It is still too early to say that bullying does not pay. Although the Communist Party of India (Marxist) councillor of ward no. 14 of the Dum Dum municipality, Mr Swapan Saha, and his companions in crime had been arrested for 'rowdyism and damaging others' property', they were back threatening the victims the moment they were out on bail. Mr Saha led a mob attack against Ms Saraswati Sinha and her two teenage children because Ms Sinha refused to give up a portion of her property for a club the CPI(M) wanted. The story reveals the complete breakdown of administration at the level of public need. Not only were the police helpless before the mob, but the local police station also refused to register a complaint from the Sinhas, even though all three had been beaten up and Ms Sinha's daughter badly wounded. It needed the intervention of Alimuddin Street, to which the Sinhas appealed in desperation, for things to start moving in a different direction. The state human rights commission too has responded to the Sinhas' complaint.
The moral of the story so far is not reassuring. It is heartening to find that the party headquarters is anxious to show its sensitive side, but it remains to be seen how far this is dictated by the demands of election time and by the predilections of individual office-bearers. The sequence of events still looks like an extension of the logic of power, not the creaking of an administrative system seeking to right itself. There is hope, certainly, but it is difficult to see in what the hope should be placed. The SHRC is doing what is expected of it. But again, what teeth it has at any given time is often determined by the party's attitude at that moment. Local groups affiliated to political parties, most notably the CPI(M), have acquired the habit of taking over spaces on private premises whenever they wish ' usually targeting property belonging to vulnerable or non-affiliated persons. If Ms Sinha can come back and live in her own house with her children without fear, some reparation for a silent history of coercion and exploitation will have been made. And it might even, if the government to come is alert and serious, herald a change.