What about the One-Stop Crisis Centre for rape victims in West Bengal?

West Bengal continues to have the long drawn process for rape victims seeking any help or recourse. Speaking to Hidden Pockets Collective about the process presently followed with rape victims, Dr. P.S.Chakravorthy, Head of the Department of Gynaecology at the IPGMER & SSKM hospital, Kolkata says, “The victims have to first report to the police. Then they visit the gynaecology department here, after which the forensic department is involved in the process. Then if required, the victim is sent to the psychiatric ward for counselling.

Typically, any One-Stop Crisis Centre for rape victims is supposed to include medical, legal-aid, psycho-social counselling, shelter, police assistance, video conferencing facility to facilitate police and court proceedings. Having mapped One-Stop Crisis Centre for rape victims in several other states including Jaipur and Kochi, Hidden Pockets Collective went looking for one in the state of West Bengal. It appears that West Bengal has no One-Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC) for rape victims. There seems to be no information available on any centre that has been set up in West Bengal either.

Nation-wide plan for One-Stop Crisis Centres (OSCC)

According to the implementation guidelines released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in April 2015, one OSCC was to be set up in every State and Union Territory during the first phase. The Scheme of One Stop Centre was approved for 36 locations, one per each state of Union territory for implementation from April 1, 2015. The Department of Women and Child Development were required to send its proposal for a centre to the Ministry of Women and Child Development and was to be approved by the Proposal Approving Body (PAB). According to the Revised One Stop Centre Scheme report from May 2016, ‘during the year 2015-16, proposals of 33 States/UTs had been sanctioned for setting up One Stop Centre. Out of these 33, 15 Centres were become operational by 30th May, 2016.’ The scheme has also been revised to include 150 OSCCs in phase two in addition to the 36 centres from phase one. The additional centres have been distributed amongst the different states including NCT of Delhi taking into account the number of registered crime, number of female population and the Child Sex Ration in the respective state.

West Bengal not to be seen? 

Interestingly, out of the 36 from phase one, only 14 sanction orders have been listed on Ministry of Women and Child Development’s website, all for the year 2015-16. West Bengal is not to be found neither on the sanctioned list or in the list of states mentioned in the minutes of any of the PAB meetings conducted so far. It is not clear when the website of Ministry of Women and Child Development was last updated. It is also not clear if the West Bengal government is one among the 33 states whose proposal was sanctioned by the Ministry. If it is one of the 33 states,  According to the Revised One Stop Centre Scheme report, 10 additional centres have been allotted for West Bengal in phase two.

Historically, how has West Bengal reacted to OSC centre – 2016 & 17?

  • In October 2015, Maromi met the Joint Secretary, Department of Women and Child Development of West Bengal to know the status of the OSC in the state. a place has been suggested in North 24 Barashat, Noth 24 Parganas, within the complex of DM bungalow.
  • In March 2016, Maromi sent a letter to the Chief Minister’s office to understand the status of OSC in West Bengal.
  • In November 2016, Maromi representatives met Dr. Shashi Panja to invite her for a seminar. During the meeting, speaking about the OSC, the minister said regarding the setting up of the OSC during which the minister mentioned that the government is not thinking about it at the moment.
  • The Ei Shamoy article on 26, November 2016 confirmed the statement expressed by the minister.
  • The state has rejected the Centre’s proposal for stepping up of the OSC. Shashi Panja says that we have already been doing this job so there is no need to take money from the Central government and set up a separate centre.

Where do women access services if both state government and central government refuse to take any responsibility?

Chandan Nagar goes on its fifth Pride March celebrating its LGBTQIA+ community

Atri Kar, a transwoman is a primary school teacher in Chandan Nagar. She got a job in 2014 before the NLSA (National Legal service authority) judgment of the Supreme Court with respect to transgender rights. The NALSA judgment simply states that ‘self-identification’ is more than enough if a person self-recognizes as a transgender. There is no need for any supportive document. When Kar approached the Block Development Officer (BDO) of Magra to change her voters ID and Aadhaar card, she was asked for supportive documents. Unclear about what needs to be done, Kar approached Amitie Trust for help. On Amitie’s suggestion, Kar approached the BDO requesting for the list of supporting documents that are required. However, the BDO had no list to give Kar since the Supreme Court has been clear in its verdict on the matter. Subsequently, Kar managed to get her documents done with help of the Sub-divisional officer.

