Altamash Hamid was in Class X when he saw a man hit a woman on a busy Calcutta street and get away with it.
The mass communication student from St. Xavier’s College hadn’t expected the city to be any more moved by the plight of a woman wronged when he and a friend posted a message on Facebook, calling for a march on Saturday to demand justice for the victim of the Delhi bus gang rape.
Altamash, Alto to friends, is happy the city has proved him wrong.
“You don’t get many people making a noise about social issues,” the 21-year-old told Metro. “But it was overwhelming to see over 6,000 people turn up for the march in association with a group called Orange Revolution and the organisers of SlutWalk.”
Alto’s compatriot in the cause is Aishwarya Roy, a student of English at St. Xavier’s. He assures you the two of them and their friends are in this for the long haul.
“That incident when I was in Class X left an indelible impression. I was returning home from school (Assembly of God Church) when I saw the couple fighting in the middle of a busy street and the man slapping her right across her face. Worse, nobody came to her help. I promised myself I wouldn’t be an onlooker,” Alto recalled.
Early this year, the aspiring film-maker had tried organising a march in support of the victim in the Park Street rape case but didn’t receive much support. “I wanted to mobilise the student community but could not garner enough numbers. Only 10 people were ready to back me,” he said.
But Alto hasn’t given up. He thinks the only way to jolt people out of slumber is to keep at it.
“It is shocking to know how most women in our country are treated. There’s no respect for them,” he said. “I keep telling my friends that the problem is in the system….We need to do something for a safer city. Let us not react only when it concerns our family.”
Friend Aishwarya’s support and the “blind faith of my core group” have encouraged Alto to take the movement forward. “We demand safety for women on Calcutta streets, in the light of the Park Street rape. I still feel we did not do enough for that victim,” Alto said.
The city’s student community plans to send a signed petition to Rashtrapati Bhavan, seeking speedy justice for the Delhi rape victim.
Alto is aware that starting a movement is easier than sustaining it, so he is particular about getting only those on board who are serious about continuing the campaign.
“Not everybody who was part of Saturday’s march seemed to believe in it. Many had apparently joined in for the fun of it. They kept spoiling the mood…. There were some who even advised me not to waste my time,” Alto said.
And what about his family? “My parents were worried initially. My mother thought I might get into trouble for organising such a large protest,” the Xaverian said.
If Alto and his friends had doubted Calcutta’s heart at any time, it was dispelled by the sight of a middle-aged lady with arthritis walking the entire stretch from Esplanade till Birla Planetarium.
“I was reduced to tears when I saw her. She walked despite her pain. There were also many professionals, academicians, relatives and neighbours of friends who had come from faraway places to march with us,” the 21-year-old said.
For Alto, the journey has only just begun.
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