Even as throngs of people gathered on Red Road in Kolkata on Friday to witness the first ever Durga Puja parade, not everyone in the city was thrilled about the opulent procession.
Those among the displeased included 21-year-old engineering student Rajashree Chattopadhyay, from Kolkata, who objected to the incident, and in fact, posted her opinion about the state-sponsored procession on her personal Facebook feed, where she complained about the waste of state finances on the procession.
This is what the post read:
According to reports, some additional 1,500 police personnel were deployed for the event, which had arrangements to seat almost 10,000 people, including the West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee herself.
The event is meant to allegedly attract more tourists to the city during the 5-day Puja bonanza, and put the festival, along with the city, on the international map. 38 of the best idols of the city, including the award winners, marched in an opulent lineup, with much fanfare.
But what was shocking was the response she got for her opinion in Kolkata, both from her neighbours and local politicians. Rajashree woke up on the 16th to find a public hoarding hung outside her house in Dum Dum, with her pictures and her Facebook posts about the procession. With the words ‘Shame on you’ printed on it, the banner was meant to condemn her post.
After this, a group of women, allegedly local members of Trinamool Congress, even charged into the girl’s house in an attempt of physical intimidation.
Fed up by the helplessness of ordinary citizens in the face of public intolerance and humiliation, the student finally wrote a powerful open letter, which has been published in The Telegraph‘s Metro section today.
Here are some excerpts from the letter:
“A few women workers of the ruling party then came to my home to physically heckle me and they threatened me and asked me to publicly apologise for my Facebook posts.
I refused. I fought back by refusing to apologise.”
In reference to the ruling party, she wrote:
“Inability to accept criticism borders on fascism.”
She also spoke about the right to freedom of speech:
“Under Article 19 (1) (a) of our Constitution, freedom of speech is a guaranteed fundamental right. But who cares?”
“I am astonished and also worried about this state of affairs because the generation after us will face a greater problem if this kind of oppression persists. The state will suffer if you don’t allow protests.”
In the letter, she claims that the only purpose of hanging the banner outside her house was to humiliate her for expressing an opinion and asking a question. Drawing similarities with the situation in Mumbai after the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray in 2012, the student raises concerns about India becoming more a dictatorship than a democracy.
The state’s response to the controversy has been classic Didi, with the local TMC councillor, Avijit Mitra, blaming CPM for the incident while flatly refusing to take down the hoarding outside Rajashree’s house:
“This hoarding is CPM propaganda. The girl is a member of its student wing SFI. I will take no responsibility. I will not remove the hoarding until locals ask me to in writing. Or else they will say I had put it up,” Mitra told NDTV.
Rajashree has faced opposition both from local politicians as well as some of her neighbours. But the 21 year-old student is in no mood to take a beating. She ends the letter by stating her firm resolve to oppose intolerance and repression in any form, and also asking friends to join in the movement of dissent:
“The harassment has done one good, though. It has helped me firm my resolve to protest – yes, on every possible forum – and also invite my young friends to join in.”
According to reports, the banner has now been taken down.
Feature Image Source: Reuters/Facebook