Search This Blog

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sorry Pritam, You did not deserve to die so young!

Pritam Bhattacharjee, a
Silchar boy, who was
killed in Bihar.
Source: Facebook Profile
It's a "story" that is 6 days old now. Yet, the brutality and the mindless nature of the crime that took away the life of a budding PhD scholar, leaves a lot to be answered. The murder has again shown, very clearly, that Bihar remains in a state of perpetual lawlessness. That, despite all the tall claims by Nitish Kumar and his governmental colleagues, there are no effective mechanism for ensuring protection for the common man in Bihar, yet. That, despite taking safety and security surcharges, Indian Railways does not care even the least bit for the safety and security of genuine travelers. And most importantly, we have understood, in no unclear terms, that Bihar's law enforcement agencies are as sensitive to victim's plights as the Nazis were to the Jews during the Holocaust!

Pritam Bhattacharjee, a 25 year old from Silchar, Assam, and holding a Masters in Science in Physics, was brutally murdered in Bihar. He had been traveling by Awadh-Assam Express to New Delhi for registering in Doctoral Program at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The incidents leading to the murder are not very clear, but if the pieces are joined together, a definite and disturbing pattern can be visible.

A capture by Pritam Bhattacharjee. Not only good
at studies, he had a keen eye for photography too.
Titled "Glittering pearls down from the sky".
Source: Facebook Profile.
On a fateful Sunday, the 8th of July 2012, Pritam had boarded the Awadh-Assam Express from Guwahati. As reported in The Telegraph, Calcutta, Pritam had told his mother about being “tormented” and harassed by four Bihari youths, who were his fellow passengers, albeit without ticket, as is the norm in Bihar, on the same train. His father, Shanker Bhattacharjee, a retired principal of the Women’s College in Silchar, told The Telegraph that his son appeared “frightened” when he informed his mother about the incident on the phone. It has been reported that the four Bihari persons, who were travelling in the S-10 coach of the Delhi-bound train, started harassing him soon after they crossed in to Bihar. They turned violent when the train reached Naugachia railway station and snatched his bag containing a camera, laptop, his original certificates and other important documents. Although, Pritam fought with the criminals, their superior numbers meant that he was unsuccessful in stopping them. Even the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) did not come to his help at that time. As the four criminals made their escape good, Pritam had to disembark from the train at Naugachia station and complained to a GRP official there, but the official preferred to “keep mum”. Thereafter, Pritam’s mobile phone was switched off and his family could not establish contacts with him any further.

Another capture by Pritam, titled, "Waves of colors
reaching the shore"
. Courtesy: Facebook.
Exactly one week afterwards, on 16 July, Pritam's badly mutilated body was found lying on the railway track, under the Kataria overbridge, 12 km from the Naugachia station and around 200 km from the state capital, Patna. It has been deduced that he was held captive by a gang for at least five days. He was then killed in cold blood and his body was left on the railway track.

It is due to the gross negligence on the part of the General Railway Police (GRP) and the Bihar Police, that Pritam had to loose his life. Of course, he was foolish enough to chase a pickpocket in, of all places, rural Bihar, where lawlessness reigns supreme. But, that does not absolve the police forces and the authorities of their culpability in this murder. The GRP officer, whom Pritam had approached at Naugachia, did not offer any support and even termed Pritam a "mad boy". What prompted him to act that way? Perhaps, a hefty commission from the gang! The Bihar police, on its part, could have taken the complaint filed by Pritam's family, about his disappearance, seriously and could have "actually" mounted a search and rescue operation for freeing him. But they too chose to remain idle for a considerable amount of time, thereby offering the gang a free run. Even the sole catch from the gang responsible for Pritam's murder, a Ram Krishna Singh, happened by sheer luck. He was caught by a village mukhia in a separate case and handed over to the police.

Once the death was confirmed, a game of "passing the bucks" started among the different organizations. Awadh-Assam Express, which is operated by N.F. Railway termed the murder as a law and order issue without owning any responsibility. The East Central Railway, a Lalu Prasad creation, under which Naugachia station falls, also washed its hands by claiming that the incident happened at a place that was under the jurisdiction of the state police. The Director General of Police, Bihar, looked visibly irritated, when asked about Pritam's murder and passed the buck on to the railway authorities. The General Railway Police (GRP) did not wish to comment saying that they had ordered an inquiry in to the matter. Lastly, Mr. Nitish Kumar, the so called Chief Executive style CM of Bihar, proffered his valuable input describing the murder as an isolated incidence! Only if, "passing the buck" were included in the Olympics!

Pritam Bhattacharjee
Image from Facebook Profile
Totally lost in this mad rush to wash off responsibility, is the general helplessness of passengers travelling in trains, against the attacks of the organized gangs aiming to rob them and the possibility of suffering grievous physical harm in case they choose to offer the slightest of resistances. The total indifference shown by multiple government agencies have united the common people of both the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys, which is probably the only positive from the entire affair. There have been spontaneous and sustained protests, both online, as well as, on the ground, by students' bodies, rights groups, apolitical and political organizations that have galvanized the people of Assam to rise for a common cause.

