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Calcutta HC orders CID probe against Tapas Pal, Rape Remark #Vaw


HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  Kolkata, July 28, 2014

The Calcutta high court ordered on Monday a court-monitored Criminal Investigation Department (CID) probe against Trinamool Congress MP Tapas Pal for his remarks in Choumaha village, West Bengal, that he would kill and order his men to rape anyone who opposed his party.

Pal’s comments, which came to public attention after a video of his speech was leaked to the media on July 2, had sparked nationwide outrage, forcing West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to admonish the MP, though she later “forgave” him.

Taking note of his remarks, Justice Dipankar Datta of the Calcutta high court observed that Pal had “shown an evil tendency to become law unto himself” before ordering a court-monitored CID probe against the MP. “If this tendency is not nipped in the bud,” the judge said, “the situation would take a turn for the worse for the state.”

Datta also came down heavily on the state police for not registering an FIR against Pal for his inflammatory comments. “I wonder whether it is due to lack of fundamental knowledge of the criminal laws or a calculated move to save an MP being prosecuted that the case was not registered,” he observed.

Datta passed the order on a petition filed by Biplab Chowdhry, who had lodged a complaint with the Nakashipara Police station against Pal on July 2.

Meanwhile, ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal on Monday declined to comment on the Calcutta high court order of filing an FIR against party MP Tapas Pal for his controversial comments against women and its direction that the CID probe the matter.

“No, I will not comment anything without seeing the order,” TMC all India general secretary Mukul Roy told PTI.

The state BJP, on the other hand, welcomed the high court order.

“We welcome the high court order. We are grateful to the court for the order,” state BJP leader Tathagata Roy said.

CPI(M) central committee member Suryakanta Mishra said “I hope that according to the court order the complaint would be treated as an FIR. I think he (Tapas Pal) should be arrested.”

Pal had in an open letter tendered unconditional apology to the media and the public for his comments.

“Some remarks made by me in the heat and dust of the election campaign (2014 Lok Sabha polls) have caused dismay and consternation. I apologise unreservedly for them,” Pal had said in the written apology.

“And I assure you it will not happen again. Once more, a humble apology.”

Justice Datta directed that the state CID would not disclose the report, which is to be submitted to the court on September 1, to anyone without its prior leave. He observed “Mr Pal and other MPs like him should know that they are under the rule of law and not law of rules”.

“Mr Pal was a Bengali film actor and subsequently got elected as Member of Parliament twice, so he is an idol to many men,” Datta observed.

(With agency inputs)

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#RIP- Vidya Munshi, First Working Women Journalist, relentless activist, and Veteran Communist leader

PIC: Subhendu Chaki, telegraph


Veteran Communist leader, scholar and writer, Vidya Munshi, passed away on Monday in Kolkata. She was 94.

Arguably the first  working woman journalist of t he country, Ms. Munshi was born in Mumbai in 1919 and worked in various newspapers and magazines, including The Blitz.

She stood first among women in the school-leaving examination and left for England to study medicine.

In 1942, Ms. Munshi joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and took part in several programmes of the Communist party in Europe, mainly against the violence and cruelty committed by fascist forces.

In 1945, on behalf of All India Student’s Federation, the student’s wing of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Ms. Munshi participated in an eventful women’s conference (World Federation of Democratic Youth) in Paris.

Ms. Munshi headed the board that publishes the CPI’s mouthpiece, ‘Kalantar’ for several years and was an active member of the party. She headed State Women’s Commission till 2000. She documented her life, the political upheavals and the shaping of women’s movements of her time in great detail in a brilliant memoir, ‘In Retrospect. War-time Memories and Thoughts on Women’s Movement.’

Many important leaders, including members of various political parties, paid their last respects to their favourite ‘Vidya-di’ on Monday afternoon. Her last rites were performed in a city crematorium.


Arguably the first woman journalist of the country, Vidya Munshi Munshi was born in Mumbai in 1919 and worked in various newspapers and magazines.

Below is excerpts from her interview to telegraph in 2006 by Rajashri Dasgupta

Vidya Munsi sits for hours on her chair, reading carefully through sheaves of paper. In the darkened room, with only her face visible, her silver hair pulled back in a tight bun, she looks almost like a painting by Vermeer. She peers through her thick spectacles and uses a magnifying glass to read in the light of the reading lamp. Occasionally, she stops and leans forward to make notes with her left hand. One observes, speechless, that there is absolutely nothing that can deter the indomitable Vidya Munsi, not even a cerebral stroke that paralysed the right side of her body four years ago.

The first working woman journalist of Calcutta, Vidya Munsi is now 87 years old. But her memory is crystal clear even now. She runs me through her student life in Mumbai before World War II, the influence of her father who was a well-known criminal lawyer, her love of books, her induction into the Communist Party in England, her experience as a journalist and her deep commitment to and involvement in social and political causes. Every debate, every issue of the women’s movement that saw her in the forefront in the streets of Bengal and in solidarity with movements in Vietnam, Cuba or the former Soviet Union, is etched clearly in her memory.

Vidya-di, as she is affectionately called, was barely 18 years old when, ranking first among girl students in the matriculation examinations, she set off alone for England to study medicine. Her maternal grandmother stood by her against family resistance, saying, “Why should she not go’ Her father has the money, the girl has the courage.” Courage she certainly had. Vidya Munsi, nee Kanuga, had left home to become a doctor, but politics occupied all her attention and in 1942, she joined the band of Indian Communists in the UK when the Communist Party was still illegal in India. She has never looked back since.

In her book, In Retrospect. War-time Memories and Thoughts on Women’s Movement, Munsi has captured vividly the spirit of the times and the important phases of her political life ‘ the war years spent in England and in the headquarters of the World Federation of Democratic Youth; her visits to different countries as a representative of the women’s movement after Independence ‘ and some important events and debates on women’s problems in India.

Unfortunately, the articles written during her 10-year stint as a reporter from 1952 to 1962 have not been included in the book. At that time, she was the Calcutta correspondent of Blitz, a Bombay weekly critical of government policies and excelling in investigative journalism. One of her ‘scoops’ was on two Canadian pilots who were to fly from Hong Kong with gold and drop it on an island in the Sunderbans, which was then to be smuggled into Calcutta. Another of her major stories that made headlines was on the Chinakuri mine disaster in Asansol where hundreds of miners were killed; the famous playwright and actor Utpal Dutt went on to script the tragedy into a chilling play,Angar.

On her return from the UK after the World War, Munsi married Sunil Munsi, a geographer and editor of the now-defunct journal, The Student. There she was groomed as a reporter. A Gujarati by birth, Munsi learnt to write Bengali many years later. 