“The crucial point here is that in spite of being educated, Atri Kar faced this problem, but there are many uneducated people who face similar problems and do not know what to do about it because they are unaware of their rights,” notes Deshapriya Mahapatra,AmitieTust.

Amitie is a French word meaning “Friendship” hence the Amitie Trust works towards building a tolerant society towards the LGBT community. Many continue to be intolerant towards the LGBT community and do not support them. In spite of these issues, the Amitie Trust has been organizing Pride Walks since 2013 in Chandan Nagar. Chandan Nagar district is in a rural area about an hour and a half away from Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal. Chandan Nagar Pride Walk begins exactly opposite the Chandan Nagar police station, a beautiful site adjoining the river Ganges. Chandan Nagar had its fifth Pride March on July 1, 2017.

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

The history behind Amitie Trust dates back to nearly 10 years. Amitie Trust is an organization working in Howrah, Hooghly and other neighboring districts. On April 1, 2009, Amitie was registered as a trust, prior to which Amitie had functioned for almost 4 to 5 years as an informal organisation.

However, when it comes to the Pride walk ‘visibility’ becomes an important concern, several people are not comfortable in revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity. “We began our pride walk in Chandan Nagar in the year 2013 with about 50 to 55 participants and today we are about 160 participants, which is one of our biggest achievements” adds Mahapatra.

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

Problems faced by the LGBT community are numerous, it is not only the authority system of the country which poses a threat to them but they face different kind of problems on a regular basis, physical harassment, verbal harassment in local trains, health related issues and many more. Some people are also uncomfortable with their attire and the way they carry out themselves.

“In the year 2002, three boys were detained by the police in the name of eve teasing; we call them ‘koti’ (effeminate males) in the local language. The police had no evidence of them Eve teasing anyone and finally had to release them. When the magistrate saw the three detained boys, she smiled and told the police, if at all you had to arrest these boys you should have accused them of Adam teasing, not Eve teasing. It was then that we realized that we should have a formal group to raise our voices against such injustice. To organize members of different sexual orientation or different gender identities to come together in the quest for justice,” narrates Mahapatra.

Awareness about ones sexual orientation or gender identity is a crucial issue. Many people are unaware about such issue hence the pride walk takes place in order to educate people about such issues and make them more sensitive and tolerant. Amitie Trust also finds the need to take the pride walk further, from rural to urban areas and spread gender awareness to a larger area and not only keep it confined to Chandan Nagar.

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta
Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

About the writer:

Marian Dias is a sociology graduate who hopes to start teaching the subject someday soon. Apart from loving outdoor games like basket ball and cricket, she also loves to travel and visit new places.

Pleasure, Politics and Pagalpan: A conversation on gender, sexuality and psychosocial disabilities

Anjali Mental Health Rights Organisation is a non-profit organisation working mainly in the area of mental health rights for over last 15 years. The organisation operates in 3 government run hospitals in West Bengal namely Pavlov Mental Hospital, Lumbini Park Mental Hospital, and Bahrampur Mental Hospital and also runs a community mental health service.

Debayani Sen, Documentation Officer & Research Associate at Anjali Mental Health Rights Organisation, talking about the lack of any human relationship for persons institutionalised due to psycho-social disabilities says, “In institutions, the sexuality of persons with psycho-social disabilities is an aspect that is entirely unrecognized. If a person is under medication then there are chances that sexual urges, performance, etc. may get affected. For a person living with psycho-social disabilities, any free expression of sexuality tends to get pathologized by others. It is seen as a symptom of the illness.”

In view of the different challenges and stigmas faced by persons with psycho-social disabilities and the need for an open conversation at the intersection of gender, sexuality, psycho-social disabilities and sexual rights, Pleasure, Politics and Pagalpan, a two day conference on sexuality, rights and persons with psychosocial disability is being co- convened by Anjali and ARROW (The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women) with support from CREA to be held on May 13 and 14, 2017 at the Taj Gateway Hotel, Kolkatta.