This incident prompts me to ask a few questions to those responsible for ensuring the safety and security of ordinary citizens in that particular geographic region. Who will be responsible for the passengers' safety, when trains travel through the badlands of Bihar? Should the passengers leave their valuables, like camera, laptop or mobile phone at their homes, before undertaking a journey that takes her/him through Bihar? If the general people of Bihar consider it to be their birthright to travel without a ticket, why should others pay for reservation of their seats? If the GRP personnel cannot act on a complaint by a genuine, ticket bearing passenger, then why should these useless fellows be reared wasting taxpayers', i.e. our money? What about the cases of stealing, robbery, molestation, those keep on happening in trains, even to passengers travelling by air conditioned coaches? Without any complicity by the law enforcers, the GRP and Railway Protection Force (RPF), how is it possible for the gangs to continue their "business" with impunity? Have we, ever, heard about RPF personnel confronting a gang of criminals, on any trains? The questions are too many, with answers very rare to come.  

And, I have some questions, as well as, suggestions for the Chief Executive of Bihar, Mr. Nitish Kumar, too. Firstly, Mr. Kumar, is this the example of your much publicized Bihar Version 2.0? Isn't there more sound bytes than actions on your and your administration's part since you came to power for the second time? Nitish Kumar, it probably will be best for you, as well as, for the people of Bihar and the people travelling through Bihar, if you devote more time to governing the state, instead of being obsessed with Narendra Modi all the time. It seems that you have taken the thought of becoming the  Prime Minister of India after the 2014 general election too seriously! As a result, you have lost the focus on governance and have been dabbling in all sorts of non-issues these days. Nitish Kumar, your second stint as the Bihar CM has been high on rhetoric and pathetically low on actionable items. At this rate, you have started following on the footsteps of your predecessor, Lalu Prasad Yadav. Instead of terming this gruesome murder as an isolated incidence, why could not you ensure that your police "actually" searched for the abducted youth? Or, why haven't you taken any actions against the guilty cops, who, it seems, went out of their way, not to book the offenders in this case? Why is your Director General of Police, carrying an air of arrogance around him, looked visibly irritated when some reporters asked about the status of this case? And lastly, Mr. Kumar, how can you claim that the rule of law has been established in Bihar? If incidents, such as this, are examples of good governance, then I shudder to think about what you consider as lawlessness!

Pritam Bhattacharjee, in his death, grabbed the headlines, precisely because he is dead. A budding research scholar lost his life due to the ineptness of the purported keepers of the law. As a common citizen of India, I can only feel sorry for the lad, for his parents and people who had been close to him.

With a heavy heart, I can only wish that your soul may rest in peace. Pritam, you did not deserve to die now - at this age and in this manner. Had you been born at some other civilized country, your fate might have been different. Unfortunately, you were born in India, where lawlessness is the new law, talking replaces doing and protectors turn destroyer in chief. The public memory has the notorious  reputation for being really short lived. A few days from now, we will forget about Pritam. Until the next victim succumbs to his fate, that is, and the cycle will continue.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I hate tears, Rajesh Khanna, the first ever superstar of Bollywood