In subsequent years, Munsi, a former member of the National Council of the Communist Party of India, endeared herself to women as she found common cause with them. Her majestic 5’ 7” frame could be spotted leading huge demonstrations against dowry or rape or women’s right to work. She was equally comfortable taking part in heated debates on the new feminism that developed in India since the 1980s.

Her non-sectarian attitude and her ability to work with women from different organisations on a common platform will perhaps be remembered by many.

In fact, Munsi took the battle right into the lion’s den. The Communist Party is not known to easily give women a voice or space. To the discomfort of some party bosses, Munsi advocated that women’s issues “was a running battle ‘ a priority ‘ with all other battles” and that socialism itself would not automatically solve women’s problems. A close colleague remembers that at a conference when some leaders lamented that young women were not joining the movement, Munsi retorted that if the party patriarchs did not mend their ways, even the older women would be forced to leave.




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The Tapas Pal controversy: All you need to know #Vaw

Indrani Roy deconstructs the controversy over Trinamool Congress MP Tapas Pal controversial remarks on rape.

When Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee became West Bengal chief minister in 2011, she had stated, Bodla noy bodol chai(We want change, not revenge).

But quite a few members of her party conveniently chose to give her words a miss.

We shuddered in the past as Anubrata Mondal (Birbhum district TMC president whose name figures in a murder first information report) on television inciting his partymen to throw bombs at the police.

However, what TMC Member of Parliament Tapas Pal did surpasses any kind of political audacity that West Bengal in recent times has come to represent.

Pal hit the headlines on Monday when a couple of regional channels aired video footage that has the MP threatening members of the opposition with rape and murder during a rally at Choumaha in Bengals Nadia district on June 14.

In the Lok Sabha, Pal represents Krishnanagar, Nadia.

What exactly did the MP say?

Ekta kono CPI-M jodi amaar maa, bon, chacha, chachi karo gaye haat dey ei Tapas Pal chhere katha bolbe na. Tapas Pal nijer revolver bar kore guli kore diye chole jabe. Jene rakhben, bhalo kore jene rakhben, ami Chandannagarer maal… Ami Kolkatar maal noi, Chandannagarer maal. Rangbaji Tapas Paul korechhe. (If anybody from the CPI-M dares touch my mother, sister, uncle or aunt, then this Tapas Pal is not going to spare them. Tapas Pal will shoot them with his revolver. Remember, I am from Chandernagore. I am not from Kolkata. Tapas Pal too has been a tough).

Ekta jodi kono birodhi aajke Trinamooler kono meye, kono baap, kono bachchar gaye haat dey, tader gushti ke ami jaa taa kore chole jabo. Amaar chheleder dhukiye debo rape kore chole jabe, rape kore chole jabe…. (If anyone from the opposition dares touch a daughter, father, child from Trinamool, I will do whatever I can to their entire clan. I will set my boys on them, they will rape them.)

I said raid, not rape

Speaking to CNN IBN on Monday, however, Pal said he never used the word rape.

He claimed to have said ‘raid’ instead.

“I never said rape. I said raid. I said they should raid all the people and places, including the women and the old,” Pal told the television channel.

He also claimed that the opposition was trying to defame him.

Meanwhile, Pals wife Nandini on Tuesday apologised to the media on her husbands behalf.

Pals words have drawn protest waves across the country and many want him arrested.

Can the TMC MP be arrested for what he said?

According to (Retired) Justice Bhagabati Prasad Bandyopadhyay, he can be charged with inciting violence.

Advocate and Congress leader Arunava Ghosh too is of the opinion that the TMC MP can be charged under Section 117 of the Indian Penal Code and can be put behind bars for provoking rape and murder.

Who is Tapas Pal?

The 1958-born Pal is a reputed actor from Kolkata.

He debuted in the film Dadar Kirti directed by Tarun Majumdar in 1980.

He received a Filmfare Award for his role in Saheb.

In an acting career spanning over about 30 years, Pals roles in films like Bhalobasha Bhalobasha and Guru Dakshina earned him much critical acclaim.

Pal shared screen space with Madhuri Dixit in a 1984-film Abodh directed by Hiren Nag.

He joined the Trinamool Congress in 2000 and was elected a member of the legislative assembly from Alipore for two terms (2001-2006 and 2006-2009).

He has been a member of Parliament from Krishnanagar since 2009.

Personal life

Pals personal life has been marred with controversies.

He allegedly refused to take care of his mother and was even accused of throwing her out of their ancestral home.

His wife Nandini once went public about his alleged illicit relations with a co-star.

However, the couple is known to have buried the hatchet now.

Their daughter Sohini, is one of the new faces Tollywood.

When Pal supported Kunal Ghosh

In late 2013, Pal, along with another actor-turned TMC MP Shatabdi Roy, was seen siding with jailed TMC MP Kunal Ghosh in a rally.

There Ghosh was heard speaking against the state government with regard to the Saradha scam.

As a result, both Pal and Roy drew the party leaderships ire and it took the duo only 24 hours to do a volte face.

India agog with criticism

Criticisms against the TMC MPs comments are pouring in from every corner.

While National Commission for Women demanded Pal’s arrest on Tuesday, civil society is up in arms against the actor-turned parliamentarian.

Actress Aparna Sen seemed aghast.

Talking to regional media in Kolkata on Tuesday afternoon, she said, I am dumbfounded. This is not the Tapas I knew. I once shared warm and cordial ties with him. I am stunned. How can he make such obnoxious comments? Has it got something to do with being in politics?

To writer Nabaneeta Dev Sen, the video clips aired by the television channels seemed like movie clippings depicting a villains takes.

Probably, Pal forgot that he was speaking not as a reel life hero but as an elected representative of the people.

Sen urged the administration to take immediate action against the MP.

A reputed filmmaker, who has worked closely with Pal, told on condition of anonymity, Something is rotten in this state of West Bengal.

I still cant come to terms with the fact that Tapas has made such dirty comments. Someone needs to talk to him. It seems he needs help.

Poet Sankha Ghosh was even more vehement. I am out of words.  I feel ashamed as a human being. Its a sad day for Bengal,” he told

Trinamool Congress’ stand

As expected, an embarrassed Trinamool Congress promptly distanced itself from Pal’s comments.
While the people of Bengal waited impatiently for a few words from their loved chief minister, the latter chose to maintain a stoic silence.

Instead, her trusted emissary TMC general secretary Mukul Roy did the talking.

The chief minister is pained. The Trinamool Congress doesnt endorse Pals comments,” Roy told the media.

Taking the cue from Roy, state education minister Partha Chatterjee and TMC spokeman Derek O’ Brien said, “Statements made by Tapas Pal are very insensitive. We do not in any way endorse what he said,” O’Brien said.