Further, according to ‘Treated Worse than Animals’, a report on India by the Human Rights Watch, medication is often forced on women and girls with psycho-social disabilities to keep them in check ie within what is considered ‘appropriate behavior.’ The report also notes the common use of physical, verbal abuse and sometimes even sexual abuse in different mental health institutions in India. Fearing the medication and abuse, people admitted in these institutions never voice their concerns. Though the Mental Health Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in March 2017, the Bill does not address the sexual health or sexuality of persons with psycho-social disabilities.

With the kind of issues faced by people admitted in different hospitals and institutions, it becomes necessary to look deeper into the issues faced by people, especially, from a clinical as well as social perspective.

“Anjali tries to move away from the medical model because we believe that psycho-social issues or any kind of emotional distress cannot only be a result of your clinical condition. The social factors also responsible for the suffering that the person might be going through. Keeping both the aspects in mind, we support the practice of rational medication clubbed with alternative interventions as opposed to the pill-popping culture. The kind of environment that you are living in, the kind of issues that you have to deal within your family or your workplace or society at large may serve as triggers that lead to a ‘meltdown’  or to a point when you have to admit the person to an institution. As much as the psychiatric perspective is important, the social perspective is also important and that needs to be brought into the discourse,” explains Sen.

Understanding the intersectional conversation on psycho-social disabilities, sexuality and gender requires a deeper understanding of policy, law, culture, society, history, economics and politics. The conference on May 13 and 14, 2017 at The Taj Gateway Hotel, Kolatta will also delve into these different perspectives.

The practice, concerns and dilemma dealing with sexual expressions by persons living with psycho-social disabilities need to be discussed before addressing them for solutions. Issues around sexuality, gender, psycho-social disabilities have come up before. It is important to know how institutions have already formulated a way to deal with them. Social activists and psychiatrists will discuss the concerns and dilemmas that they face to get an idea of the kind of issues that have come up and the temporary solutions provided.

“In order to explore and articulate pleasure, danger, eroticism and fantasy, we wanted subject experts, who have been engaged with this dialogue for a long time. On the panel we have with us, feminists, queer individuals, writers, a kinky activist, a film maker and a member of National Mental Health Policy Group.”

Though often forgotten or ignored, any discourse around sexuality will be incomplete without taking into consideration the perspective of the queer community. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises homosexuality. This questions the sexuality of all from the queer community which subsequently leads to several psycho-social stigmas that the community faces. The conference will also delve into the issues faced by the queer community -including queers’ being looked at pathologically- the psycho-social disability label of people with different orientation, the coping mechanisms of queer people with psycho-social disabilities, implications of these stigmas, among others. The session will focus on addressing the queer and LGBT community.

What is the sexual reality of a person with psycho-social disabilities? The fantasies, pleasures, desires and eroticism of persons with psycho-social disabilities also need a voice, place and expression. To explore these ideas and others, the conference will engage with different audiences including writers and authors.

Disclosure: Hidden Pockets is Media Outreach Partner for Pleasure, Politics & Pagalpan

Where to get an abortion and other sexual and reproductive health services in Kolkata?

Recently Hidden Pockets set out to find different sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services in the city of joy, Kolkata. A primary research of the different health services provided in the city was done before the mapping exercise was undertaken. This research included Internet research and conversations with different individuals, activists and organisations working in the space of public health. The research showed that the status of public health services was inaccessible, unhygienic and crowded. So we decided to picked out a few of the available public health service providers in the city to understand the state of SRH services in the city. Since Family Planning Association of India (FPAI) usually features on our list of recommendations in the cities that we map, we decided to start with FPAI.

What happened to Right to Information?

The FPAI centre in Kolkata is located in Etally. The nearest bus stop is located at 5 minutes walking distance. The centre is located on the inside of a market road. It is a rather old building with a board outside that says Family Planning Association of India and lists all the services provided at the centre. It was hard to miss the strong smell of urine on entering the building premises. It wasn’t the cleanest of centres that we have been to so far, in the country. The first floor has the ward and the office is on the second floor.