Rajesh Khanna as and in Anand.
From the song Zindagi Kaise Hain Paheli Hai
Just heard the sad news that Rajesh Khanna is no more. My first reaction on hearing the news was to look up and play the song Zindagi Kaisi Hain Paheli Hai from Anand, where his eponymous character was shown to be suffering from Lymphosarcoma of the intestine and had been given a limited timeline to live. But, Anand, the person, showed an amazing liveliness and a philosophical outlook towards the inevitable. In a case of real life imitating the reel, Kaka, as he was fondly referred to, had been battling cancer for quite some time and ultimately lost earlier today, 18 July 2012. He was 69 and survived by estranged wife Dimple Kapadia and daughters Twinkle and Rinke.
shovon chakraborty tribute to rajesh khanna
Rajesh Khanna was the original superstar of Bollywood, a term that seemed to have been coined to describe his exploits on and off the screen and the craze surrounding his persona. He had appeared like a comet in the 1960's and took the Hindi film industry by storm, just like "Veni, vidi, vici". Does this look like a cliche? May be, but that's the only way to describe his entry in to the filmdom and meteoric rise.
shovon chakraborty tribute to rajesh khanna
At a time, when Indian film industry was controlled mostly by the big studios, Kaka, as he was fondly referred to, appeared on the horizon as one of a kind, the brightest star of them all. Hindi film industry had seen many a matinee idols prior to Rajesh Khanna, like Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, who had all cast a spell on the audience, especially women, in their time, but the mass hysteria that followed in Rajesh Khanna's wake was never seen before. At his peak, his mere sight caused women to faint. Stories galore about his female fans slashing their wrists or sending him love letters written with their own blood. Among men, his hairstyle and distinctive kurta became a rage. His inimitable sideways nod and the style of delivering dialogues were practiced by generations of young men to impress their women.
shovon chakraborty tribute to rajesh khanna
When Rajesh Khanna was busy climbing the popularity charts and breaking box office records, I was yet some years away from being born. My first memory of him is from the film Andaz, where he is shown riding a motorbike, Hema Malini in pillion, and Kishore Kumar's superhit "Zindagi Ek Safar Hain Suhana" on his lips. I remember crying at the death of his character. That was early 1980's, probably 1981, and I was yet to complete 5 years. But that memory, Hema Malini's giggles, Rajesh Khanna's mannerisms while riding the bike, Kishore's golden voice, everything got etched in to my memory for ever and before I knew it, I became a fan.
shovon chakraborty tribute to rajesh khanna
Afterwards, I have watched most of his notable and not-so-notable films, seen him fading away from his throne in Bollywood, read about his much publicised affairs with Anju Mahendroo, Dimple Kapadia and Tina Munim, even criticized him for acting in forgettable flicks, but his star quotient never, for a even a moment, declined.
shovon chakraborty tribute to rajesh khanna
Its common knowledge that he achieved superstardom with Aradhana in 1969, that all his films between 1969 and 1972 were commercially successful, that he had won three Filmfare Awards for the Best Actor, four BFJA Awards in the same category and the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award too. His on-screen chemistry with several leading ladies, including Sharmila Tagore, Mumtaz, Tina Munim, Asha Parekh and Hema Malini among others, were the stuffs of legends. Backed by big banner producers, best supporting cast and crew, superhit songs, mostly sung by Kishore Kumar and director backed roles, Rajesh Khanna dominated the industry for a considerable period of time, starting from the late Sixties.
shovon chakraborty tribute to rajesh khanna
Rajesh Khanna's fall from cinematic peak, when it came, was almost as spectacular and sudden, as his rise. With the rise of a 6'2" man named Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna's charisma gradually started to wean away. His smile, nods and dialogue delivery could no longer create the same impact, his name no longer ensured ringing cash registers at the box office. As the Seventies passed, Rajesh Khanna was no longer the matinee idol of Bollywood. The tag of bankable superstar, whose presence ensured commercial success, had shifted to Amitabh Bachchan and the formulaic Bollywood machinery cashed in on his "angry young man" image instead of the romantic image of Khanna. At this juncture, Rajesh Khanna also tried to reinvent himself as an action oriented star, but was not successful in the endeavor. The Eighties saw him as an also ran actor and by the Nineties, he was totally out of favour. But his stature and personal charisma did not diminish. This was partly due to the fact that in spite of his image as the matinee idol, he had played a variety of roles - the terminally ill Anand Sehgal, an all-in-one domestic help in Bawarchi, an alcoholic and lonely husband in Amar Prem, a psychiatric patient in Khamoshi, a handicapped inventor in Avtaar, a fugitive in Roti etc. In the nineties, he even dabbled in politics and was a member of the lower house of the parliament between 1992 and 1996, representing Indian National Congress.
shovon chakraborty tribute to rajesh khanna
But, there was more to Rajesh Khanna than his "superstar", the "king of Bollywood" or political leader image. He had single-handedly changed the dynamics of the Bollywood industry, from a studio oriented set-up to a star/actor oriented one. The kind of popularity, that he had enjoyed at his peak, has not been seen since then. His craze was way more than those enjoyed by even the likes of Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan. His mannerisms, dialogue delivery - everything remains unique even today. As the saying goes, they don't make men like him anymore.
shovon chakraborty tribute to rajesh khanna
One, among his numerous hits, Daag, had the following lines delivered by his character, "Izzatein, shohratein, chahatein, ulfatein / Koi bhi cheez duniya main rahti nahi / Aaj main hoon jahan kal koi aur tha / Yeh bhi ek daur hain woh bhi ek daur tha! Aaj itni mohabbat na do doston / Ki mere kal ki khatir na kuchh bhi rahe / Aaj ka pyar thoda bacha kar rakkho / Mere kal ke liye!" Looking back, this seems to be the fate of many a famous actors once they had ridden in to the sunset. Thankfully, for Rajesh Khanna, it was not to be, and he was never short of love and adulation from his fans. As he said in his last commercial, shot for Havell's fans, nobody could take away his fans from him.
shovon chakraborty tribute to rajesh khanna
As we mourn his passing away, I go back to Anand again. Anand would not have liked us to shed tears, as he himself had said, "I hate tears!"
shovon chakraborty tribute to rajesh khanna
I end this fan's homage to the superstar by quoting the immortal lines from, what else, Anand again. After Anand Sehgal's (Rajesh Khanna) death, a distraught Bhaskar Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan) gets to hear his friends voice, which was taped, and through that tape recorder, Anand says, "Zindagi aur maut uparwale ke haath mein hain, Jahanpanah. Hum sab rangmanch ki kathputliyan hain, jinki dor uparwale ki ungliyon se bandhi hui hain. Kab kaun uthega koi nahin bata sakta. Ha ha ha." Literally, we are all puppets in the hands of the almighty, and he holds the strings of our lives. Nobody knows whose turn is next.
shovon chakraborty tribute to rajesh khanna
So aptly summarized! Rajesh Khanna, we thank you Sir, for entertaining us, for making us laugh and cry, for making us feel joyous, for creating belief in us that even we can, and wish that your soul rests in peace!