“A chief minister as sensitive as Mamata Banerjee, I can tell you in colloquialism, she is hopping mad”, OBrien added.

While activists across the country are crying themselves hoarse asking for Pals immediate arrest, his party on Monday night asked the MP to send in a written explanation within 48 hours.

The oppositions stand

The BJP has sought to know if Mamata Banerjee plans action against her party MP.

“The question needs to be asked to Banerjee if she would endorse such statements and what action would be taken,” said Rajiv Pratap Rudy of the BJP.

Communist Party of India-Marxist said it would move the National Commission for Women against Pal and would also complain to the Lok Sabha Speaker.

According to party insiders, CPI-M will also lodge a first information report against Pal by Wednesday.


While India unites in decrying the words uttered by the TMC MP, whats worrisome is the thundering applause that his hate speech’ drew from among the people attending his rally.

It would be irresponsible for us to forget that we, the people, elected Pal as an MP.

Therefore, we cannot shirk our onus for having chosen a wrong candidate

We cant but agree with what educationist and social activist Miratun Nahar had to say on a regional television channel, Its time to remind ourselves over and over again, the clichéd adage People get the government they deserve.

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Press Release – Tapas pal should resign from Parliament and face Legal action #Vaw

Published on Monday, 30 June 2014 19:08
Written by Radical Socialist



Tapas Pal, film actor and in recent times a Trinamul Congress Member of Parliament, has reiterated openly the threat that many political leaders utter a little covertly. He has stated that if women supporters of “our party” are attacked, men of the party will be sent to rape women of the opposition. In earlier times, at least since the rise of mass communal and casteist politics in India, this had been a regular strategy of such communal/casteist forces. This was taken over and used systematically by the Hindutva forces, for example in Gujarat during the 2002 pogroms, when the false news that women had been dragged from a train and raped by Muslims was spread in order to incite rioting mobs of Hindutva cadres to rape and sexually attack Muslim women (as well as to kill men, women and children because of the Godhra deaths).
In West Bengal, in the past, we have seen the former ruling party, the CPI(M), and its leaders using violent and sexist language against women, and have condemned these immediately. We have also seen the use of rape as a political weapon on several occasions, and have joined hands with feminists and women’s rights groups, civil liberties organisations, and other progressives, to resist such cases, regardless of the party, class, community or caste colour, for we do not believe that any progressive social or political work can be achieved using such means, and see it as our task to resist all practices that promote rape or violence on women, and the use of political violence under conditions of democracy.
This violent, criminalized and sexist political culture has been absorbed and regurgitated by the ruling TMC of West Bengal. The latest case is the speech by Mr. Pal, the M.P., at a meeting in Krishnanagar today. He claimed that CPI(M) members had attacked his party members, and said that not as an MP, but as a TMC activist, he was warning that he would avenge such things. He went on to threaten the killing of CPI(M) members and the rape of women.
Mr. Pal has been elected MP, and as long as he holds on to that position, public utterances by him have that effect. So whatever his disclaimer, this was an MP, someone who has sworn to uphold the Constitution of India, urging people to go and rape women of opposition parties and kill members of the opposition. As for the recurrent claim that the CPI(M) is using violence, we question this on two grounds. If indeed the CPI(M) uses violence, the response should have been the use of due legal process. And secondly, the CPI(M) today is in shambles. Its cadre base is so pathetic that in the elections of 2014 the Left Front had its share of votes lowered to 29 per cent and the CPI(M) could not even put enough people even in all booths. So the bogey of CPI(M) violence, based on what was a reality in the past, is used by Pal to call for nothing less than lynch law, a call that can be easily used to stage “events” and then take “revenge”. The ultimate case one can remind is the Reichstag fire, but plenty of lesser events exist.
The TMC has tried to go into a damage control mode by saying that the context must be examined. We reject this absolutely. No context justifies calling for killing the members of an opposition party or raping their women cadres.
Above all, however, we warn that appealing to various state institutions will be futile, unless ordinary people, women and men, people in political parties, people in social movements, unite to protest and resist.
Our goal is not one of scoring points, nor of removing one hated government only to replace them by a new set of the same kind but to defend the democratic rights of everyone. Radical Socialist has always taken the position that in a bourgeois polity, any call for defending democracy must stress the role of mass action rather than calling upon the bureaucratic state of the ruling class. It is not by appealing against Pal to Narendra Modi, but by appealing to the democratic traditions of our working people, that we must mobilise against the political use of rape.

We demand:
• Immediate legal action against Tapas Pal by the Government of West Bengal.
• Resignation of Mr. Pal from the Parliament.
• Proceedings against Mr. Pal to be initiated by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.
• Immediate action be taken by the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Women.
• An end to criminalization of politics and use of women’s bodies as a political tool.
• Safeguarding of democratic rights of all as enshrined in the Indian constitution.
• Right of women to move and work freely without the constant fear of being sexually assaulted.

Read more here-

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Anatomy of a Rape and Its Immediate Aftermath – A Report from Kolkat


MAY 2, 2014
Guest post by KASTURI

Time flew fast. Over the last two days and sleepless nights. A girl I knew, a cheerful bubbly college first-year, eyes wide open with dreams, has been subjected to sexual violence. We had walked together in many marches against injustice, oppression, gender violence. I remember the day I first met her, several months back. It was opposite the Indian Coffee House on College Street. She had become an activist of the radical left students’ organization AISA by then. After that I met and chatted with her on many occasions. On the very day she was raped, she had participated in a students’ demonstration against the corporate-communal onslaught personified by Narendra Modi. She was slated to participate in another program the very next day. When night struck.

