#Kolkata- Loose women and other urban Indian tales #Vaw


I am writing this to share a recent incident that brought me face to face with many issues I feel are of wider importance, and to use this as a collective sounding board for possible future action.

My idea is simply to tap into the wider experiences and insights of the community of people this may reach, who are invested in creating a more just and equal environment for everyone. Since some people reading this may not know me personally, I will begin with some information on myself.

I live in Kolkata. I am a freelance journalist and travel around a bit. I run an award-winning indie youth media collective called Jalebi Ink. I am also a single mom, by choice. I haven’t faced any significant negative situations about my choice/status.

Till now. Here in Kolkata.

Two days back, a nasty run-in happened with some older boys (17-18) in my colony (Behala) and with their parents.

These boys had been harassing my 13 yr old son for a while. But he wouldn’t let me intervene saying no, they will make more fun of me. Things came to a head in an incident in the park where these boys caught hold of him and in public pulled his pants down while the rest watched and clapped.

What I did and what followed was illuminating.

I went to the leader of this gang and asked him to cease immediately. The gang was there. They shrugged it off with non-chalance. Your son is a liar, they said. This is all in fun anyway. Shoulder shrugs and a lot of smug laughter.

An altercation followed with the boys, and their parents and neighbours which turned nasty and in the next 15 minutes, I (a five foot one inch woman) was surrounded by a pack of these boys and their parents, and even their maids. It was like a chakravyuh. They shoved me around. They proceeded to hurl every known gendered and cliched abuse. They threatened to beat me and my son up. “I will kill you and your son,” the boy said. I slapped him and his pal who had smugly admitted that he had “only touched my son’s pants”. The boys came at me with their fists balled up. But were held back by some friends.

There were onlookers – no one did anything

They came to my house after that, with more people. Same thing happened. More abuses – and extolling of virtue of their sons. “Bring out your son” “Chool chhaata mohila” (short- haired woman), “we know what you are”, “frustrated” “loose” “harlot” “your son is abnormal” etc.

My mother and father (who has Parkinsons) stood behind asking them to leave with folded hands. He was told to get lost.

The neighbours did nothing – they walked past on the stairs, looking away.

I filed a complaint. They too did – ostensibly as I had “assaulted” these 17-18 yr olds.

The cops came and asked my son questions. They were decent enough. They told my son the bullying will stop. All that. But they may have done that as I had called up several of my media friends who in turn would have put pressure on them. They said we’ll see what we can do and went off.

The father of the leader of the pack of boys incidentally is a local real estate promoter with links to local councillors. The house they stay in is forcibly occupied and belongs to someone I know.

It is sad what this place has become. I feel that the more women get out of stereotypes, the more reactionary society becomes.

A chool chhata (short haired), pant pora (pant-clad), westernised, single woman = ‘loose character’, as per Bengali middle-class morality. This is a dangerous trend that I have noticed over the years – the simmering violence within middle-class Bengalis and the growing tendency to ostracize independent single women based on warped notions of morality. It’s mob mentality in its most vicious form, the shocking part being that these are the so-called ‘educated’ bhadroloks, not uneducated people from deprived backgrounds.

Like a friend pointed out, the external trappings of middle-class society have changed. Everyone thinks they’re ‘modern’ now. But the mindset is still feudal. Add to that a growing propensity for violence, and you have a dangerous cocktail.

It’s like living in the dark ages. Everything they said to women then, they are saying now. Women have to have male figures around as “protectors” and “guardians”.

The police fellow’s pen had hovered for a while over the “son of” section in his report when I said write my name. When I fill govt or even other forms (as in banks etc), there is a predominant “Wife of” “Daughter of” section. His glance had changed when I told him I am a single mom.