Zindagi, Kaisi Hain Paheli Hai, Kabhi Toh Hasaye, Kabhi Yeh Rulaye ...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lawlessness on Guwahati road - A Bar, a hapless girl, 20 ruffians and non-existent humanity

Are we, the citizens of India, on a progressive or regressive path? The question popped up because of numerous incidents of human rights violations, which have occurred in recent times. Ideally, such incidents should not have occurred in a law-abiding, genteel, cultured and to a large extent, educated society. Unfortunately, there is no sign of a decline of similar incidents; rather, these have, over the period of time, grown in numbers. It has almost become a routine for us to be greeted with some news of abuses and tortures being committed on, common citizens, especially women. In spite of our senses being somewhat blunted by repeated occurrence of these, the free for all attack on a hapless girl on the late evening of 9th July at Guwahati, came as a real shocker. The brazen manner, in which a group of around 20 men pulled the girl by her hair, slapped and kicked her, torn her dresses and all the while smiled and posed for the benefit of the camera crew capturing the incident, clearly showed the perpetrators to be appallingly imperious and devoid of any respect or fear for the law of the land. That the incidence took place on the busiest road of Guwahati, the GS Road, at 9.30 pm, only makes it more chilling. 
shovon chakraborty
The perpetrators of the crime, as identified from
the video, that was recorded by a news crew.
Image source: IBN Live.
When I first saw the clippings of a girl being slapped around, manhandled, abused and insulted in every conceivable manner, by a group of men, who were least bothered about the fact that they were being captured live in the act, I was shocked to the core. Was this the same Guwahati which I know, or should I say, I knew? What happened that late evening was not a part of Guwahati that I hold so dear to my heart.
shovon chakraborty condemn the molestation guwahati
The different pieces of the Monday night's jigsaw, when added, show a really disturbing pattern. There have been multiple versions of the incidents that led to the public humiliation of the girl, who had lost her parents at a very tender age and was staying with a friend's family.
punishment for all culprits
According to the official statements by the police chief of Guwahati, the girl, along with some friends, had gone to the lounge bar for celebrating a friend's birthday. Once inside, a fight broke out among them and all members of the group were thrown out of the bar. Outside, a group of youths passed some lewd comments and the girl protested, leading to the abominable incident. There are some counter arguments too. According to some eyewitness account, two girls had come out of the bar. Seeing them alone, a group of youths standing by the nearby pan shop, tried to act in a vulgar way, and when the girl slapped one of them, all hell broke loose. 
shovon chakraborty capital punishment for perpetrators
Main accused Amar Jyoti Kalita, in a red tee, is
seen abusing the girl. I have "jittered" her face.
Image Source: Captured from YouTube Video.
But, noted social and rights activist Akhil Gogoi, has altogether a different story to tell. He told NDTV that Gaurav Jyoti Neog, a reporter from NewsLive, the television channel owned by Congress leader and Health Minister of Assam, Himanta Bishwa Sharma, was the mastermind behind the ghastly attack. He alleged that Neog had tried to pull the girls to a waiting car and when they resisted, he incited the mob to attack the girl, while her friend somehow ran away. Mr. Gogoi also held a press conference to claim that he had the necessary evidence, in the form of raw video footage of the incident, to implicate Neog. He also alleged that Neog was heard telling the leader of the mob, to bring the girl to a well-lit area, because the video quality was suffering due to low light. It has to be noted that the incidence occurred at a place that was barely 300-400 meters from the News Live's office and the whole incident was captured by the on duty correspondent and camera crew of News Live.
shovon chakraborty guwahati attack
Mr. Mukul Kalita, Editor, Ajir Oxom. He was the only
person to come forward and save the girl.
Image Source: OhFish.
Whatever may be the cause, the fact remains that a 20 year old girl was abused on the main arterial road of Guwahati, the G.S. Road, for 40 minutes, without anybody raising their voice in protest. More surprisingly, the place was barely one kilometer away from the nearest police station and also from the seat of power, the state secretariat. After being informed, probably by NewsLive personnel, it took the Assam Police more than 40 minutes, to cover the 1 kilometer distance. While the ordeal of the girl lasted for 40 odd minutes, no one came forward to help her, although hundreds of vehicles passed through the road. Some of the passersby were seen capturing the incident in their mobile, while others simply looked the other way. Only when Mr. Mukul Kalita, editor of the Assamese daily Ajir Oxom, reached the spot, the girl found a savior. He valiantly saved her from her attackers and in the process was himself heckled too. Soon afterwards, the police ultimately arrived at the scene and the girl was handed over to them. Surprisingly, they did not even try to arrest the attackers and were seen chatting with some of them! Mr. Kalita told NDTV that even after the police had rescued the girl, the mob followed her into the police jeep that was filled with armed cops, and hit her. One need not be a rocket scientist to understand the nexus between the protectors of the law and the lawbreakers.
guwahati attack victim class 11 student handique college
Although, this incident happened on 9th July, Monday, the Assam Police did not do anything till Wednesday, 11th July. They simply sat on the incident without even conducting an inquiry or recording the statement of the victim. On 10th July, Tuesday, News Live showed an edited footage of the incident during their evening news. The next day, Mr. Atanu Bhuyan, the Chief Editor of News Live, uploaded the same clipping to YouTube from his personal account. It was then that the national media and the rights group picked up the incident and gave it a wide publicity. Only after this happened, the Assam Police woke up from the slumber and started a probe. From the video taken by News Live, 13 persons could be identified, including the supposed leader, Amar Jyoti Kalita. But, even after 5 days had passed, the police could only arrest 3 persons, including one, who was identified by the local people of Bijni and handed over to the police.