The night that rolled on to dawn
I was about to crash to sleep when the phone rang. A friend had called up at this odd hour to report a shocking incident. Chandrasmita, who is also my comrade in the women’s movement, narrated that the girl had been raped by an unknown man off a north Kolkata street next to the PG accommodation where she was staying. After the man fled she came back to the PG and told her friends, who in turn informed other students in her organization, and very soon Chandrasmita and I got informed as well. Hearing a first brief of the incident we decided that waiting till morning to report the crime would mean losing precious hours and perhaps important forensic evidence as well. We decided to call as many people as possible to get to her PG and accompany her to the police station. When we reached her place it must have been around 1:30 in the night. About a dozen of her student comrades, grim anxious and angry, had gathered there, some of them in their night pyjamas. The two of us went to her PG, with two other girls and met the manager of the PG who allowed us in. We spoke to her there, in a room, where two other girls had been woken up to make room for all of us. She told us all what happened. One of her first thoughts apart from the desire to see the culprit get punished was a worry that social taboo at her home neighbourhood and concerns for her security could disrupt her studies. We asked her to sit alone, and with a calm head jot it all down on paper with as many details as she could remember. We called up Dr Debasish Dutta, who lives nearby and is the current president of ‘People’s Health’, to bring his car in order to take her to the police station. Debasishda arrived soon, with his son who was driving the car. She went with all of us to Amherst Street PS around 2:30 am, where she turned in her written statement and reported the crime.
Chandrasmita and I gave a letter on behalf of AIPWA demanding 1) An FIR be taken along with her statement 2) a medical examination be done immediately and 3) the culprit be identified and nabbed at the earliest. We also requested that the police arrange for her immediate safety and take steps to ensure safe streets for all others like her living in PG accommodation in the area. An officer, Mr. A. K. Patra took down her FIR. It took a couple of hours for the Officer-in-Charge to arrive. She was asked to narrate her ordeal multiple times to multiple officers in a row. They eventually took her to Calcutta Medical College for medical examination around 5 am in the morning. One of her friends from the PG and I were allowed to accompany her in the police jeep along with other officers.
She waited and waited (for about an hour) while the attending doctor who was elsewhere had to be called in. The doctor (a male) examined her in presence of a nurse, two interns and a lady police personnel, but did not allow me or her friend to be in the room, although both of us are persons in a position of trust to the victim and the Guidelines and Protocols: Medico-legal care for survivors/victims of sexual violence issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare allows us to be observers of the examination, and mandates that police personnel may NOT be present. The medical examination was over in less than ten minutes (see later part of the account for gaping holes in that examination and MoHFW protocols). It was a gruelling end to a tiring night that had broken into morning by then as we returned to the PS where the other friends were all anxiously huddled in the benches. Paperwork, seizure list, typing out the FIR and visits/questionings by higher police personnel et cetera continued at the Police Station till around 10 am in the morning before we were let go. We were told that later in the day she would be taken by the Police again to the Police headquarters for getting a sketch of the culprit made. We in the women’s movement have often raised the demand for setting up adequate 24-hours 1-stop crisis centers with trained personnel in every district for reporting of sexual violence and care of the survivor; where the complainant can register an FIR, get a medical examination done and receive medical and psychological help, and all necessary police information can be gathered promptly and without her having to run from pillar to post in her traumatic state. During those eight long hours at the PS and with the schedule of more to follow, that one demand from our ‘women’s charter’ – the acute and actual meaning of it – came alive in front of me. ‘Perhaps this is why women think so many times before reporting’, sighed the survivor, as the apathetic and indifferent medical interns stared away, visibly grumpy about being woken up in the middle of the night. I could only admire her composure and courage as she went through it all and consistently narrated details about the attack on her.

The incident
On 28th April night, the survivor was returning from her aunt’s place, from where she picks up dinner twice or thrice a week (note: the PG accommodation is board-only, no food and charges Rs. 1500 for a single cot in a small shabby room shared with three others). She reached the footpath close to her PG when the man called out to her (in a general way, not taking her name). It was an unknown person. At first she ignored it as a roadside nuisance but he called out again when she stopped. The man introduced himself as being close and trusted by her family. He inquired about her mother’s knee pain. Asked about her father’s job. He displayed knowledge of her home whereabouts. He further introduced himself as a doctor called ‘Tapas’ and claimed to be a gynaecologist in the Medical College. The man was middle-aged (slightly above forty as per her estimate), well-built, with a moustache, dressed formally in a blue-black chequered shirt and black trousers and spoke in an ‘educated’ tongue that could pass off with his chosen masquerade. The man apparently had knowledge about the victim’s medical history which he claimed her mother had told him in good faith with a request to help ‘treat’ the girl. Having thus convinced her to the level of agreeing to stop a few minutes more he asked her to cross the road to the other footpath (the one adjacent to ‘Chacha’s Hotel’) where he said he would prescribe her a few vitamins and medications for her medical ‘problems’. She told him that she had to go, for the night curfew hours at the PG was about to set in. She also suggested that if her mother had really requested this ‘doctor’ to help her out, she would prefer first talking to her mother before consulting him. She also said that she was under no such medical ‘emergency’ that necessitated immediate medications. But on his insistence that he would just ask a question or two and prescribe something which would only take a couple of minutes she reluctantly agreed to cross the road over and step into a lane that branches off the road. The lane is lined with small shops, a cyber cafe et cetera but those were all closed by then. The lane was ill-lit and there was no one around at 9:45 in the night. The man asked her a few more very specific questions based on her ‘medical history’ (the girl recounted that she had previously been to a real doctor with her mother back home and had answered these kind of routine questions which were familiar to her) but when the questions got vulgar she objected and refused to answer any more. Suddenly the ‘doctor’ asked her to allow her to physically examine her. She flatly refused, asked him not to cross his limits and set out to leave. He then forcibly held her, groped and molested her and pushing her to a wall and partially disrobing her, raped her, violating her bodily integrity multiple times. At this point of sudden onset of physical violence – the victim recounted to us and to the police at the PS – she was numb with fear for her life. The man had a bag and she feared he might even pull out a weapon and kill her. The whole thing happened so fast and unexpectedly within minutes that when she was able to push him off (a man taller, stronger and well-built compared to her frail self) and tried to escape his grasp pulling herself together, the man had fled. Traumatised and shocked, she went to the PG and narrated the attack to her roommates and other friends living in the same building. That set off the phone calls.
A press conference was called by AIPWA and AISA. Students, women, intellectuals, local residents, citizens’ organizations, democratic organizations and individuals marched in anger all the way from College Square to the Amherst Street Police Station. The march stopped at the Vivekananda Road crossing – at stone’s throw from the spot of crime – and the demonstrators narrated the incident to the local people (the crime was not yet out in the media), and then blockaded Amherst Street in front of the thana for over an hour, and sent a deputation to the O.C. Professors Miratun Nahar, Salil Biswas, Amit Dasgupta, and representatives of many other organizations were part of the deputation. They demanded to make the accused’s sketch public, to arrest the culprit immediately and to ensure exemplary punishment and safe roads for students. They demanded that the Chief Minister make a statement. While outside, angry students and protestors served a 72-hour ultimatum to the police to nab the culprit. Several women students answered press questions narrating their own perception of lack of safety in the city, the crisis of finding safe and comfortable affordable hostels to live, and about the palpable fear that was biting off at their freedom.