On requesting for information about the services provided at the centre, the categorical response given by the medical officer was “Go to the Kolkata headquarters for any information about the services provided here. We will not give you any information.” The staff seemed clearly quite unapproachable. It was quite strange considering that the list of services provided at the centre is listed on the name board displayed outside on the door.

With FPAI off the list, it became important to look into other sexual and reproductive health service centres in the city that were approachable and also provided different services at a reasonable cost. More importantly, were there any reasonable government hospitals in the city providing SRH services?

How good are the government hospitals?

In an attempt to find some answer to that question, SSKM hospital, (located about half kilometer from Rabindra Sadan metro station) was chosen as the next destination. This is a referral hospital along with a medical college attached to it. Reason enough, the hospital is quite large and also usually crowded throughout the day. Located in the centre of the hospital campus, the gynecology department is difficult to locate without any support from the hospital staff. The guard at the gate was quite helpful giving directions to the gynaecology department. Gynecology department is located opposite to the Eye department and diagonally opposite to the Ronald Ross block. However, even with help, it was hard to locate considering the constant crowd on the hospital campus. It is a large department that has a separate building for the neonatal services provided at the hospital.

The cost of acquiring an OPD card in the hospital for all departments is Rs. 2. On checking the OPD registration desk on the ground floor of the building for services provided by the gynecology department and cost involved, we were told to check directly with the gynecology OPD. The administrative staff did not seem approachable. That said, the OPD registration had a constant queue throughout the day. The gynaecology OPD is a clean ward with air conditioning. On requesting from a doctor on duty (an intern), we were asked to talk to the Head of the Department (HOD) of Gynaecology whose office is in the Ronald Ross block. Though Ronald Ross block sounded easy enough, locating the HOD’s office in the building was not easy. The staff and interns that we spoke to, on the ground floor of the building either refused to give any information or said that they are not aware of the office. Being utterly confused in the large hospital, we had to check with several departments including Eye and ENT to be doubly sure of the HOD’s office. Due to sheer exhaustion of locating the different departments and heavy rains, we decided to meet the HOD on day 2.

Eventually on day 2, the HOD’s office was located on the second floor of Ronald Ross building. On landing up at the HOD – Dr. P.S.Chakravorthy’s office, we were asked to come the next day to have a conversation to understand all the sexual and reproductive health services provided in the hospital. Unlike other staff, the HOD was quite approachable and friendly. On day 3, an interview was conducted to understand the different SRH services provided in the hospital. The doctor was willing to answer all questions that were put forth.

Excerpts from the interview conducted:

Sexual and reproductive health services available for men:

“There is a STD clinic in the hospital close to the skin clinic that includes STI and RTI services as well.”

Process of accessing these services:

“The person has to go to the OPD STD clinic and register and see the doctor.”

Most common concerns for men:

“Mostly urethral discharge, burning sensation and gentile ulcers.”

HIV testing centre:

“There is one HIV testing centre that is attached to the blood bank, one to the microbiology lab, one to pathology department and there’s another attached to the antenatal clinc. There may be even more.”

Cost of accessing these services

“Buying the OPD card at Rs. 2 gives access to all services in the hospital including HIV testing centre at no additional cost, for both services and medication.”

AIDs & HIV related services:

“When we find that a person is HIV positive, we send them to the ART centre where they are provided counseling, both the patient and the spouse, medications, lifestyle advices, health education.”

Sexual and reproductive health services available for women

“Same as men and in addition, gynaecology OPD, skin OPD (because of wart). There is an adolescent clinic also – usually for teenage girls related to reproductive problems – menstruation – regular, irregular, pain, discharge etc.”

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (abortion): (Both married and unmarried women)

“We definitely provide abortion services to both married and unmarried women. To us, they are all patients. Irrespective of whether they are rich, poor, no matter the caste or creed, we try to help them.”

Cost of accessing this service

“Even MTP is included in the OPD charges of Rs.2, for MTP involving both medication or surgical intervention.”

SRS services

“The Plastic Surgery department runs the SRS service. It is again, free. In West Bengal, all services provided by the government are free. This also means that we have a lot of crowd here for all services.”

