West Bengal has one area of growth: crime. This is not entirely unexpected since most avenues of employment and legal income generation are blocked because of the absence of any major investment in the state. The spurt in crime is manifest in the violence and growing lawlessness on the streets of Calcutta and other small towns. One particular type of crime, which is witnessing a remarkable increase, is the harassment and molestation of women. Calcutta at night is no longer a safe place , not only to walk in but even to move around in a car. Large areas of the city are taken over at night by hooligans, most of whom are mounted on motorcycles. Given that the prevailing circumstances are unlikely to change in a hurry, conditions are likely to deteriorate and worsen.
Violence is nothing new to Calcutta and West Bengal. It has been a feature of the state’s political culture since the late 1960s. Every important political formation has always had — and continues to have — its own army of hooligans. This army survives on the patronage it receives from powerful politicians and political parties. And because of this patronage and support the police force is unwilling to take any action against these habitual offenders. The word “unwilling” is deliberately used since there is nothing that actually stops the police if they want to perform their duties. Under the present dispensation, this lawlessness has acquired a new salience. What is becoming apparent is that not only do important leaders of the ruling party support and protect the law breakers (the previous regime did the same) but also that many leaders are of the army referred to above. This has engendered the ambience in which criminals and molesters of women have come to believe that it is possible to get away with anything in West Bengal. Thus the green signal for crime to thrive. The situation is aggravated by the complacency of the police. In spite of the many horror stories about molestation of women in Calcutta and the police’s inactivity, the city’s police commissioner could say with a straight face that “the situation is not that bad”. It should be asked of the police commissioner what in his opinion is a bad situation. The complete surrender of the police to their political masters (again not a new phenomenon) and the not-so-tacit support of the ruling party to law-breakers are pulling West Bengal to the lower depths.