state government inept corrupt collusion criminals
Hoardings put up by Assam Public Works,
asking the people to inform the police
on the whereabouts of the perpetrators.
Image Source: India Today.
Meanwhile, activists have been demanding stern actions against the perpetrators of the crime. Local rights groups have put up hoardings at public places in Guwahati, with the mugshots of the perpetrators, with the aim of shaming them publicly. People have also come down heavily on the state government for the lawlessness prevailing in the state. They have alleged that due to the continued patronage by the corrupt and inept political leaders, criminals are enjoying a free run, leading to an increase in such incidents. Even the National Commission for Women (NCW) member Alka Lamba, who had been sent to Guwahati on a fact finding mission, has drawn flak from all quarters due to her inept handling of the case. It may be noted that Alka Lamba has been an active member of the ruling Indian National Congress' student wing NSUI and she is also one among the handpicked new generation leaders, as chosen by Rahul Gandhi. Quite logically, her actions are being seen as trying to protect her brethren in the state government. She has committed the cardinal sin by releasing the name of the victim at a press conference, which is a strict no-no as per Supreme Court of India's directive. Subsequently, Lamba was removed from the investigating team by the NCW Chairperson. In unrelated incident, both Gaurav Jyoti Neog and Atanu Bhuyan have resigned from their respective positions at News Live, purportedly to help conduct a free and fair inquiry in to the role of Neog and News Live in the incident. Although, Neog came out with a written statement claiming innocence, it was subsequently disclosed that the tormentor in chief, Amar Jyoti Kalita, is a close friend of his. A Senior Superintendent of Police has also been transferred.
state chief minister tarun gogoi himanta biswa sharma guilty scams
But, to me, all these are too little and came too late. The way, the girl's identity was released by Alka Lamba and even the Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, shows their insensitivity and the lack of respect for the law. The CM even had the guts to tell the media persons afterwards, to ignore the matter and not to report the name. However, till today, in one of the YouTube videos, the girl's face is visible and her name, address, class and name of the college can be clearly heard.
punish the culprits of guwahati attack, molestation, stripping girl
And the way, the perpetrators were behaving in front of the camera, clearly exemplified that they did not fear the law. This "don't care" attitude might have resulted from the fact that they were part of a mob, and thought that the sheer numbers made them invulnerable and beyond the reach of the law. They might also have thought that their "connections" with the persons wielding power, would act as the protective shield. Or more simply, they might have thought that the toothless administration would not be able to do anything against them. The group might have been peeved at the "courage" of two girls going to a bar for drinks and probably took "offence" because one of them had dared to fight back. They might have wanted to teach the girls a lesson for being independent and probably wanted to show her the "true place", where she belongs. Such incidents, almost always, result from the perverted, medieval mentality of the perpetrators, who want to show or stamp the so called "male superiority" over women. It may be noted however, that, individually, most of these men would behave otherwise, and only when they are a part of a larger group of people, their basic instincts come out.
guwahati attack, molestation, stripping girl
Having being born and brought up in Assam, anything related to the state is close to my heart. And, the recent incidents, be it the elopement and conversion of a much married MLA and the subsequent beating, which the pair were subjected to, or the abuse heaped on the girl the other day, only pains me. Probably, people like me can only feel the deep anguish, and cannot do anything actively on our part, to change the scenario. And, the ones, who have the power to affect the changes, choose to look at the other direction. That's the irony of the situation, which makes me, and probably many other citizens, feel so helpless!
guwahati attack, molestation, stripping girl
Is there a solution to this? Is there any full-proof way to ensure that no such incidence will take place in future?
guwahati attack, molestation, stripping girl
Many have argued that exemplary punishment should be meted out to the perpetrators of such crime. Social networks are full of messages baying for blood of Amar Jyoti Kalita & Co. People are calling for capital punishment, for stoning to death a la Saudi Arab, for castrating the accused and so on. These type of extreme intolerance is also worrying. But, probably, the common man, like in "A Wednesday", is fed up by the miscarriage of justice, by the lawlessness prevailing in many areas of the country, by seeing the moneyed and the powerful breaking the law and getting away with impunity, repeatedly. In any case, has the hanging of Dhananjay Chatterjee stopped the rapes of women? No. So, at least, I don't know of any full-proof method to ensure that no more atrocities on women are committed in future. For the time being, we can only hope that all those responsible for scarring the girl for the rest of her life, would pay for their crime according to the Indian law, and such incidents will be prevented by the law enforcing agencies in future. After all, we, the common citizens of India, can only hope against hope and nothing else!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Does Pinki Pramanik deserve to be treated like this?