The ‘medical test’, press reports and the usual ‘doubts’
At the Medical College, the previous night, the doctor asked the victim a few questions and took a vaginal swab which he gave to the police for forensic examination. However, the detailed protocols as mandated by the MoHFW guidelines (page 23-36) were not followed. Some key specimen (like pubic hair samples) were not collected/looker for and some outdated and irrelevant information (relating to the hymen, elasticity of vagina, admissibility of fingers etc.) was noted on the ‘report’ – clearly flouting the March 19 guidelines, which make us believe that the doctor who performed the preliminary examination is not aware of the MoHFW guidelines and protocols. Quoting from the guidelines:
“Pubic hair is examined for any seminal deposits/ stray hair. Combing is done to pick up any stray hair or foreign material, and sample of pubic hair, and matted pubic hair is taken and preserved.” and “Per vaginum examination, commonly referred to by lay persons as ‘two-finger test’, must not be conducted for establishing an incident of sexual violence and no comment on the size of vaginal introitus, elasticity of the vagina or hymen or about past sexual experience…..should be made. ”
Besides, no steps were taken for the victim’s medical care, and health concerns. No urine test or testing for HIV was done and no psychosocial care was offered. When she requested the doctor to take samples/pictures of fingerprints of the culprit that might still be there on specific places of her body she was curtly told that the doctor knows what he is supposed to do. The doctor did not even use the correct and detailed form to record details of the medical examination. (page 62, MoHFW guidelines). It appeared that the hospital does not have a copy of either the new guidelines or the correct form.
The crime was in most of the papers and media channels by the next day, although the media did not deem it first-page worthy in most of the cases. That a girl student could be raped with such impunity at the heart of Kolkata at 9:30 in the night must have been a ‘normal’ affair for the press to act so matter-of-factly. Moreover, some of the reports just managed to float in an unqualified word of ‘inconsistency’ in the victim’s statement. To them we would like to ask how ethical it is to make an aspersion not backed by facts and also whether the press is even in a position to judge consistency or the lack of it. The violation of ethics and flouting of government regulations does not stop there. I read at least one report in a major reputed Bengali daily ‘Ei Samay’ which declared that ‘there was no proof of rape found in the medical examination report’. The journalist or the editor of this particular daily is clearly not aware of the ABC of medical and legal jurisprudence. Unlike popular and mistaken perceptions, rape is not a medical disease that can be proved/disproved by medical examination. It is a medico-legal matter in which the medical reports are only a supporting evidence among many other such supporting evidences in court. More importantly, the newspaper’s declaration is factually a lie. The ‘report’ that they have got referred to, from police sources – the Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Pallab Kanti Ghosh held a press conference, we are told – is the primary examination report as described above which includes only a look at external manifestations like mark of violence et cetera by the Medical College doctor. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare protocol, in a table on page 48, has a column that asks the examining doctor to lay down the ‘Rationale why forced penetrative sex cannot be ruled out.’ Note, there is no ‘Rape has occurred: Yes/No’ column! Further, the medico-legal examination, the vaginal swab test and other materials like her dress are yet to be examined, and if the Amherst Street O.C. is to be trusted, has only been sent to the forensic experts. A forensic report is awaited. But the press has not bothered for all these supposedly small and unimportant formalities. It has continued to cast its incorrect and baseless aspersions which got wilder by the day. One wonders, how the police gets away with disclosing such information (like ‘inconsistency’ and medical report findings) so carelessly and callously to the press persons without giving out the whole truth. Even after so much public discourse on the reporting of rape and the ethics involved, the press continues to help in creating and disseminating patriarchal perceptions, commonsensical (filmy) ideas about rape that help to cast aspersions and create doubts although not warranted. As a result of these falsified reports, I saw some people in the social media asking, how can a multiple assault happen in a by-lane in the heart of Kolkata, inadvertently calling the complainant a liar. Perhaps they are mixing up rape with longish and spiced depictions of it in Hindi films, or perhaps they are even confusing the duration of sexual assault with that of making love. In real life situations, and in so many recent and past instances, we have seen how rape can take so many varied forms and can happen in so many varied situations – most of them, commonplace. For the (n+1)th time, let me repeat that rape is violation of bodily integrity of a certain kind and happens on a daily, minute-ly, second-ly basis – and routinely takes place in closed rooms, marital bedrooms, college union rooms on a busy day, open roads while a domestic worker goes to work, abandoned factory premises where a journalist goes for a story, open paddy fields where a farm hand is working, during riots and planned attacks and in war fields, in police and army custody, on moving vehicles like buses and cars, on elevators during elite festivals, in ashrams with the parents of the victim sitting right outside the door. So pray let us not pretend naively that any particular area of the private or public sphere is a rape-free zone.

Questions Staring Us in the Face
Kolkata has a huge number of students coming from suburbs and other districts to study in colleges or to work. The situation of government-run or government-aided hostels for college students and working men and women is grim. The demand and supply is so heavily skewed that mushrooming of privately run ‘mess’/PG/hostel accommodation is a visibly booming and profitable business. These accommodations have their own rules and regulations, own fees, own vulnerabilities like the absence of safety measures and protocols, and own standards for what is acceptable and decent living space. The mess manager at the victim’s PG had initially tried to dissuade her from reporting the crime apparently for insulating them from police investigations/enquiry. When nonetheless she courageously went ahead with reporting the crime and demanding punishment, the mess manager called the victim’s father and asked him to pack her bags and leave. He said that the other inmates might no longer like to share space with the victim and his business would suffer! He even had the audacity to suggest that the rape might not have happened at all as it is near impossible to rape someone on that lane! The father, a timid and fragile man from a low-income family visibly broke down after these insults were added to the injury. The mess manager has temporarily ‘closed’ the mess, we are told, and sent the other students packing as well – until the investigations are over! After the protest rally, three of us went and reported this to the Girish Park Police Station, under whose jurisdiction the PG accommodation is. It remains to be seen whether the police can enforce regulations on the mess manager’s high-handedness (one wonders whether these PG accommodations are even licensed/regulated by law) and victim-blaming, but what it surely highlights is a picture of how vulnerable thousands of girl students are in the city, on the questions of safety and living space. It is a time to renew and strengthen the demand for good quality, affordable and adequate hostel facilities for all.

While I sat beside the victim at the Calcutta Medical College waiting for the doctor to come and oblige her with the examination, two interns kept yawning and making their displeasure prominent for a visit before the break of dawn. They were not even bothered about the victim’s state and never asked a question. A nurse brought in news of a baby who had just died in the next room, and not a single muscle on their faces twitched. The doctor took nearly an hour to arrive and even the police officer’s repeated pleas to call him from his office would not help. Finally the police officer was asked by the interns to climb up a floor, go to a particular room and escort the doctor down. Only after that did the wait end. After a quick examination of a few minutes followed a frantic search for the ‘correct’ file to write the report. Heaps of dusty files lying on the desk were ransacked and turned over and over but the ‘correct’ file was not to be found. The doctor, who is clearly not updated about the new rules and protocols himself, admonished the interns for not knowing their rules, to which the interns smiled back. Then one of them sluggishly went to another room and came back with a file. The report was finally written (although in the wrong format, see earlier part of the account). This was the victim’s experience at one of Kolkata’s most prestigious government hospitals.