Other sexual and reproductive health services provided

“Family Planning services and Adolescent Friendly Health Clinics are also available.”

A reality check!

Though the doctor confirmed the availability a wide range of sexual and reproductive services, the concerns raised and expressed by people we spoke to accessing the services included:

  • Constant crowd
  • Need to have connections inside or outside the hospital to get access to high quality services
  • Often junior doctors or interns tend to the patient

On having spoken to the Plastic Surgery Department on the SRS service at the SSKM hospital provided in the hospital, Abhirup Kar, President of Civilian Welfare Foundation said, “The concerned person did not know what SRS was. We had to explain it to them and then  We had to explain it to them. We were then told that SRS is not done there and is only a subject of research in the hospital.”

Owing to the concerns raised about government institutions, we thought it necessary to also check with the private institutions on the different SRH services provided. Speaking to Hidden Pockets, a senior gynecologist* with 20+ years of experience said that the price of getting an abortion could range between Rs. 3,500 to Rs.30,000 in any private institution depending on the location. While the cost of getting an abortion could be anywhere between Rs.3,500 to 10,000 in Northern Kolkata, it costs Rs.15,000 to Rs.30,000 in Southern Kolkata depending on the institution and seniority of the doctor.

The senior gynecologist’s (hospital’s) cost breakdown for an abortion was as follows:

Rs. 4,000-5,000 for consultation

Rs.1,000-2,000 for the services

Rs.1,000 or so for medication

____________________

Total: Rs. 7,000-9,000  (cost estimated for his hospital’s services)

____________________

Note: Hidden Pockets studies focus on recommending at least one SRH service provider in any city that we go out after personal assessment of the centre for different parameters. However in Kolkata, owing to the crowd and unfriendly staff, we could not go beyond 2 government service providers during our time there. 

PS: “FPA India clinics may charge, what we prefer to call as a ‘partial user fee’ to the clients for seeking abortion or any other SRH service. This fee is very subsidized and helps the Association meet some running costs. However, all FPA India clinics also have a “NO REFUSAL POLICY”, which states that no client walking into any FPA India facility is denied any service, especially if he/she is unable to afford even the subsidized fee. Thus, poor and marginalized clients can also access quality services in FPAI clinics. Only when the facility is not equipped to provide a particular service (for example some client may need a specialized service, or admission or higher level emergency care) are clients to other facilities.”

Young autistic children walk the ramp of SMAYAN, Kolkata

It was a Tuesday morning that glowed with smiles, glamour, energy and confidence as six children walked on the ramp of SMAYAN at Vidya Mandir, Kolkata. The program conducted by Sushila Birla with the aim to promote inclusion and equality rights to education of each and every children cheered for these six young autistic children. Accompanied by their ‘shadow teachers’, they displayed perfection sporting the designer dresses of Manas, one of the renowned fashion designers of the city. In the dark auditorium, the little children outshone everyone overshadowing the challenges they face in communicating with others. The only group of autistic children in the competition, they belonged to the age group of 6.5 years to 9 years and represented Wonder House, a unit of the NGO, Transcending Knowledge Society, run by Dr. Amrita Roy Chowdhury and her team.

‘I am very happy with their performance,’ beams Amrita. ‘I know this is just a beginning for them. We didn’t win the title but we won hearts. We won our challenges. That’s what matters.’ The other participants had Down syndrome and some were pro learners. What makes their participation special is their performance. When socialization is one of the primary challenges these kids face, it takes a lot of hard work on their part and also on the part of the caregivers to overcome these hurdles.

‘They lack eye contact but they have been able to overcome this problem today,’ explains Amrita who is the Director of Transcending Knowledge Society. However, it has not been so easy for the kids and the team. Established in January 2015 with the vision and mission to enhance the skills of children with autism spectrum disorder through different expressive art therapies, soft skill training and independent living skills, the NGO has been working with these 6 children introducing new methods to help them take active part in the various functions of the mainstream society. Participating in the fashion show and also in the dance competition of SMAYAN has been a learning experience for the whole team. Rehearsals started a month earlier with friends offering their help to Amrita.