Pinki, at the podium
Image Source: India Today
It was 10th of April, 1986. In a remote area Tilkodi of Baghmundi village of Purulia district in West Bengal, Durgacharan Pramanik and his wife, Pushpa, became the proud parents of a daughterThe family named the baby daughter Pinki. They did not know that in due course of time, this daughter would become a champion athlete, winning medals for the country. Neither they could imagine that after 26 years, they would be facing questions on the gender of their daughter. Theirs was a poor family, like most others in the village, and being from Paramanik clan (traditionally barbers), they fall under the Scheduled Caste (SC) under the Indian law.
pinki pramanik mms misbehave arrest jail gap
Baghmundi, which borders the state of Jharkhand, is one of the backward villages in West Bengal and lacks even the very basic amenities. Pinki was a natural in athletics and for her, practicing in the early years meant running about 10 km per day by the riverside. She was spotted in her early teens, while participating in an inter-district meet and brought to Calcutta (Kolkata) in the year 2002. In the same yer, Pinki set four state records in her age group. This prompted the Sports Authority of India (SAI) to take her under their fold. In SAI, she was initially trained by Geeta Zutshi, who herself was a champion runner and ex-national record holder.
pinki pramanik mms misbehave arrest jail gap
In a career, which effectively ran between 2002 and 2006, Pinki won a number of international medals for India, including 2 Gold medals from Asian competitions and a further 3 from the South Asian Games. She also won a team Silver in the Commonwealth Games at Melbourne. After 2006, she has hardly taken part in any competitive events, either due to injuries or as some speculate, due to a hormone imbalance in her body.
pinki pramanik mms misbehave arrest jail gap
In the recent years, Pinki has been in the news, always for the wrong reasons, be it for carrying an improvised firearm in her bag, for leaving training center without informing anyone or for her reckless lifestyle.
pinki pramanik mms misbehave arrest jail gap
Whatever may be the reasons for being in the headline, it is well understood that Pinki Pramanik has been a well known person and cannot be considered as equivalent of the helpless and hapless wronged women, without any formal education. Even then, the treatment meted out to her, over the period of last one month or so, has come as a shocker to the most. The episode also raises the question, "If an India international is subjected to such inhuman torture, what would be the fate that would befall an ordinary woman in similar circumstances?"
pinki pramanik gender test man woman boy girl
Many of you might be thinking as to how Pinki managed to land in such a tight spot in the first place! To understand that, let's go back to the day when Pinki was arrested.
pinki pramanik gender test man woman boy girl
On 14 June 2012, Pinki was arrested by the Kolkata Police, after her female partner for the last couple of years, a divorcee and a mother of one, filed rape charges against her. She also claimed that Pinki is actually male. The police took Pinki for a check up to a private nursing home in Baguihati, where she was declared to be a male by the attending doctors. And, from here, her ordeal really started.
pinki pramanik gender test man woman boy girl
Since her arrest, she has been remanded in judicial custody by the Barasat Sessions Court. The court also asked that Pinki should undergo gender determination test, in order to be certain about her sex. Since her arrest, she has been lodged at Dum Dum Central Jail. It has been claimed that Pinki has had to tolerate "inhuman torture", both mental, as well as physical, during her stay at the jail.
pinki pramanik sex gender determination test male female organ
As the court could not be certain about Pinki's gender, the police kept Pinki at a separate cell as per the court's directive. However, it has been alleged that Pinki's cell is located within the male ward, thereby causing her considerable mental trauma. As her lawyer rightly pointed out, Indian law demands that an under-trial is presumed innocent till proven guilty. Based on this, Pinki's cell should not have been allotted within the male wards.
pinki pramanik sex gender determination test male female organ
Although, the private nursing home at Baguihati, where police had taken Pinki for getting a gender determination test done, had identified Pinki as male, the court did not accept this. Under the court's directive, Pinki had to undergo further rounds of tests, first at Barasat State Hospital and then at SSKM Hospital. Unfortunately, in both the cases, the teams of doctors could not arrive at a definite conclusion. The one test, which could have solved the riddle - the chromosome and hormone test - could not be conducted at Calcutta and so, her blood samples have been sent to institutes outside of West Bengal.
The gathering at SSKM for a glimpse of Pinki.
Picture Source: The Telegraph, Calcutta.
pinki partner
