| Rahul Roy, with stitches on his head after being beaten up by two youths, who also assaulted his friend, model Tina Mukherjee. Picture by Pabitra Das
Till the other night, Jaya was comfortable catching a cab home from Park Street after work at the Tantra console got over. “My parents always insisted that I be accompanied by someone, but I didn’t think it was necessary as I felt brave,” said the 23-year-old DJ. “The attack on Tina, however, has left me shaken.”
The case of Tina Mukherjee, 26-year-old model who was molested and assaulted on the streets by two goons while some bystanders looked on, has raised serious questions about the safety of women in the city after dark.
Police files reveal that 700 women fall victim to harassment every year on the streets of Calcutta. “Most victims do not come forward to complain. Had all of them turned up at a police station like Tina did, the numbers would have been startling,” said a senior officer at Lalbazar.
Women who come home late, owing to profession or partying, are rattled by the way no Calcuttan responded to Tina’s cries for help when she and friend Rahul Roy were being beaten up in an upmarket south Calcutta locality.
“I am scared,” admitted Tina’s friend and ramp colleague Jessica. “We always thought that the people of Calcutta would come forward if they saw a woman in distress, but we are shocked with what happened to Tina.”
Last month, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had expressed concern over “the rising graph of crime against women”, while addressing his force during the police association’s annual meeting.
“Most incidents of eve-teasing and harassment take place in the evening or at night,” pointed out Gyanwant Singh, deputy commissioner of police (detective department). “We have put a number of steps into place to curb such incidents.”
These so-called steps are hardly evident. A senior officer admitted that ploys like “using policewomen to catch harassers in the act” have flopped and policemen posted in common hunting grounds of road Romeos have often been found chatting or dozing.
“The nightlife profile of the city has changed, with more and more women staying out late. And a growing section of youths is hitting the streets on motorcycles and in cars late at night to harass soft targets. Night vigil must be intensified at once,” said the officer.
There is only so much ground that the police can cover, and it’s up to the people to help keep the city safe. “I have been working at TCS for a year-and-a-half now and often finish work at 11pm. Usually, I get a drop, but even otherwise, I thought if something went wrong, people would come to help. But now I am not sure,” said Agnimita Pal, 24.
So, has the compassionate Calcutta crowd gone cold' “One of the reasons why people don’t rush to the aid of someone in trouble is that they don’t want to get involved in the hassle. People have become increasingly self-centred; as long as they are okay, it doesn’t matter if someone else is in trouble,” said psychologist Atashi Gupta.
The police, meanwhile, urged victims to follow the example of Tina and Rahul and lodge formal complaints.
“We get a lot of verbal complaints from women working in the IT sector, but very few want to pursue the case,” said an officer of Bidhannagar sub-division.
Dancer Alokananda Roy, mother of Rahul, said: “We will pursue this case so that it becomes a lesson for those two boys who attacked my son and Tina and to others like them.”
The police have zeroed in on the Rabindra Sadan-Nandan premises, Park Street, Shakespeare Sarani, Camac Street, Dhakuria Lakes and pockets of Salt Lake as target zones of road Romeos.
“Calcutta is still safer after dark for women than Delhi, but there is a growing sense of unease. The nature of harassment is changing from lewd comments and teasing to molestation and assault. That is alarming, as is the growing apathy of the people on the streets,” summed up Anjali, a party regular.