But stringent doesn’t mean the death penalty, as suggested, again, by one of our Parliamentarians.

Calcutta has its own example of a how the death penalty often does not serve as a deterrent. (In 2004, Dhananjay Chatterjee, a caretaker of an apartment complex in the city was hanged for the rape and murder of a schoolgirl who lived in the building. There have been hundreds of rapes in the city after that.) Other suggestions for stringent punishment have been to render the perpetrator incapable of every committing such a crime. Sure the possibility of castration could work as a real deterrent and it may be just punishment for rape. But the most desirable deterrent to rape would be to ensure that our boys grow up with the right attitude. A boy who grows up to respect women could never have done to the 23-year-old woman what they did.

Bengal's Modi blues

In Singur, from where Tata Motors pulled out its small car – Nano – project (when Mamata Banerjee, then in the Opposition, raised objections against land-grab) and gifted it to Narendra Modi of Gujarat, the Gujarat elections was being watched with baited breath in some households. Interestingly, some villagers in Singur, who had willingly parted with their land for the setting up of the Tata factory, still nurture hope that the Nano project would returned to Bengal. They feel Modi is a machinating politician who used the Singur controversy to lure the Nano project away and they see him as an obstacle to the return of the Nano to Singur. They were hoping that he would lose the elections. “But there is no more hope for us,” said one farmer dejectedly. “Modi will never allow the Nano to leave Gujrat.”

Tied by tides

A fascinating study on how water – that is, rives and oceans – are the real link between cultures (as opposed to the historical convention that land is the locus of cultural growth and water bodies the dividers) was initiated this week in Calcutta, where historians from across the world gathered. The thrust of the study is to research the ways oceans and river contributed to the world becoming a smaller place. The Calcutta connection is obvious here. Calcutta’s bays and rivers were the route through which the British arrived in India. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Passage to Nandigram

When Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the former chief minister of Bengal, dares to go back to Nandigram, you know that the Mamata magic may just be fading. Bhattacharya, whose desire to turn Nandigram – a sprawling village by the river covered in acres of fertile farmland and lush greenery – into a chemical hub saw a bitter battle between the locals who resisted the move and the government that ended in 14 innocent villagers being gunned down by the state police on March 14, 2007. Since then the former CM has not been back in those parts. But with the Panchayat polls around the corner the CPI-M leaders who had pretty much retreated into their shells after the humiliating defeat in the Assembly Elections of 2011, in which they were uprooted from power after 34 long years, are now venturing out. But you would think that it would take a while before Bhattacharya shows up in Nandigram. But he is scheduled to hold a rally near Nandigram on January 5. Didi, take note.

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