‘I am really grateful to Minakshi Nag, our dance movement therapist and Manas who volunteered to help us with his exemplary ‘gamcha’ collection,’ narrates Amrita.

Among the five boys and a girl, a few were first time performers. In a country where only a very small section of people shrug off the taboo associated with autism and come out in public with their autistic children, these six talented kids made everyone proud. Their participation and their performance revealed the possibilities and instilled the hope that provided they get the right training and support, they too can live like others, they too are able to do things like everyone else. Amrita feels very positive. She plans to build a ‘group home’ for supported living of these children.

Author profile:

Aparajita Dutta is a writer and a social activist.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are that of the writer.

Photo credit: Autism-India.org

Slogans of Kolkata Pride Walk 2016: A photo story

Kolkata held its 15th Pride Walk on December 11, 2016. This is a photo story capturing the sentiments of the participants through the slogans carried by the marching crowd through the roads of Kolkata.

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

 

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

 

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

 

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta


Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

 

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

 

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

 

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

 

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

Author Profile and Photo credit:

Kaushik Gupta is a lawyer and social activist.

Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk 2016: Lighting the way for all!

The vibrancy of love scraped the patriarchal air of Kolkata as people marched from Esplanade Y Channel to Park Circus Maidan celebrating the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk 2016. The event started around 2:15pm at the Esplanade Y channel and ended around 4:45pm after the participants gathered at the Park Circus Maidan. The winter sun borrowed its warmth from the multifarious expressions of love; people sported their jubilant dresses with joy and for those few hours, each and every one of us could forget the shackle choking our existence. Happy faces sketched the pain of living in a country that restricts our expression of love, that excludes a certain section of its people from the institution of marriage and pays no heed to the crimes inflicted upon a person because of their sexuality.

Liberty bestowed its colours upon the sparkling nose rings, the hair clips, the necklaces, the dresses. The liberty to wear anything without being questioned!! The liberty to flaunt that special neck-piece which you can’t because the society defines your sexuality by your genitals!! The liberty to choose your partner!! And this liberty made everyone happy. The feeling of wearing anything without being questioned or derided, the feeling of being with anyone without being stereotyped brought out the best in everyone. People walked in their choicest of attires. People gathered around to look at the participants, with awe. The look on their faces was of bewilderment. They stared at the pamphlets, sceptical of the content.

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta
Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

Biologically male human beings didn’t hesitate to flaunt their dazzling nose ring. The couple from kinky community openly marched with a flogger. The hijras chatted in their normal tone without being mocked by anyone. Maintaining the huge crowd was not easy. There were crossings, there were ambulances but organizers and volunteers made it clear to the people of the city that we are not here to disrupt the life of the city; we are here to show everyone that we exist, that human beings cannot be judged on the basis of their reproductive organs. Reproduction is not the main priority of loving another person. Love is not about reproduction. Reproduction is a choice lover’s make. Liberty is our right, be it any form of liberty, be it any kind of liberty.

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta
Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

Section 377 bears the germs of colonial hangover and still stands strong deriving its aid from various religions. It criminalises the practice of marriage by the LGBTQ+ people. In this world, full of people belonging to a wide range of sexualities, only the heterosexuals of our country are allowed to get married. Each and every other day, human beings like Tara get abused and murdered. But the government is ignorant. The government is stubborn. The government keeps on practising its patriarchal values. Heterosexuals, gays, lesbians, queer and numerous other people with numerous other sexualities took part in the walk to support and show that divided by sexualities, we are united by love and this love, is our strongest weapon.

We dare to love and loving each other, we will fight against this oppression of the government, this message was made clear to everyone. The slogans, the posters highlighted this very fact in their own ways. It’s not just about freedom from this law, it’s about freedom from any form of fascism. It might be related to the political scenario of the country, it might be related to a particular gender. Love is about the consent of two individuals. A third person or party cannot and shouldn’t interfere here.

The demand for ‘Azadi’ gave strength to the rainbow flag. Academicians, social workers, lawyers and people from various spheres of work participated to show their support, irrespective of their gender, irrespective of their career. That’s what made the walk so special. The walk has not been about the LGBTQ+ community alone. It’s for anyone and everyone because all of us are a part of the marvellous human species. The dark clouds of patriarchy can never suppress the rainbow from growing and spreading its light.

Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta
Photo credit: Kaushik Gupta

Author Profile:

Aparajita Dutta is a writer and works with the Civilian Welfare Foundation.

Opinions expressed here are that of the writer. 

Oh Calcutta! A paradise for street food.

Oh Calcutta!

I am what you call in Bengali a “Probashi”, NRB (Non Resident Bong) if you will. Born and brought up outside the state but a Bengali. Calcutta or Kolkata is a photographers’ paradise, a city that still defies the standards and stereotypes of every other big city. People keep complaining about no development, no urbanization, being too laid back, while it has its pitfalls and perils, one cannot help but notice how comforting and soulful the city still is and how each one of us would want to get immersed in it from time to time. “Leisure is Pleasure” is perhaps the motto here and why not, if it leaves you with a smile at the end of the day, a warm fuzzy feeling inside, if it leaves you content, I’d say it is doing a pretty good job of being home to millions of residents.

People here are always so happy, a bengali’s happiness is directly proportional to food. Food was my connection with this city, coming from a probashi household, which is quite mixed up otherwise but when it comes to food, we stick to our roots.

 

Leaving the Peter Cats, Flurys, Mocambos, Trincas that will make you feel like you are stuck in a 70s Parveen Babi song sequence aside, there are some hidden treasures for local delicacies  which are not the the Biryanis with potato, phuchka (pani puri) or sondesh.

 

There existed (a few still exist) small eating joints called “cabins” during the British Era and post independence where intellectuals often sat down to discuss or rather argue and unwind over cha (Tea) ,snacks and smoke. For example- The Mitra Cabin at Shyam Bazar, famous for its Kabiraji Cutlet (Fish/Chicken/Mutton coated and fried in a fluffy egg batter), Allen’s famous for its Prawn Cutlet fried in Ghee (Indian clarified butter) and if you’re there you can also head to Golbari (round-house) and devour some lip-smacking-finger- licking-mutton curry. You will on numerous occasions notice BMWs and other luxury sedans parked outside just to get a few parcels for home.

 

Calcutta is also home to the only China Town in India, Tengra. The Chinese community settled here in the 1780s. Now Chinese food to a Bengali is chowmein and chilli chicken, which is on the verge of becoming the “state dish”. You know how for a little bit the Chicken Tikka had replaced Fish and Chips in the UK, the chowmein-chilli chicken combo is the chicken tikka for Bengal (replacing the Maach Bhat/ Fish Rice). Needless to say every corner every hawker will definitely be ready to serve you their version of the aforesaid Chinese dish. While Calcutta has some absolutely amazing Chinese food restaurants, including the famous international food chains, nothing beats Tengra (China Town) Chinese. It is much reasonable, pocket-friendly and quite honestly much satiating.

 

And the biggest attraction is the morning breakfast market. It happens at Tengra and Tiretta Bazar, but it is only for the early risers as it starts from 6am. You will get a good selection of Chinese breakfast items like chicken/prawn/pork momos (dim sums), tai paos, shu meis, fried dough sticks, prawn wafers, rolls etc. The unique Chinese Kali temple is also around the corner, where the mantras are written in Mandarin and you get noodles for prasad. If you are in the city around Chinese New Year, it will be worth visiting China Town to watch the New Year celebrations.

 

Another very explored but not spoken about place is the High Court area. Hawkers and food stall owners come here every day from the border and return back after catering to a swarm of people. The best part about the food here is not only that it is freshly made but the variety. From regular veg/non veg meals, to Chinese to Mishti (sweet) stalls, south Indian food, samosas and poori sabji , and for when you have a bad stomach, there are options for light khichdi and curd rice too. You will see everyone from a high profiled lawyer to a pick-pocket to a client whose paying thousands of rupees to that lawyer, all eating there.