The second question that’s glaring at us is the role of the police, particularly in briefing the press. While the published Ministry of Health guidelines post Justice Verma recommendations clearly state-
“Never say or do anything to suggest disbelief regarding the incident.
Do not pass judgmental remarks or comments that might appear unsympathetic.
Convey important messages such as: the survivor is not responsible for precipitating the act of rape by any of her actions or inactions.”
– the Joint Police Commissioner has held press meets to put out statements doubting the victim’s statement. This is all the police force has been able to do so far. And what sort of ‘doubting questions’ are they (as published in ‘Ei Samay’ 1/5/2014 as per police briefing) – why did the victim go to the lane with an unknown person? Why did she not shout or protest when he attacked her? It is surely not a crime and it surely does not warrant rape if the victim walks to a lane with a person. Besides the fact that anyone reading her own narration above would already know the situation as recounted by her – the most reliable witness to the crime! Her statement rang true to me and others who heard her at the PG. She was consistent in her statements and answered all questions they asked. The police commissioner is clearly flouting ethics and rules by trying to set this crime up as the Chief Minister’s favourite “sajano ghotona” – a fabricated tale. One wonders whose brief is he holding? What are his compulsions leading to such nasty press briefings? Why is he silent about the progress of investigations and the arrest of the culprit? Why are they not making the victim’s sketch public? Why this urge to defame and malign the young survivor?

All the while during the whole phase, I could not but help recalling how the Park Street gang rape survivor had been refused an FIR and had been taunted and insulted at the police station. How the Jagacha survivor, a domestic worker returning from work, had to fight for days on end to even file a complaint of the gang rape. How the woman gang raped in front of her daughter after dragging her off a train at Katoa was told that she had set it all up. How the chief minister and her minions, wielding infinite power and clout, had dismissed one complaint after another with a waving of hand calling them all ‘fabricated’. How a Member of Parliament of the ruling party had maligned and insulted the Park Street victim. How in a series of instances of rapes and sexual assaults, nobody was punished but victims/kin were blamed, hijacked, muted/bought off, or even successfully packed off from the state. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the impunity of rapists is growing in West Bengal. Perhaps that is why a college student getting raped at 9:30 pm in a busy area is ‘normal’ now and attempts are being made to prove the complainant a liar. It shows a pattern. Here she is, a politically aware, intelligent and brave young woman who was lucky to have so much immediate support from her student comrades and women’s organizations. Even she has to experience so many hurdles and so much of stigma and maligning attempts, just during the immediate aftermath of her traumatic experience. Justice remains elusive as ever. Her father wants justice for his daughter, but is extremely skeptical about the prospect of justice, going by the prevailing standards and conviction rates. One can imagine what women of lesser privilege and in places where even basic medico-legal infrastructure are missing, go through. Justice is a lottery.
But she has hope. She is strong-willed. She refuses to bow down under pressure. Her political convictions are truly reflected in her actions. And there are so many determined faces around her. As we have collectively pledged during our marches – We shall fight, and we shall win.
Kasturi is a research scholar and a member of the Kolkata district committee, All India Progressive Women’s Association.

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In Search of good samaritan – Dr Samir Biswas

Dr Samir Biswas – courtesy
Wednesday, 26 March 2014 – 6:05am IST | Agency: DNA

He greets his patients with loud curses as they stagger in — sick or drunken — to his chamber. He reserves his choicest expletives for those who visit him close to death. He ministers to them tenderly, gruffly waiving his doctor’s fees, often buying them their medication from his own pocket, and making arrangements for them to reach home safely. Dr Samir Biswas, 68, carries his years lightly. Stories about him have become the stuff of legend in the collieries of Asansol, West Bengal. No patient is turned away from his door without treatment even at some ungodly hour, this reporter was told. The locals fondly recall his resounding laughter, recount incidents of his gobbling up more “chops” than youngsters at roadside stalls, while simultaneously discouraging patients from these forbidden snacks with a wink. He greeted the womenfolk with a rousing “Boudi!” (sister-in-law) as he entered their homes and their hearts; they swear he is a saint in disguise.

The elderly remember him affectionately as “amar (my) Samir”, his words reigniting their will to live. Even the money-savvy and hardened colliery officials admit that he is a “good man”, a notion as alien to that coal-mining region as green fields. Is this same man, Dr Samir Biswas, a marked troublemaker condemned by the three regimes that have come to power in West Bengal? His defiance was evident even as a young internee with Left leanings when he was jailed in the 1970s by the Congress government. During the Left Front rule he was a “wanted person” in 2010 for treating Maoists. Finally, the police under the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) party arrested him in December 2013, handcuffed like any hardened criminal. Can this doctor, who treated all who needed medical help, be blamed for treating “Maoists”? Can he be a dark mind that researches books on lethal bombs, instead of how to save the sick and dying? As I travelled to Asansol “in search” of the man who operated in Asansol, the second largest city in West Bengal, an industrial town of coalfields and railways, I was full of confusion. Who was the real Dr Samir Biswas? Was he a closet Maoist, an evil impersonator hiding behind his mask of a popular doctor? Or a doctor following his Hippocratic Oath to the letter? It was not difficult to “find” Dr Biswas.

His presence was palpable in the homes of retrenched workers near the once-bustling and now defunct factories overgrown with shrubbery. As it was in the cluster of poor Adivasi villages around Barmoundia colliery, a region perpetually shrouded in red dust of the coalfields, where Dr Biswas had lived and worked as a government doctor in a health clinic in Panchgachia for 40 years. Few knew that he was a brilliant student of the prestigious Nilratan Sircar Medical College in Kolkata, and had left a potential life of luxury to work among the poor miners and factory workers.In the workers’ colonies surrounding the long-closed Hindustan Pilkington Glass factory, Dr Biswas remains a legend — both as a doctor and as a good man who restored to hundreds of retrenched workers a sense of dignity. Most importantly, the miners and factory workers felt they actually mattered when Dr Biswas would ask security guards of powerful colliery officials to wait in the queue for an appointment for their bosses. For the first time, they realized they were equal as human beings. They had the right to treatment as much as those officers.

