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Clean up the streets

A Jorhat college girl’s recent Facebook post has brought students out on the streets across the State, set off a flutter in the city’s police force,‘and spurred members in the Assembly to ventilate their anxieties over eve-teasing. The girl wrote about how she has been harassed by masked rowdies on bikes, tailing her frequently at a lonely, dark stretch of road barely a kilometer away from Jorhat sadar police station. She lamented that many of her friends too have been similarly victimized by goons mouthing obscene remarks, touching them ippropriately and outraging their modesty. The post touched a raw nerve; hundreds of enraged students from JB College, DCB College and other institutes blockaded roads, shouted slogans against the city administration and staged vociferous protests before the deputy commissioner’s office. After the DC forwarded the FB post to Jorhat SP, the police administration went on a clean-up drive, deploying policemen in plainclothes and women police along roads to educatiol institutes, holding public meets and taking other confidence-building measures. Student organizations are demanding a helpline service for girl students, as well as more streetlights, CCTV cameras and patrolling at vulnerable points. Complaints have been received that dhabas and resorts selling liquor on the sly along the highway bypassing Jorhat city, form a major starting point for bike-riding hoodlums. High on booze, they fan out across the city — creating nuisance in residential areas, near girls’ hostels, photostat centres and shopping points known to be frequented by girls going for tuitions, project work or marketing. There has been an outpouring on social, print and electronic media — with young and old alike sharing painful experiences, vowing not to remain silent any more in the face of such delinquency. And rightly they should, for today’s eve-teaser and molester who goes scot-free may well be the murderous stalker or rapist of tomorrow.

In a matter this sensitive, surely political leaders need to talk sensibly, help steel society’s resolve and energize the administration. Instead, Parliamentary Affairs minister Chandra Mohan Patowary in the House, answering on behalf of the State government, saw it fit to remark that the victimized girl is an SFI member, that had she complained to the police instead of going to social media, the culprits would have been bbed by now. Really? As a leader who has come up through the ranks of student politics since the tumultuous days of Assam Agitation, surely he ought to know that the average police station in the State is not exactly a friendly place for even hardy citizens to lodge a complaint, let alone a girl of tender years. If the police leave the streets free for hooligans to run riot and have their way, a victim can either bottle up her humiliation or look for catharsis. And what better than sharing it on social media, on her own terms? There is no way leaders can now ignore how powerful a weapon social media has become in mobilizing public opinion. Prime Minister rendra Modi does it, as do his several ministerial colleagues with their own sizeable followings. If social media can bring about an Arab Spring, an Occupy Movement or the pro-jallikattu stir in Tamil du, surely students in Jorhat can use it to demand safer streets there. We can safely believe that had the victim not taken recourse to Facebook, the police would not have been goaded into action. Decrying the use of social media merely exposes the minister’s disconnect with the people. It is utterly irrelevant too if the victim happens to belong to SFI or any other organization. Seeing politics in such a situation merely rubs salt to injury, like the ‘Leftist smear campaign’ that Mamata Banerjee saw in the Park Street rape case or the ‘political conspiracy’ that UP’s Samajwadi Party minister Azam Khan saw in the Bulandshahr gangrape. BPF MLA Koumli Basumatary has put it best when she spoke about how eve-teasing and sexual harassment are ‘not just problems faced in Jorhat but across the entire State’, of the trauma countless girls face when they have to walk long distances daily to their schools and colleges. It is this ugly reality that the new regime in Assam must change; it cannot hope to start on the right foot with complacency and insensitivity.

About the author

Ankur Kalita