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Salt Lake chairperson thinks residents from NE an embarrassment

KOLKATA, 23 AUG: The Bidhannagar (Salt Lake) Municipality chairperson Mrs Krishna Chakraborty, has said citizens from North-eastern states living in Salt Lake are an “embarrassment” to the residents of the township. According to Mrs Chakraborty (in photo), “there are cultural differences between Bengali bhadralok and youths from the North-east who drink openly, are promiscuous and display affection towards the opposite sex at public places… (even) the girls smoke on the streets”.
The remarks by the chief minister’s handpicked head of the municipality last week have outraged many, not least students and professionals from the North-east who have always found the city a liberal place to stay and work in when compared to other metros. “This is such a malicious attempt to socially typify us. It’s disgusting,” said a student from the North-east who said she was too upset to even react to such “offensive, parochial and misogynist remarks”.
A few representatives of residential blocks in Salt Lake had expressed concern at the rising number of paying guests in Salt Lake during a discussion on security issues in the township with municipality representatives and police on 17 August. After the discussion, Mrs Chakraborty held forth: “Drinking at parks has to be stopped. They are free to do whatever they have been doing in Manipur, but not here.” This reporter was present at the meeting and spent the past few days chasing Mrs Chakraborty to provide her with an opportunity to retract and/or explain her statements.
When finally contacted, Mrs Chakraborty clarified that she stood by what she said as she had experienced it herself. She said: “There is a wine shop in BJ Block market where these youth come to buy alcohol. Often, two or three boys and girls are found drinking in the open, the bottle of alcohol placed on the bonnet of their car. They drink alcohol like water. Our boys (parar chele) often walk up to them, confront them, and smash their bottle.”
“These para youths are among the most parochial lumpen in the city. They are the ones who make public parks a den for drinking alcohol after sunset because they can’t have a civilised drink at home. But citizens never complain against them because they are influential, and more importantly, necessary for politicians, come election time. We are targeted because we are outsiders,” said Ms K Gaithuilu, a student from Manipur.
Mrs Chakraborty’s comments have raked up an issue that raged in July 2007 when Delhi Police put out a booklet of “advice” for men and women from the North-east on how to “blend into society” despite their “foreign features”. The booklet had triggered outraged cries of “social profiling”. A senior Salt Lake police officer, though, insisted that “in most of the complaints against public nuisance people from the North-east are found to be involved”.
A techie from Arunachal Pradesh, Ms Fesham Pagia, who works in Sector V and stays near City Centre, asked if it was only people from the North-east who misbehave in public? “Is it only they who drink publicly? And what of the women from the North-east who are subjected to unwanted sexual advances and harassment? Even if a girl from the North-east is wearing a salwar suit, though why we can’t dress as we like is another issue, the so-called para boys don’t think twice about making cat-calls and passing lewd remarks,” she added.
A Mizo research student, Mr Stephen Tuolor, who stays in a paying-guest accommodation at EE Block, Salt Lake, said: “The discrimination is not new for us in the rest of India. However, I never imagined this could exist in a welcoming city like Kolkata. The East is betraying the East.”

Soma Basu

What Bengali Bhadraloks think:

“I feel the very comment that people of
North-east behave indecently is indecent.”
Sankha Ghosh, author

“This is certainly not right. How can one typify
people from a certain region? Perhaps one or
two people behave that way, but that does
not mean everybody is like that.”
Sunil Gangopadhyay, author

“I have never seen anything as such. Due to my
popularity, often youths compose themselves
when I pass from the area. And, I have never
seen people from the North-east behaving
indecently. I think we should respect
people’s privacy.”
PK Banerjee, footballer

“I have never seen people of North-east
misbehaving. I don’t know what to say.”
Ganesh Haloi, painter

Letters to Editor (The Statesman, 25 August 2011)

Social mores
SIR, ~ This is with reference to the front-page report, “Salt Lake chairperson thinks residents from NE an embarrassment” (24 August). It appears that Mrs Krishna Chakraborty has made certain uncharitable remarks against youth from the North-east, now staying in Salt Lake. She has alleged that they drink in the open, women smoke in public and in the presence of elderly residents, and men and women roam around in an undignified manner. This, she claims, is against Bengali culture. In a word, people from the North-east have vitiated the social atmosphere of Salt Lake.
The municipality’s chairperson is obviously caught in Bengal’s cultural time-warp, the phase when codes of morality determined social behaviour. Social interaction has changed dramatically over time, particularly with the emergence of corporate culture. It is, therefore, a question of adapting to the change. Mrs Chakraborty should accept the reality and be in step with the times.
yours, etc., subir kumar datta, south 24-parganas, 24 august.

Truth about Salt Lake
SIR, ~ Soma Basu’s report on the Bidhannagar municipality chairperson’s remark against students from the North-east has raised a storm in a tea cup. A meeting on security in Salt Lake was held recently.
It was presided over by Ms Krishna Chakraborty. Her presentation as chairperson of the municipality skirted certain issues. One is the need for the police to visit the residences of senior citizens, who live alone, at least once a month. As a participant, I requested Ms Chakraborty and her team of councillors to scan through the voters’ list of every ward and identify those houses and flats, occupied by only two or one voter above the age of 65.
This will enable the municipality and the police to compile a list of senior citizens’ homes. Periodic visits by the police can be arranged accordingly.
The Bengali middle class residential ambience of the township ~ as originally planned ~ has been severely eroded by the influx of the affluent class from other states… and not necessarily from the North-east.
People have come from northern and western India to settle down in Salt Lake. The dramatic change in the social and economic character of the place has prompted criminals to target the affluent homes or the senior citizen who lives alone. Hence the spurt in dacoities as also social decadence. Both the police and the local residents can take corrective measures. Ms Chakraborty has exposed the truth.
yours, etc., samir das gupta, kolkata, 24 august.