To him a worker, a staff member or an official were the same. Dr Biswas’s love for dogs and books is folklore — and perhaps his undoing. Everyone speaks of how his home sheltered dogs ranging from purebred Alsatians to seven street mongrels, four of them disabled and crippled. Yet, he did not discriminate between his dogs, caring for them equally — a principle which he perhaps carried too far with his patients. He opened his humble home-cum chamber to those who needed a meal or a bed, not discriminating against his patients based on status or political affiliation — some with Left leanings — and paid with his freedom. Yet, not surprisingly, when Dr Biswas was arrested, the local TMC MLA too joined the huge crowd that blocked the road in protest. Dr Biswas’s passion for books ranged in interests from poetry and the classics to cinema. One of the encyclopedias on his bookshelf was on how to manufacture bombs and pistols.

“You will be branded as a terrorist,” his friends had joked, and Dr Biswas had responded with his trademark guffaw. The police did not find it funny, however, and on December 12, 2013, arrested him on charges of sedition, for allegedly treating “Maoists” — among them it was rumoured the slain Maoist leader Koteswara Rao or Kishenji — and for possessing material on how to manufacture lethal weapons! One appreciates the irony of Dr Biswas when one compares the reverse trajectories of his fate and that of a former Naxalite and now a member of the ruling TMC and a Lok Sabha candidate from Asansol. While the doctor is condemned for not discriminating between his patients, this politician reaps the rewards of switching allegiance and enjoys her position as the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s shadow.

Clearly, it pays to be close to the ruling party.In a region where there is no doctor and no health care for the poor, Dr Biswas’s ministration to the needy is perceived as a subversive act against the State, a dangerous signal to those who risk working in rural communities. When the State is confronted by those who refuse to conform, the easiest trick in the book is to denounce them: the doctors of treating Maoists, the lawyers of protecting criminals, the teachers of coaching terrorists, and the media of bias. As this article goes to the press, the news of Dr Biswas’s release on bail trickles in.

My bet is he will continue to live life on his own terms: with his beloved books, dogs and his patients, and the conviction of the Hippocratic Oath which has been the cornerstone of his life.


Read more here –

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Sex workers protest rising violence against women

MAKING A POINT: A six-day conference of sex workers, organised by the Durbar Mahila Samanway Committee, was inaugurated in Kolkata on Wednesday. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish.
The HinduMAKING A POINT: A six-day conference of sex workers, organised by the Durbar Mahila Samanway Committee, was inaugurated in Kolkata on Wednesday. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish.

Conference to discuss trafficking, infanticide, among other issues

A six-day conference of sex workers began here on Wednesday with participants taking a pledge to protest violence, particularly sexual assault, against women.

“Women have been subjected to all kinds of violence in the past. But, in recent times, sexual assault on women has increased in the State [West Bengal] and in the country. We condemn such acts and are trying to build a synergy among different sections of society, including sex workers, to protest against such acts,” Bharti Dey, general secretary of Durbar Mahila Samanway Committee, a sex workers’ collective, told The Hindu after the inauguration of the event.

Sex workers plan to participate in discussions on issues concerning their well-being as well as those relating to trafficking of minors and pension to old sex workers.

“The movement of sex workers has become successful because they have learned to recognise themselves as ‘workers,’ like people of any other profession. Today, they have been integrated into other larger campaigns such as Pension Parishad,” Samarjit Jana, adviser, DMSC, said.

While there is a growing demand for pension to workers in the unorganised sector, it is the sex workers who need it the most as the number of years they work is short, Poornima Chikarmane, a Pune-based activist said, adding that the conference would try to increase awareness on the subject. Activists pointed out that after a certain age, sex workers are left at the mercy of others in the profession.

Issues like female infanticide, pre-natal sex determination, and child marriage will also be discussed at the gathering. There will be a special focus on health-related issues, particularly prevention of diseases like AIDS, organisers said.

The theme of this year’s festival, which is expected to draw about 12,000 representatives, is“Pratibade Nari Partirode Nari” (protests by women, prevention by women).


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Press Release- Book Launch banned in Calcutta Book Fair #Censorship

: Banning of a Book Launch
The First Maitreyee Chattopadhyay Memorial Lecture, in memory of Maitreyee Chattopadhyay, a  leader of the women’s movement, titled Parijayee Nari O Manabadhikar, and delivered by Professor Jasodhara Bagchi, was scheduled to be released formally today, the 3rd of February 2014, at Montmartre, in the Calcutta Book Fair at 5-45p.m. At the last moment, the Book Fair authorities, that is, the Publishers and Booksellers Guild, cancelled the programme on the plea that Women’s Oppression is a disputed and objectionable matter. We consider this action a direct interference in democratic right of freedom of expression and sharply condemn this.
In order to avoid or suppress discussions on violence or oppression on women, it is sometimes being called ‘internal’ or ‘domestic affairs’. Here it was called a disputed issue. But violence on women is not at all a disputed or debatable issue, rather, it is an issue that needs to be condemned at all levels. In particular, the imposition of this ban in West Bengal, in the light of the widespread violence on women, assumes a special significance.
The pamphlet Parijayee Nari discusses how through various processes like marriage, work, trafficking, women are moved out of one place and shifted elsewhere, and how they thereby face diverse forms of discrimination.
From its birth, the Calcutta Book Fair had been a space where opinions could be expressed freely, views exchanged, and protests articulated. We have in the past protested here against the undemocratic decision to block the publication of Taslima Nasreen’s book. But it was totally unexpected to us that the Guild authorities would be afraid about the publication of a book on discrimination against women.
We hope that in future the Guild authorities will refrain from taking such undemocratic steps, and will respect divergent opinions adequately.
We are arranging the release of this book on 5th February, at the Press Club, from 3-00 to 4-00 P.M.
 Contact- Mira Roy – 98310930030 Ruchira Goswami 999830550080


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Tribal Gang-rape girl was ‘BLEEDING, LIMPING’ after escaping her attackers #Vaw #WTFnews

MORE details have emerged of how a woman fled her Indian village after being threatened and told not to reveal she was gang-raped by 13 men.

Men living in the village have also fled from their homes on the orders of tribal elders as police told of how locals tried to prevent her from reporting her ordeal.

A total of 13 men have been arrested over the assault on the 20-year-old which was allegedly as punishment for “dishonouring” her community, a scattering of mud huts set amid palm trees and fields of rice and mustard.

Her ordeal on Tuesday night, when she was taken to a thatched shed and repeatedly assaulted for a relationship she was having with a Muslim man, has rekindled the outrage in India over the treatment of women.

Neighbours described the victim as a charming woman and said she planned to marry the Muslim companion.

