“The 6 pm metro is a nightmare,” said 25-year-old Shinjini who left office a bit early to escape the rush.
The train, cram full, crawling to a stop at the Rabindra Sadan metro station quickened her heartbeat. The doors were yet to open. “Guard your breasts with your bag,” said Mrs Bagchi, Shinjini’s colleague,
And taking a deep breath, the two women prepared themselves to board the train as if they were to enter a war zone. And why not? A packed metro translates to a hundred unknown hands, shoving, pinching and grabbing. Braving all odds, the women had to find the spot nearest to the 16 seats reserved for ladies on a bogie of 60 seats with almost 300 passengers during peak time.
The Kolkata Metro Train services are in short of three trains to run uninterrupted services and to ensure the crowd does not get unmanageable. A minimum of 20 trains are required for a smooth run in Kolkata but the corporation is functioning with only 17, causing delays, crowd and chaos.
The rakes are expected to come before Durga Pujas this year but Kolkata residents have got used to the travail and, just like Shinjini and her friend, have devised ways to survive it.
For instance, couples tend to stand close to each other in Metros not just because they are craving for some public display of affection (PDA) but also to save each other, mostly the woman, from the unwanted touches.
It has never been a big deal in Kolkata which is known to be a state so liberal that anti-Romeo squads are completely out of question, or so we thought till an irate mob beat up a couple on April 30 for standing “too close to each other”.
There you go! It’s Kolkata now which is infected with the malaise several other states are suffering from – moral policing. For anybody who has experienced the spirit of the city, this is very unlike Kolkata.
The elderly men were the first one to object to the proximity of the couple in the crowded metro. It wasn’t so serious till the couple spoke their mind: “My girlfriend is being pushed inappropriately. I am not cuddling but only protecting her. What is your problem?”
But to the elderly men, who seldom raise their voice when women are harassed right in front of them, were quick to call the man a “self-proclaimed Bollywood hero flaunting his masculinity”. “Who do you think you are? Salman Khan?” Hollered somebody in the crowd.
As soon as the train stopped at the Dumdum Metro Station, the couple were pushed out of the train, somebody pulled the woman’s hair to drag her out, they were thrown on the platform, showered with kicks and punches. For the Bengali bhodroloks (gentlemen), a couple standing too close was indecent but a woman being assaulted was justice. So did the Metro authorities.
The Facebook page of Metro railways condemns the act of moral policing but also defends the assault later in a comment. The rising outrage over the comment forced them to delete it but the screenshot is viral already.
A mob of 30 people and more beat up two people on the Metro premises. Security guards do not come to help. No FIR is lodged. No victim spotting. No CCTV footage inspected. Nobody is questioned.
On May 1, a Bengali newspaper carried the news. Soon, social media was abuzz. People across the country condemned the incident. To protest the assault, a handful of college students created an event page and over 100 people gather at the Dumdum Metro Station against the act of moral policing in the city.
Not a single Metro employee came forward to stop the mob, recounts an eyewitness, Pallavi Sen. The station superintend’s room was just right where the couple was being beaten up. “The incident has left me very scared. I was shaken. I saw so many people beating the boy up brutally. The girl fell on the platform while people kept on thrashing her. Not a single security personnel showed up,” she added.
If two people can be beaten up for PDA by a mob of 30 people, anybody could be beaten up anywhere, for any reason!” Felt several passengers raising concerns about the security arrangements at the Metro station.
It took 24 hours for the Kolkata Metro Railway authority to respond to the incident. The first response was on their social media page. “We are yet to receive any formal complaint from anyone. We request eyewitnesses to come and help us identify the victims or people who carried out the mob Lynch. I on behalf of Metro Railway Kolkata officially claim that we are totally against moral policing,” said Indrani Banerjee, chief public relation officer of Kolkata Metro Railway Corporation.
“If you are in a crowded metro and your mother, sister or girlfriend is being pushed or touched inappropriately. What do you do? Don’t you save them?” Asked Abhishek Kar, a student, who kept raising slogans even when the police and security personnel came to shove them away from the entrance of the Metro station. Where were these police officers and the security personnel when the couple were attacked yesterday? asked the protestors.
The couple is yet to be identified. Various non-profit human rights organisations have urged the police to lodge a formal complaint.
“All bul*shi*t”, “what all kids do for cheap publicity”, “college students need an issue to create a ruckus,” said the aged (middle-aged to be specific) people passing by the protest meeting.
“Yesterday the people who beat the couple up were of the same age group. Looks like they have the same mentality,” replied Rimjhim Sinha, a student of Presidency college’s Sociology department and a resident of Keshtopur, to the mockery of the onlookers.
Sinha had come to know of the protest from social media. “I was taken aback. I have never seen such a terrible incident. If a girl is molested or eve-teased in the Metro, no one raises a finger. There are always people who would take the side of the harasser and pressurise the woman to forget and adjust to such ‘small’ incidents,” She said.
The protestors started leaving after 7.30 pm. Some of them took a small trip down the station and raised slogans against moral policing before ending the day with a bottle of soft drinks at the ubiquitous confectionaries.
“If only these protests could change anything in reality. If only…” said a woman in her thirties waiting in a long queue for auto, probably a daily Metro passenger.