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What they could not tell CM
Where the day ends at 3pm and the journey home spreads fear

Calcutta, June 18: Had Mamata Banerjee paused for more than four minutes at Derozio Memorial College yesterday while storming out of Kamduni, the chief minister would have heard what she would not outside the home of the girl who was raped and murdered.

Mamata would have heard how the sun sets a little after 3pm on more than 1,200 girls every day at the college, 22km from her seat of power in Calcutta. The girls’ day has shrunk because no one can guarantee their safety outside the college far beyond that hour.

Mamata would also have heard of the girl who has little option but to go around in her NCC uniform because the colour khaki offers better protection than the State has so far. Or the girl who always keeps her mobile phone in speed-dial mode when she steps out of home.

The girl who was brutalised on June 7 was a student of Derozio Memorial College. The second-year BA pass student, who had selected Bengali, philosophy and education as her subjects, was dragged into an empty plot with a boundary wall near a bheri (fishery) and raped by several men and killed.

Returning from another college in Lake Town after an exam, she had got off the bus nearest to her home — about 2km away — and was walking. Her brother, who would come to fetch her every day on his bicycle, was a few minutes late.

The stretch between the bus stop and home in a village has been the most feared before the girl was raped and murdered.

The chief minister had yesterday stopped by the college on her way back from the village and left after speaking to an official.

Named after one of the most renowned social reformers of Bengal, the college, painted in blue and white, sprawls opposite a well-advertised housing estate in Rajarhat, about a half-an-hour drive from Ultadanga. Around the college have mushroomed construction sites.

From the principal’s room, the sights and sounds of machinery relentlessly at work are inescapable.

The college, established in 1996, has 3,500 students in its honours and pass undergraduate courses. Around 35-40 per cent of the students are girls, says principal Dibyendu Talapatra.

Beyond the housing estate, farther into the villages but close enough, is another world of paddy and mustard fields, bheris and water bodies, into which “development” in the form of construction is wading in.

The unhindered run of goons has ensured that when women from the “hinterland” emerge into the highway and step into the “developed” world’s institutions, they face sullen resistance.

“It is the problem of the anchal (area),” says a person from the locality who will not be named.

Construction has empowered a group of men overnight or attracted others who are drunk on new money and political backing.

They rule the feared stretches — the bheris, the half-built factory sites and the patches of darkness between the high road and the villages, which the girls returning home dread the most.

Anything can happen in the unlit belts where the administration does not exist and lawlessness rules. Such stretches are more numerous than electric lights.

Transport drives another nail in. “Buses on only five routes ply in the area and they are infrequent. So, if a student misses a bus, she arrives an hour late,” says an official.

The nearest police station is in Barasat. Many feel police patrol and police kiosks in the area can help lessen the fear psychosis.

The absence of the basic levers of the administration — and the boys going to work, often in the fields — is telling on attendance.

But some girls have evolved a system to come to college — by abridging the day. Most arrive at 11am and stay on till 3pm at the most.

Most are first-generation learners from farmers’ families and the college officials are keen to extend them additional help. But almost no girl can attend the “remedial coaching” that is offered after classes. Boys alone attend such classes that can extend up to 5pm.

The girls who won’t give up — many are studying despite lack of encouragement from their families — sport a strong will to earn a degree and land a job, mostly in teaching.

At least one girl wants to open a restaurant and two others want to join the police force. The sense of insecurity prevented many from speaking on record to this correspondent.

Two girls from conservative families, who want to be policewomen, have joined the National Cadet Corps (NCC) on their own.

After finding out that enlistment in NCC will enhance their chances of getting a job in the force, they travel to the Maidan every Sunday for the training.

One of them tends to wear her track pants or be in the NCC uniform. “It earns the respect of the family and it also protects me in the neighbourhood,” says the second-year BA pass student whose father has a modest business.

Her neighbourhood, a few kilometres from her college, is “jomjomat” (lively), and she does not feel threatened. But outside her locality, the uniform is helpful. Men are scared to touch her if she is in khaki, she says.

Her friend’s family does not approve of a girl wearing pants more than she can help. She also goes to a late private tuition class on her own. In place of the reassuring khaki, she banks on technology to protect herself. “I always keep my mobile in the speed-dial mode and keep my home number ready,” she says.