“Members of the village council threatened her with dire consequences if she lodged a complaint with the police,” Kazi Mohammad Hossain, a senior officer at the district police station in Labphur, told AFP.

“The villagers surrounded her house but on Wednesday afternoon she managed to escape and came to the police station to file the complaint.

“She was limping and bleeding when she came to the police station,” he explained.

Most of the men had fled the village when AFP visited, leaving women and children who were reluctant to talk about the events of Tuesday night.

Suspects in a gang-rape case are led by police to a district courthouse. Indian police have arrested 13 people after a villag...

Ugly scenes … Indian police have arrested 13 people after a village woman was allegedly gang-raped on orders from tribal elders who objected to her relationship with a man. Picture: AFP Source: AFP

About a dozen policemen stood outside the small bamboo structure with a thatched roof where the crime allegedly took place. Neighbours said the structure was used by the village head as a kitchen.

Inside, an AFP reporter saw a makeshift wooden bed, a mosquito net and kitchen utensils.

The incident again highlighted India’s dismal record on preventing sexual violence, after the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi in December 2012 sparked angry protests about the treatment of women.

Politicians denounced the latest attack, while women’s groups said it showed how little things have changed for women since 2012 in a deeply patriarchal nation.

Neighbours described the victim as a quiet girl who lived with her mother while working as a lowly paid agricultural labourer.

“She was charming and well-behaved,” Laxmi Murmu, 45, who lives next door to the girl’s hut, told AFP.

“The boy promised to marry the girl soon. But the village council did not accept this as the boy was Muslim,” she added.

Murmu said that the council held sway over daily life, handing down punishments for misdemeanours such as theft.

The elders initially fined the victim’s family 25,000 rupees (400 dollars) for the relationship but they were too poor to pay, according to police.

Councils made up of village elders, usually known as “Khap Panchayats”, are common in rural parts of India, especially in the north.

They often hand down diktats which are denounced as moral policing by women’s rights activists.


Police near the village of Subalpur, about five hours drive from the state capital Kolkata, said that a mob had surrounded her house and threatened her with further violence if she spoke out.

Relationships remain an extremely sensitive subject in rural areas, where premarital sex is taboo and marriages are usually arranged within the same community, caste or religious group.

Punishments outside of India’s law and justice system are common. Shocking cases such as women forced to parade naked or public floggings are regularly reported in the local media.

“The girl who was gang-raped is recovering,” Asit Kumar Biswas, superintendent of the local Suri Sadar hospital, told AFP.

Full article:
Follow us: @MsiaChronicle on Twitter


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#Sundayreading – ‘Coolie Woman’ Journeys Into Indenture’s Dark Waters

By Gaiutra Bahadur

WeNews guest author

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The British term, and now slur, included female indentured workers brought from India to replace emancipated slaves on Caribbean plantations, says Gaiutra Bahadur in this excerpt from “Coolie Woman.” Here’s one woman’s story.


coolie woman


Credit: Shell Daruwala on Flickr, under Creative Commons

(WOMENSENEWS)– I know the story of one woman who had no regrets when she left Garden Reach in Calcutta in 1916.

Coolie Woman: the Odyssey of Indenture

Maharani could not remember her parents’ names by the time she told her story, in a voice frail with age. She was a child when they died. It was her uncle who provided a lap for her to sit on during her wedding to a much older man, whose name she couldn’t remember either. Providing a lap to a bride, during the era of child marriages in India, seems to have been comparable to walking one down the aisle. Maharani was 5 when she got married. And she was still just a child, only 12, when widowed.

Soon after, her brother-in-law took her to a magistrate’s office where, too young to know better, she ceded the rights to her inheritance from her husband. For eight years after his death, she cooked and cleaned for her in-laws, bearing their beatings for minor mishaps much like the one that ultimately triggered her journey to Trinidad.

She left, literally, over spilled milk. Maharani had just boiled milk for her in-laws, when a cat crept up to lick the pot. She pelted the cat, the cat fell over and the pot capsized. Anticipating another thrashing, and suddenly unwilling to accept one, she slipped out while her in-laws were eating. In 1987, Maharani explained why she fled:

“I say dem go beat me. Because I getting too much licks. I say dem go beat me. Well, I run. I no tell nobody I leaving.”

A Proposition

On the road, later that night, she met a man with one foot at a well. When he heard her predicament, he offered to help: Did she want a job on an island where she could make 25 cents a day? All she would have to do, he claimed, is sift sugar. Did she want to go? Maharani said yes. She did want to go. She would go. “Me nah had nothing,” she said, recalling how, at 20, she calculated the costs and benefits of leaving India. “I come way. Me nah have nothing.”

As her boat, The Chenab, was anchored in the Hooghly, another ship pulled in, bringing home Indians who had finished their indentures. They clamored to port­holes to warn the emigrants staring back out of their own portholes. From a distance, the repatriates shook their hands, gesturing for the emigrants not to go. But it was too late for anyone to heed that message.

This was the point when the umbilical cord connecting the emigrants to India was, presumably, cut. Several survivors of indenture, in the rare accounts that describe the severing, mention weeping; they conjure a scene of breast-beating and wailing as the ship embarked. This was also the point when, according to some versions, the emigrants decisively lost their freedom. The ex-indentured laborer who was Gandhi’s acolyte described a solemn moment: “At that time, many emotions were born in our hearts,” he wrote. “In just the way a free bird is imprisoned in a cage, we were all locked in.”

Woeful Parting

For generations, the descendants of indentured laborers in Guiana, accompanied by the plaintive notes of harmonium and sarangi, sang of a parting that was woeful:

Listen, oh Indian, listen to the story of us emigres,

The emigres who cry constantly, tears flowing from their eyes.

When we left the ports of Calcutta and Bombay,

Brother left sister, mother left daughter.

In deep love of the mother country we cried;

Water flowed from our eyes . . .

Painful is our story, choking is our voice.

But Maharani did not cry. Nor did she remember sounds of sorrow. She remembered drumbeats. Looking back across the span of seven decades, she described how her jahajis played drums provided by the crew and how they sang and danced during the journey:

dem bringing happy

dem en bringing no trouble

dem bringing happy

nobody to study nothing

that’s why dem bringing happy

There was nobody to make her “study” a single thing. Nobody to cause her grief or worry. No brother-in-law to cheat her. No mother-in-law to beat her. Nobody, she thought, to make her tremble in fear any longer.

But should Maharani have been so convinced that no one would cause her grief anymore? The warning by the repatriates, as her ship got ready to leave the Hooghly, was ominous. Might they have been warning about the voyage itself, to begin with? Indenture vessels were, after all, crossing in the wake of slavers, with their well-documented horrors, from tragic mortality rates to the rape of women.


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