During multiple rounds of gender determination tests, Pinki has been treated like a caged animal, put up for show in a zoo. Human rights activists have strongly criticized the “insensitive” handling of the case, resulting in the arrested athlete being repeatedly subjected to insult and public ridicule. The venue and the timings of the tests, have always been publicized beforehand, resulting in huge crowd gatherings at the designated hospitals to catch a glimpse of her. These crowds, at several points of time, have derided Pinki openly.
pinki pramanik sex gender determination test male female organ
"Man"handling of Pinki by the police
Picture Source: BBC World
Rights activists have also criticized the manner in which Pinki has been forced to expose herself repeatedly before male doctors. They further alleged that only male constables were escorting her and even they were behaving inappropriately at time, as the picture on the left side suggests.
pinki molested
Even worse, a 29 seconds MMS clip, showing the athlete completely nude and undergoing gender determination tests at the private Baguihati clinic has been uploaded over the Internet, and has gone viral in no time. Till I write this, police officials haven't even bothered to investigate this issue. Official statements from the department of police have pointed out that till a formal complaint is filed, they cannot do anything on their own. However, critics point out that police could have taken suo moto cognizance in the case and should have started an official investigation to nab the culprits responsible for recording and circulating the MMS.
pinki pramanik sex gender determination test male female organ
Pinki herself, told The Telegraph while coming out of SSKM, “I have never been harassed like this in my life. I feel so embarrassed... I can’t express my feeling!”
pinki pramanik sex gender determination test male female organ
Her father, Durgacharan Pramanik, also told The Telegraph, “People are gathering to watch her as if she is a caged animal. Even lawyers and policemen are making fun of my daughter. She has done so much for the nation. Does she deserve to be treated like this?”
pinki pramanik sex gender determination test male female organ
Activists and social workers have theorized that Pinki's rural family background and the lack of monetary resources, have emboldened the perpetrators in to believing that they will get away with impunity. They further contend that as Pinki's parents or direct family members are not in a position to strongly object to the inhuman treatment being dished out or as they are unable to take up cudgels on her behalf, the concerned persons have taken Pinki for a free ride. They also point out the social status of the so called "lower caste" Pramaniks as another contributing factor to Pinki's ordeal.
pinki pramanik sex gender determination test male female organ
Some people on the know of things related to the whole incident, have expressed their reservation over the original allegation of rape itself. It has been variously speculated that Pinki's troubles started when she refused to pay her female partner a specified amount, which the partner had demanded in return for vacating Pinki's flat. This refusal prompted the partner to file the charges against Pinki. They have also pointed out to the passage of more than two years of time, during which, the alleged victim did not raise the issue at all.
pinki pramanik sex gender determination test male female organ
Whatever may be the reason behind the complaint, the entire episode has highlighted that even in the twenty first century, the mentality of our people and society as a whole and even the protectors and upholders of law, i.e. the police force, are yet to change. It seems that we are caught in a time warp, and it will take more time and effort to leave our nineteenth century ideas and ideals behind us.
pinki pramanik sex gender determination test male female organ
The episode has also highlighted another dangerous trend, that of the treatment meted out to single woman, who would want to live life on their own terms. It shows the entire conservative society in a poor light and emphasizes that the society is yet to accept women as  equal to men.
pinki pramanik sex gender determination test male female organ
Lastly, the episode has sounded a very timely alarm bell, that even today, the caste and clout matter a lot. Had Pinki been from a so called upper class background or had a wealthy family backing with urban upbringing, probably her ordeals would have been considerably lesser. That I have to write this in 2012, pains me a lot, but unfortunately, this is how the Indian system functions.
pinki pramanik sex gender determination test male female organ
No amount of legislation or fear of punishment can change the way Indian society treats its women members. Only a sustained effort at changing the perception of the society, which should start at the grassroots level and gradually move upwards, may bring about the positive change, that is so desired by the rights activists and victims alike. Till that happens, we may see many more Durgacharan Pramaniks asking helplessly, and with tear in their eyes, 
"Does she deserve to be treated like this?"

