Bapi Sen is dead. Politicians have rushed with wreaths. The four friends who watched Bapi being beaten to death will live to fight another day. Somewhere, an unknown woman weeps silently for reasons best known to her, that make it impossible to come out in the open and point a finger at the accused.
We have been silenced as a people by the selfish misrule of those who have treated the lives of citizens as cheap and dispensable every time a policeman is killed, an old man is run over, children die in heaps at hospitals, one political activist kills another or in the grandest of finales, another farcical election is announced. The blood of our youth is on the hands of every politician and the stench of death is simply masked by mammoth strands of roses and rajanigandhas.
In the land of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Ramakrishna Paramahans, Parmahans Yogananda, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Gurudev Tagore and beatified Mother Teresa, politics is the only opium of our deprived and frustrated people; let no one pretend otherwise and try to teach us different. And today, Calcutta is ashamed.
Our tears have run dry. The furrows of discontentment, disillusionment and apathy that scar our faces have also numbed our senses and sensibilities to a point where unrestricted and unrestrained animalism prevails and we, like predators, wait for our own opportunities to strike, to bleed our fellow man.
The best of times; the worst of times. With no accountability; terrorised by politicians; political hoodlums and gangland warlords; governed by decrepit old fossils who can neither preserve old values nor inspire new ones; driven by fear and cowardice, the masses turn the other way in the face of inhuman atrocities that are perpetrated at their doorstep… These are not the best, but the worst times most of us have known.
Eve-teasing. We’ve all done it with a great sense of fun and the more the girls got irritated, the more fun it was. But never, never was the teasing lewd or distasteful and physical abuse of any kind was unheard of. Those were the days. Times have changed.
When you look at the romantic films we saw, whether with Uttam Kumar blushing redder than Suchitra Sen or Burton cartwheeling around Liz Taylor or Rex Harrison chauvinistically plundering Audrey Hepburn or even the most titillating of them all, Elvis, with his bevy of maidens in swimsuits gushing all over him, coarseness and vulgarity were not the themes we were brought up on. That was when Shammi Kapoor gyrated and bounced from mountain to vale and waterfall to brook, to woo and wow the wide-hipped Asha Parekh or the tantalising Sharmila Tagore. Those were the days.
Then times turned rotten. Romance was reduced to an anecdote, trousseaus turned to dowries and became a cause for murder, love turned to lascivious lust and angry scenes that once shook lovers’ locks over knitted brows, evolved into gunfights in a not-so-okay corral where we became the cattle for slaughter. Blood and gore that we picked up from low-grade entertainers made in Hong Kong and the back streets of Hollywood, mingled with an apathetic objectivity where warped heroes sprang from rags to riches and became the stuff that dreams are made of. Things had suddenly changed right under our noses and we watched and let it happen.
Today, we live in a far more educated society than ever before, but with cyberspace has come 24-hour party lines, the downloading of pornography from a Net that bristles with it and VSNL providing no means of blocking illicit senders. Our song sequences are the most obscene display of anatomy and the choreography closer to soft porn than anything aesthetic.
It shall take an age before we Calcuttans and Bengalis regain our innocence and self-respect. The example has to be set by those who govern us. When they let criminals in hospitals and unions and party offices get away with murder, all they do is remind the ordinary man of his continuing irrelevance. The murder in hospitals of neglect, the slaughter of young minds in schools without teachers, the indoctrination of politics into young minds are crimes that go unpunished in our moribund society.
Fear has made us cowards. We burn buses and ransack and destroy offices and in gangs, wage war upon society but, individually, we are becoming the sort of slithery slimeballs whose political and economic successes we want to emulate.We live in the best of times. After all, things can’t get much worse. Things can only get better. I pray they do, in a hurry, for our children.