 

These are little things that hold this city together, and keep the spirit alive, something as common, routine and day to day, as food. These are places, and each one of them, that have stories and long history resting on their shoulders, apart from their daily struggles of sustenance and existence, before you mistake them with “just another food stall”. Although fancy concrete seems to be making desperate attempts to take their place, uprooting them will only hamper the cultural heritage of Calcutta, of what it stood for, of what it still does- ideologies of equality, brotherhood, fellow-feeling and spreading the joy among every single soul irrespective of any discrimination or biases, here through food.

 

With the disappearing of cabins, or cha and adda stalls in every para (locality), Calcutta might be losing its essence but then again the very fact that they managed to stay around and the locals have attachments with these places, here’s hoping they will a legacy for generations to come.

We all need that chicken soup, for the soul, after all.

Article by : Ananya Banerjee – Ex Researcher at IIM Cal, Doctoral candidate in Tax Law at Leeds law school, UK, free spirited lawyer. Dog lover. Seeks peace everywhere.kolkata-and-food

Kolkata tumi shotti City of Joy: Netizens take-on Mocambo on Zomato #makeyourcityinclusive

From 5388 reviews at 11:45am on 13 sept, 2016 to 5774 at 4:24 pm the same day, Mocambo’s Zomato page has been on a review marathon, constantly pulling its rating down! 386 reviews in 4 hr 40 min!

With almost all the ratings since September 12 being 1.0, Mocambo’s ratings have fallen from 4.5 to 1.8 on Zomato!

14315985_1287437807963235_818947178_o14285163_1287437771296572_543691621_o

It all started with a Facebook post by Dilashi Hemnani whose only wish was to have dinner with her driver Manish Bhaiya who took her around Kolkata during her official visit to the city. You can read Dilashi’s account here.

“Staff : Ma’am we can’t give you a table
Me : But why ?
Staff : who are you with
Me : subtly pointing towards Manish bhaiya .
Staff : aahhh….Ma’am he is not properly dressed .”

Mocambo established in 1956 is one of the most noted eateries of Kolkata, serving old-style Kolkata Continental (Khansama) cuisine. It is one of the remnants of the British Raj. After this incident it still seems to be thriving in the times of “Dogs and Indians not allowed”.

We do not have a dress code. But at least a person should be neat and clean. He was having roadside jhalmuri, walking around and grazing people. That is not acceptable. How could you have a roadsider coming in to your restaurant? This is not a dhaba.” Mocambo’s response to the incident as reported in Vagabomb.

But the ‘fine dine establishment’ did not anticipate the wrath that saying no to a humble human being, (a ‘roadsider’ according to them) could bring them. Incidents of entry being denied to people of a certain class keeps popping up every now and then but what Kolkata did to Mocambo was unique and worth an applause!

The virtual world of the Internet and social media is a very powerful tool. The moment Dilashi’s Facebook post went viral, the hashtag #BoycottMocambo began trending on Facebook. People from Kolkata got to task. They hit where it hurts most. They targeted the restaurant’s Zomato ratings, meanwhile creating a buzz over Twitter and Facebook alike. Zomato is a popular application that is used as our restaurant finder anytime we are hungry. The restaurant’s ratings dropped from 4.5 to 1.8 on Zomato. The reviews are still trickling in every minute lambasting the restaurant for its racism. This incident has showed us two things – netizens still have a human heart and two, never disrespect a human being for the class they belong to.

We do wish to give back the good that Manish bhaiyas in our lives give us daily. We do wish to serve them back, in the little ways we can. It is not about the give and take but about acknowledging a fellow human being. Kolkata, which is known as the city of joy, gave us immense joy with it’s response to the Mocambo incident. It showed us that irrespective of the size of the institution, you cannot combat the power of the people. What this online protest has brought out is that people do believe in inclusivity. They do want their cities and restaurants to be inclusive. Kolkata just did that!

It took a step forward in being inclusive. It took a step forward to make Mocambo realise the change in attitude of the people in the times that we live in. It showed us that the city and its people still has a soul! And hopefully Mocambo realises its mistake and do what Vir Sanghvi suggests in his tweet!

Be inclusive! Be happy!

14359706_1287437784629904_1796010766_o

Have stories to tell about your city? Tell us here – https://form.jotform.me/62413021206438