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Facebook, Rumi, Jackie and a mob from Karimganj

It was around 11.45 pm on last Friday, 29th July 2012. I was about to log off from Facebook and shutdown my laptop, when something caught my eyes. That something was a status message from one of my friends. It gave me the news that Rumi Nath aka Reshma Sultana, along with her second husband Jackie, (although, from a legal point of view, they are in a live in relationship at best) had been brutally beaten up at a hotel in Karimganj, the headquarter of the eponymous district in Southern Assam, by a mob of around 200 men. The reason? Rumi Nath, who is an MLA from the Barkhola constituency of Assam, had eloped with a Muslim man, Jakir aka Jackie, thereby leaving her husband Rakesh Singh and a two year old daughter from her first marriage with Singh.
news on rumi nath mla assam second husband jackie jakir
Frankly speaking, this lynching mob type of the so called "delivery of justice", which has been on the rise in India in recent years, only goes on to show that a section of the people have totally lost their faiths on the nation - its legislature, executive and judiciary. This kind of "jungle raaj" cannot be, and should not be condoned under any circumstances. A heinous crime is exactly that, a heinous crime only, even if the victims themselves are criminals and the perpetrators commit the crime in the guise of cleansing the society. Period.
news on rumi nath mla assam second husband jackie jakir
Why am I even writing all these, and that too after 2 days? Because, there have been a clear division among the general population - those who support it and those who vehemently oppose it. Seeing this divide, I thought about writing on the whole issue, with flashbacks to Rumi's student days in Bangalore, her family background and a heads up on the current situation.
news on rumi nath beaten by a mob at a karimganj hotel
Rumi, the daughter of a rich businessman from Silchar, who incidentally has two wives too, went to Bangalore and completed her Bachelors in Medicine from there. While she was studying, love blossomed between her and another student of the same college, Rakesh Singh, who - people tell me - is from Uttar Pradesh. In due course, both got married and had a daughter too. In between, Rumi entered politics and was elected on a BJP ticket, to the state legislature of Assam. Some time down the line, there was a possibility that the ruling Congress government under Tarun Gogoi might lose its majority in the house. To counter this, it is alleged that a very influential Congress minister bought out some MLAs from BJP and Rumi was one of them. What is beyond any doubts is that she switched her allegiance, voted for the Gogoi government and joined the Indian National Congress. In the next assembly elections, she contested on a Congress ticket from the same constituency and won again.
news on rumi nath maariage jackie jakir converts to islam
Everything was going on pretty smoothly, till she opened a Facebook account! She met Jakir alias Jackie in FB and became friends. The relationship surely went beyond simple friendship, as is evident from her pregnancy, which is in an advanced stage of 5 months. What really irritated people were the flip-flops by Rumi. When Samayik Prasanga, a daily newspaper from Silchar, first published the news of Rumi's purported marriage with Jackie, she vehemently denied that. After more such denials, suddenly she vanished without a trace and then resurfaced, Jackie in tow, at Guwahati. Subsequently, she admitted to converting to Islam and marrying Jackie. She took on the name, Reshma Sultana. It has been alleged that a few political leaders from the minority community were responsible for arranging the conversion and marriage. Elsewhere, her first husband Rakesh Singh, who is legally her husband till now, had slapped adultery charges on the duo. Rumi countered this by her own illogical logic, that because she has converted to Islam, Hindu Marriage Acts won't be applicable to her. She is either an ignorant fool or perhaps, trying to play a communal card to satisfy her libido. Because the honorable Supreme Court of India had already declared that any religious conversion that is done with the objective of entering in to a bigamous/polygamous relationship, would automatically stand null and void. The same set of leaders, who had arranged the marriage, are being alleged to be playing protector to the duo. It is further alleged that they are using their political clout to ensure that Jackie is not arrested.
news on rumi nath mla assam second husband jackie jakir
That's about everything that have happened in the background. Fast forward to Karimganj, Friday, 29 June 2012.
news on rumi nath converts islam reshma sultana jakir mob fury
During the day, both had visited Rumi's constituency, Barkhola. There also, a section of the populace protested against her. At least one lady had confronted Rumi too. From Barkhola, they went to Karimganj in the evening and checked in to Hotel Nakshatra. At around 10 pm, a mob of around 200 persons attacked the hotel, broke the doors and beat up Rumi and Jackie.

What puzzles me is the fact that the cameramen from at least two TV channels could reach the hotel and were able to capture the rampage, but the police took more time to reach there. A timely police action could have prevented this from happening. Next day's newspaper carried a story that one of the Superintendents of Police had advised Rumi against visiting Barak Valley, as the police feared for the safety and security of Rumi and Jakir. That means, police were in the know of things that something similar could happen, yet they did precious little to prevent the attack. It is also speculated that Rumi's personal security guards had also been removed prior to the attack.
news on rumi nath mla assam second husband jackie jakir
I agree that Rumi's behaviour, over the years, has not been exactly exemplary, but some of that blame should also be shared by her family. It is an open secret that her father's wealth has not been earned through exactly lawful means. Moreover, she has seen, from day one, that her father has married twice and has been living with both of them! I can't imagine, how well rounded, was her upbringing process, but can confidently say that it was far from ideal.
news on rumi nath mla assam second husband jackie jakir
Now, should the Bashing in Karimganj be condemned or condoned?
news on rumi nath mla assam second husband jackie jakir
Should this question be asked at all?
news on rumi nath mla assam second husband jackie jakir
What Rumi and Jakir did was wrong in the eyes of the law of the land. I also understand that elected representatives are supposed to set examples for others to follow and should not indulge in such illegal, bigamous activities. But, in India, do we see that happen often? Aren't there some kind of skeletons in the cupboard of every other political leader? In the recent past only, the media has highlighted the cases of Bhanwari Devi or that of N. D. Tiwari. There is not even an iota of doubt that the duo were wrong, have taken an illegal step and that they should be tried for adultery. And, for indulging in such activities, Rumi should be disqualified from the assembly too. But, for their sins, there is a legal system in India, which can decide the magnitude of the punishment, if indeed, they are ever convicted. As I understand, Mr. Rakesh Singh has already filed a case and the matter is sub judice. Under these circumstances, the law should be allowed to run its due course.
But no! The alcohol assisted brave-hearts of Karimganj considered themselves to be the single window prosecutor, judge and executor of justice. What they did, reminded me of the 18th and 19th century USA, when Lynching Mobs were the standard norms for delivery of purported justice! There should not be any doubt that this incident was deplorable, shameful and should have been prevented in the first place. Now since this has happened, the police and the administration should ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book. Otherwise, this will set a dangerous precedent, when mobs will decide the course of action on behalf of the society.