Social behaviour

SIR, ~ Ms Krishna Chakraborty, chairperson of Bidhannagar Municipality, has reportedly stirred a controversy over her remarks on youth from the North-east in Salt Lake. Rightly has she drawn the attention of the media and residents of the area to the fast deteriorating social values.
She is correct if she has pointed out that unruly people from the North-east are vitiating the social atmosphere of the township. Liberalism of the Bengalis has taken its toll on the community’s identity and language.
Liberalism does not mean encouragement of an alien culture that flouts social mores.
yours, etc., swadesh majumdar, (secretary, bharat bangla bhasa prasar samity), bidhannagar, 26 august.

Parochialism marks cultural template
SIR, ~ The comments of the Bidhannagar Municipality chairperson, reported by Soma Basu, are irresponsible and smack of bigotry. While it is perfectly in order for an elected office-holder to be concerned about public orderliness and security in her constituency, what is highly objectionable is her apparent appeal to parochialism and enforcement of a cultural template. Obviously no civilised municipality or city wants its laws to be broken. But to go beyond criticism and control of law-breaking into the dangerous zone of culture policing is repugnant. By attributing the violation of Bidhannagar’s Bangali bhadrolok culture to outsiders from a particular region of India, Ms Krishna Chakraborty displays a simple-mindedness that is surprising and frightening. We can expect this from leaders of the Shiv Sena and RSS but not from a politician in this state.
Ms Chakraborty may not be aware of the fact that when Dr Bidhan Roy ~ after whom the municipality she heads is named ~ applied to a London hospital for higher studies in the early 1900s, he was first turned down for being an Asian. Fortunately, this bigoted decision was discovered and reversed. As a student in California, I have personally known of landlords refusing to rent flats to Bengali students because “their cooking smells.”
It is surprising that Ms Chakraborty’s comments have not been repudiated by senior leaders of her party. For a state that has always had a culture of openness and inclusiveness, this, surely, is one paribartan we don’t want.
Your, etc., Bonani Kakkar, Kolkata, 28 August.

Element of intolerance
SIR, ~ The two reports published in your paper on 23 and 25 August regarding the harassment faced in Kolkata by students and others from the North-East and even from the Darjeeling hills make distressing reading. It is most unfortunate, if not disgraceful, that bonafide Indian citizens should face such an ordeal in their own country and especially in a city which has always taken pride in its progressive culture. An element of intolerance is taking hold over the psyche of a section of Bengalis in this city. This trend must be reversed. How can we accuse Australians, Americans and the Europeans of xenophobia and racialism when such disgraceful incidents take place in our own country?
No wonder people from the North-east and Darjeeling suffer from a sense of alienation from the national mainstream even 64 years after independence. Genuine national integration still seems to be a long way off if behaviour of the kind your paper has reported is anything to go by. The only remedy is proper education and a vigorous drive to raise awareness about India’s plural society and its many cultures. I can only hope that the younger generation will imbibe a spirit of greater tolerance and accommodation in taking the country forward on the road to progress and prosperity.
Yours, etc., Prof Purusottam Bhattacharya, Jadavpur University, 30 August.

4 September 2011, VIEWPOINT, The Statesman:

Chairperson should learn to do her job first
The chairperson of Bidhannagar Municipality should have taken recourse to law instead of making such a sweeping comment against persons of belonging to a particular region. In West Bengal, smoking and drinking in public places are prohibited. The chairperson should have invoked the law if she felt it was being broken. Her comment indicates that she is either not aware of the law of the land or doesn’t know how to get it implemented. Perhaps, she could learn a thing or two about governance first?
bd banerjee, 29 august, bandel

Open to debate
I don’t think students from the country’s North-east are being discriminated against en masse. I have seen many of them indulging in unsavoury activities openly in public places of Salt Lake. But having said that, it will not be fair to tar all of them with the same brush. The chairperson of Bidhannagar Municipality, Mrs Krishna Chakraborty, has every reason to voice her concerns if she feels the moral fabric of her preserve is being threatened but she can never make sweeping statements. Perhaps this debate will put the focus on the regionalism practised in every Indian state. While it is easy to condemn Mrs Chakraborty, isn’t it also highly likely that the Shiv Sena would be instantly up in arms if a large number of Bengalis in Mumbai are found conducting themselves in a manner less than desirable?
saswata gupta, 30 august, kolkata

Unnecessarily judgemental

It would be an exaggeration to say that students of the country’s North-east region are discriminated against in Kolkata. Unlike Delhi and other metropolitan cities where they are attacked and often sexually abused, students of North-east feel much more at home in Kolkata. Most of these students either live at rented premises or as paying guests. They mostly keep to themselves and are cordial. Though many Kolkatans may find their sartorial habits offensive, the same can be said about a lot of local youth too. The comments made by Mrs Krishna Chakraborty, the chairperson of Bidhan Nagar Municipality reflect her views. But I do not agree with Mrs Chakraborty’s suggestion that there is a clash of morality between the Bengali bhadralok and students from the North-east. Local youth too are guilty of consuming alcohol openly and seeking out dark and secluded places to indulge in activities which cannot be conducted honourably and in public. A student from the North-east has rightly observed that since we are too timid to tame our own wayward youth, we are taking it out on young guests from the North-east. People of the country’s North-east feel neglected. Instead of sitting in silly judgment, we should go out of our way to make these young people feel at home.
dilip kumar banerjee, 1 september, kolkata

Soma Basu

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