KOLKATA: Undivided Bengal has been a pioneer in the movement for the emancipation, education and upliftment of women. Rabindranath Tagore is probably the first name that comes to mind. The women in the Tagore household were educated and enlightened even if they never went through formal school education. His writings are filled with stories centered on the woman question and how young wives had to pay a price within patriarchal homes for being intelligent and lettered. Keshub Chandra Sen, a leader of the Brahmo Samaj, tried to invest women with new roles through schools, prayer meetings and experiments in living.

By the turn of the century, Swami Vivekananda, leader of an activist order of Hindu monasticism, argued that women could become a powerful regenerative force. Men like Ram Mohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar tried to redraw the traditional definition of woman and identity, trying to introduce into it new elements draws from reinterpreted tradition,” writes Ashis Nandy.

The scenario is different in “independent” West Bengal today either because the men who attack a young woman for wearing shorts and smoking in public have never heard of these powerful men and their commitment to women or do not care. Imagine a 70+ old man backing his 40-year-old son in attacking a young girl of 22 because they found her smoking in public and wearing shorts. At around 9.00 pm on Friday, the 15th April, a day after the city celebrated the Bengali New Year, this girl, a second-year student of Presidency University was returning home with a male friend in Netaji Nagar in Tollygunge. A group of young men asked her why she was wearing shorts and smoking in public. She tried to reason with them but they were in no mood to listen. The men began to manhandle and assault her. When her male friend tried to intervene, they gave him a tight slap. When the two pointed out to a man nearby who was smoking, the attackers said, he could because he was a man!

"They told us you cannot wear these clothes and roam around and smoke here. They said you are ruining our culture. 'Stub out your cigarette immediately and never show your face here if you want to live'. You can do this in Mumbai or Delhi but not in Kolkata...," the young woman told an interviewer. It is suggested that the entire group of attackers were strong workers and supporters of the Ruling Party so the police not only went soft-soaping on the woman’s FIR asking her to write and rewrite her complaint several times. Later, they visited her at home at 3.30 am because she had forgotten to put the time and date on her FIR. They came back around 30 minutes later and asked her to report to the police station because the ink differed in the date from the ink she had written the FIR in. Understanding the attempt to harass her needlessly, she told them to come back the next morning.

They also asked for proof and a doctor's report. How could she possibly get a doctor’s report on her friend having been slapped and she being manhandled? As if all this was not enough, the police did not give her a copy of the FIR. The legal violations about the police complaint, the FIR, the silly questions the police asked her have already been explained by legal experts. The fact of the matter is that not a single person has been arrested till date.

It is now public knowledge that though molestation, rape, eve-teasing and attacks on women were there even during the earlier Left-Front government rule, this has multiplied dozens of times over during the present rule because most of the lumpen groups, thanks to the generosity of the present CM through her handsome annual grant to clubs in the state that provides them with enough funds to loiter around without work and focus their attention on how women dress or behave or talk. The present State Government had in 2012 announced a financial grant of Rs 2 lakh each to 1,614 clubs across 19 districts. After storming to power in 2011 Assembly polls, the Trinamool government had given Rs 2 lakh to 781 clubs handpicked by the leaders of the ruling party. This practice constinues each year and the youngsters find themselves flush with money without doing any productive work except harassing people.

The same government, ironically, floated the Kanyasri Prakalpa launched on October 1 2013. Under the scheme, the state government promises to provide an annual scholarship of Rs 500 to would also be given Rs 25,000 as a one-time grant when they turn 18. But political backing is not the only reason that men in West Bengal, drawing mainly from the strength and protection they believe they have from the Establishment which has been proved to be true in several cases in the recent past. It is also traced back to the patriarchal mindset men and women are conditioned by that convinces them about their moral power over women’s behaviour, dress habits, mobility, and at times, even the company they keep.

In patriarchal societies, men have the power and control over manipulating women’s conduct. They use this power to enforce modesty on women. This is traced back to man’s unconscious fears of the castrating mother. Bergler, a social scientist, argues that unconsciously, every man is afraid of every woman. His relationship with his mother evokes in him a number of baby fears which, as he grows up, he transfers to all women in general. These are - the fears of being starved, devoured, poisoned, choked, chopped to pieces and drained. All these culminate in a phallic fear of being castrated. They lead the man to evolve an unconscious, powerful portrait of himself. Therefore, if he finds a woman imitating and/or equaling his way of dressing, an integral part of this ‘powerful portrait,’ his defenses are up at once, and he proceeds, with the help of this ‘powerful portrait’ and the ‘strength’ he derives from patriarchy, to ‘cut the woman down to size’ in different ways.

This new mafia comprised of men and women in the State are completely ignorant about the Kolkata police deciding to adopt the Uttaranchal model where a lot of policewomen have switched over to the salwar-kameez to facilitate movement. The 450 women from the rank of inspector to constable can now sport the shirt-trousers-boot look or go the salwar-kameez-dupatta-pumps route as it offered room for greater comfort instead of the heavy belt with the trousers they found difficult to wear throughout their duty hours. The rule came in force at the end of 2007.

Place this against the experience of Rituparna Mahapatra of Joypur, Bankura. She has recently joined a school in Bankura as a trainee teacher. She was told by the school authorities not to wear the salwar kameez on grounds that “it was an indecent dress and students get influenced in a negative way if a lady teacher wears salwar kameez.” The young teacher says that the school is 35 kilometers away from her residence. The public bus is the sole means of transport which is always crowded during office hours. Mahapatra felt that the salwar kameez was safer compared to the sari for girls and women travelling in crowded public transport where jostling and ‘feeling up’ and ‘groping’ are considered ‘normal’ by most people, specially men. But who is listening?

Clothing for both men and women offers legitimacy to social distinctions. For women, fashion is regulated not only along lines of social distinction but also along lines of sexuality. Gradually therefore, clothes became a signifier of a woman's moral virtue. A major distinction in female dress is found even today, between the 'respectable' mainstream housewife and the prostitute who lives and works away from the mainstream. Morality here, is construed specifically in terms of sexual morality, because clothes, through their proximity to the body, encode the game of modesty and sexual explicitness, denial and celebration of pleasure.

Madhu Kishwar raised a significant question long ago in an article in The Illustrated Weekly of India. She asked how questions of obscenity and decency arise at all for women in a country where half the women are too poor to cover themselves decently.

Update: The latest news is that Kamal Ganguly, the70-year-old retired government officer who attacked the 22-year-old first has been arrested, among other charges under Section 354 of the IPC which . But his son Souvik is absconding. The other four could not be arrested because the victim could not describe the details of their appearance to the police sketch artist.

But the two defence attorneys of Ganguly, namely Sougata Roy Choudhury and Sanjay Basu are going all out to defend his action by reiterating that the behaviour of the woman standing in a residential locality and smoking at 9pm to "outraging the modesty of society." The police has sought custody of the accused till April 30.But the additional chief judicial magistrate, Alipur Court, remanded Ganguly in judicial custody for a day which means that he will be out by the time this is posted online.