Ever since my father was diagnosed with Parkinsons, my mother has taken over all the document, bank etc work completely. And yet, they still ask her to fill in who she is a wife of or daughter of. It is frustrating. When will this end? It was well-known writer Githa Hariharan, who slammed home the point that a mother can be the sole guardian of a child. Before that, a father’s signature would always be required on forms. (http://www.telegraphindia.com/1120229/jsp/opinion/story_15193043.jsp#.UWZSOZNTCSo)

I want to drive home to these boys and their parents that what they did was wrong on so many levels. What they did to a kid. Their strange warped perception of women. And the fact that they think it is fun to bully a 13 year old. The fact that they invaded my space and abused me. They did not bother about an old and ailing person. The boys who labelled me as a ‘fallen woman’ were teens, some of them going to the new crop of ‘international’ schools that have mushroomed in Calcutta. They have a music band. And yet they have such regressive mindsets.

I am looking for ideas and suggestions. From media stories, justified legal intervention to interventions or campaigns in the colony maybe. Blank Noise is a great organisation that does some amazing campaigns on harassment faced by women. Check them out here:http://blog.blanknoise.org/

Regards,
Anuradha Sengupta
www.jalebiink.com

Right to dream should be fundamental right: Mahasweta Devi #JLF


Published: Friday, Jan 25, 2013, 9:00 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: Jaipur | Agency: DNA

“ ‘O to Live Again!’ – at my age, this desire is almost a mischievous one; look at all the damage I’ve done being around longer than I should have!” These opening words of author and social activist Mahasweta Devi, in her keynote address, at the Jaipur Literature Festival had the audience completely charmed throughout her speech.

Taking up the cause of Naxalites, Mahasweta Devi said: “All my life I have seen small people with small dreams. It looked like they wanted to put them all in a box and keep them locked up…but somewhere, some of them escaped, as if there has been a jailbreak of dreams. Like the Naxalites. Their crime is they dared to dream. And why shouldn’t they?”Addressing the gathering during the inaugural session of the Jaipur Literature Festival, she said: “The right to dream should be the first fundamental right of people.”Mahasweta Devi scorned at “the middle class morality where everything is suppressed”.

Going around the circle of life, of youth, of motherhood, and as a writer, she said “sometimes, I feel like an old house privy to simultaneous conversations of its inhabitants,” as she spoke of all the characters she had met and written about coming alive and haunting her.Giving the audience glimpses of what she hopes to write next, she shared her ‘recipe’ to stop gobalisation. “Just a small plot of land, covered with grass. Grow a single tree on it, let your child’s bicycle rest on it, let some poor kid play there, let a bird sit on it. Small dreams….after all, you save your small dreams, don’t you?” she paused, leaving the rapturous audience with this moving thought.

Later in the day, Tibetan Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, addressing a jam-packed session, invoked the age-old catch phrase ‘Hindi-Chini bhai bhai’.When questioned about the tension between India and China with regard to Tibet, he said that good relations between the two nations are essential. “The saying — ‘Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai, is unfortunately not implemented,” he rued and said that he strongly advocates democracy.
“We must not be taken for granted,” the Dalai Lama said and added, “The 21st century should be the century of dialogue. This is the only way forward.”A fulfilling romance at JLF
Jaipur: “Write in the language that comes most naturally to you…write in the language in which you dream.” That’s the advice Mahasweta Devi – arguably, one of the most iconic writer-activists of our times – had to give to a young school-girl who wanted to know which language she should choose to begin her literary career with.A little while later, Fahmida Riaz — celebrated Pakistani writer-poet and feminist — informed the Bengali writer (to her surprise) that her books had been translated into Urdu and were

Mahasweta Devi —Joshy Joseph

 

Violence in Assam has subsided, but anxieties of land and identity are still haunting the people



HARSH MANDER | Oct 18, 2012, TNN

Although Assam has disappeared from the front pages of national
newspapers, large populations still live in makeshift, underserved
camps, racked by memory, fear and uncertainty, with little prospect of
an early return to their homelands. Legitimate anxieties of land and
identity have acquired an urgent grammar of violence and hate, and
irreconcilable divisions have grown further between estranged
communities.

During my journey to relief camps in Dhubri, Chirang and Kokrajhar,
housed in the classrooms and courtyards of schools, i found that
government had ensured basic food rations and primary healthcare
services. For the rest, people mainly had to fend for themselves.
There was no bedding, no mosquito nets, toilets were scant and choked,
and there was little water for drinking and bathing. People who had
fled their burning villages or rampaging mobs had few clothes or
utensils. Children were the worst hit. There were no child care
services, or temporary schooling. Everywhere i found a longing to
return home.