THE SEVEN DEADLY sins of 2002: when bravery fetched punishment
April: Sanjit Das, 35, was shot dead in a packed private bus for protesting against eve-teasing. Around noon, six youths boarded a private bus plying between Naihati and Barasat, and started harassing a woman. Das, a resident of Kalyangram in North 24-Parganas, asked them to stop. No one else in the bus protested as the girl cringed in her seat. The youths warned Das to ‘mind his own business’, but he persisted. As the bus was crossing Jagatdal, one of the goons whipped out a revolver and shot Das. Most of the passengers refused to give a statement. Four people were later arrested.
April: A man and his wife were beaten up when they protested three women being heckled by some youths playing cricket at the crossing of Vivekananda Road and Duff Street. Megha Lohariwala, 15, and her mother, Madhu, came out of the Vivekananda Road residence of Anita Bhimaniwala, a relative. Some youths chucked pebbles at them and made lewd remarks. When Anita stepped in, all three were chased back into the house. One of their neighbours, Saumitra Saha, and wife Jayanti, who came down to help, were beaten up. The youths fled after other neighbours joined the protest. The police could not round up the youths, as the women refused to press charges against them.
May: Ajay Sarabhogi, a student of Class XII in a school at Golabari, Howrah, was stabbed to death by classmate Pawan Jaiswal. Pawan was “taking revenge” after Ajay had insulted him in public for teasing their teacher. Pawan passed some lewd remarks at their teacher and Ajay protested. But Pawan abused Ajay and Ajay hit back. Pawan went to a hardware shop in the Burrabazar-Brabourne Road area, bought a knife and an iron rod, and lay in wait for Ajay outside his M.C. Ghosh Lane residence. Spotting his chance, he pounced on Ajay, hitting him on the head with the rod and then repeatedly stabbing him in the stomach.
July: A hawker on Agarpara railway station was slashed with a knife when he protested against eve-teasers. Some miscreants accosted a girl, on platform number 2 at around 9 am, and started passing lewd remarks. Dhirendra Nath Dutta, a middle-aged railway hawker, raised an alarm. After the girl fled, two of the youths attacked Dutta and slashed his hand. Locals finally intervened, forcing the goons to flee. Three people were later arrested.
August: A girl said she had been travelling in her Ambassador when Durjoy Sengupta, a lawyer, physiotherapist Soumen Pal and Central government employee Anupam Banerjee chased her in an Indica and hurled abuses, which ended with the two cars crashing into each other. The girl lodged a complaint at Topsia police station. The three were arrested and produced in court the next day. The men later went to her house and urged her to withdraw the complaint. They were picked up again, along with Sengupta’s father and the relative of another accused. Later, Sengupta produced a letter written by the girl, withdrawing the complaint. A section of the city's legal fraternity struck work at Sealdah court and the chief metropolitan magistrate's court, in support of Sengupta.
October: Halisur Rehman, a Russell Street businessman, had been harried by a local youth, Talat Omar, teasing his daughter. He had lodged complaints with the police. One afternoon, he received a packet from a courier agency, containing forged Bangladeshi passports. Policemen from the anti-terrorist squad stormed his house and caught him “red-handed”. They accused him of being a spy and a terrorist. Rehman explained that he had been framed by a man who had been harassing his daughter, but to no avail. He was interrogated at the Lalbazar police headquarters, and finally managed to convince officer-in-charge of the anti-terrorist cell, Shabbir Ahmed. Rehman was released the next day.
December: Five constables, drinking in a taxi on New Year’s eve, were harassing a woman, riding pillion on a motorbike driven by a young man on Nirmal Chandra Street. Off-duty traffic Sergeant Bapi Sen, passing by in a car with four of his friends, stopped to help. They repeatedly beat him, till he fell on the tram tracks, unconscious, when they continued to hit him in the head. None of Bapi’s friends, the taxi driver or his helper attempted to rescue him, while the couple on the motorbike sped away. Bapi died six days later. The woman he was trying to save and her companion have still not come forward, despite repeated pleas from the police.