The stories we heard in both Bodo and Bengali Muslim camps were
disturbingly similar, of neighbours turning into murderous mobs, of
torched and ransacked homes, of looted livestock, and of fearful
flight. Many escaped only in fear, even though their settlements were
not attacked, and in these villages, men return to guard their homes
and fields, leaving the women and children in camps.

There are legitimate anxieties and grievances on both sides of the
dispute. Udoyon Misra writes eloquently of the ‘ever so heavy’ burdens
of history of indigenous Assamese peoples like the Bodos, of ‘land,
immigration, demographic change and identity’. He describes massive
land alienation of the Bodo plains tribal people who were shifting
cultivators with few land records, by industrious and aggressive
Bengali Muslim immigrant cultivators.

Successive governments in both the state and the Centre have failed to
effectively seal borders, and to identify and repatriate illegal
immigrants. The Bodos worry also about being culturally swamped in
their traditional homelands, not just by Bengali Muslims but also
other communities such as the caste Hindu Assamese, Koch-rajbanshis,
Santhals and Bengali Hindus.

The Bodo accord of 1993, which belatedly gave administrative autonomy
to the Bodo people in their traditional homelands in which they
already were reduced to a minority, unfortunately also created an
incentive for driving out people of other communities and ethnicities.
The first attacks by armed Bodo militants on Bengali Muslims occurred
in 1993 itself, and these have recurred sporadically against also
Santhal adivasis, who are descendants of tea garden workers who
migrated centuries back. Clashes occurred in 1994, 1996, 1998 and
1999. Around one and a half lakh people displaced by these clashes –
both Bengali Muslim and Santhal – continue to live in camps up to the
present day, an entire generation of forgotten internal refugees with
no home. The government took no decisive steps to help these refugees
return to their homelands.

This remains a festering wound on the psyche of the Bengali Muslim, as
also the fact that not a single person has been persecuted for the
gruesome slaughter mounted in Nellie in 1983. They complain that all
Bengali Muslims are tainted as Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, whereas
demographers confirm that only a small fraction of the immigrants are
actually illegal settlers who slipped into the state after the agreed
cut-off date of 1973. Many have learnt Assamese, and wish to be
accepted as legitimate Assamese citizens.

This already fraught environment, of legitimate competing anxieties
and grievances of diverse communities, has deteriorated sharply
because of the implicit legitimisation of violence as a means to
resolve these competing claims. People sympathetic to the concern of
Bodos and other indigenous tribal communities suggest that the
violence to which they have resorted in recent decades is unfortunate
but understandable. This is rendered more dangerous because of the
easy availability of sophisticated arms among the surrendered Bodo
militants, who were never effectively disarmed.

On the other hand, apologists for the Bengali Muslim violence justify
it as being ‘only retaliatory’. This is slippery ethical territory,
because the same argument was used to justify the post-Godhra
massacre, as well as the slaughter of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s
assassination. There is disturbing evidence of growing radicalisation
of a small section of the Assamese Bengali Muslim, of a kind which was
remarkably absent among the victims of the Gujarat violence. The
latter have remained unshakably committed to the democratic, legal and
non-violent resolution of their grievances, despite the brutal
slaughter and systematic subversion of justice and reconciliation by
the leadership thereafter.

There are wide demands today that only those Bengali Muslims in relief
camps should be allowed to return home who can first prove their legal
status. The acceptance of this demand would further incentivise the
mass violence which resulted in their displacement in the first place.
There is no doubt that the rights of indigenous communities to their
land, forests and culture need to be defended, and illegal immigration
effectively blocked.

But there should be no compromise, even by implication, with violence
as a means to achieve these demands. People in both new and old camps
must first be res-tored to their homelands unconditionally, and
assisted in rebuilding their houses and livelihoods. Only then should
a just and caring state intervene to ensure that the legitimate
concerns of both indigenous people and settlers are met, by processes
which are lawful, humane and non-violent.

The writer is a social activist.

 

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