Monday, 1 February 2016

The Laundry List: Chalo Sundarbans

As everyone moved on to February and Calcutta’s retreating cold fingers, fresh blossoms on campus, I was left to encounter police once again. I had let them know that there was evidence in Mr N Sahay’s staff quarters. The institute had let the accused person’s brother stay in the quarters thereby giving him a chance to destroy evidence if any were left in there after more than a year of the time of crime. I had seen Mr Sahay’s brother on campus with a cinematography student and I was surprised how the institute could allow him to be on campus where I too lived. His brother was in jail because I lodged a complaint. What if he felt like taking ‘revenge’? I couldn’t understand why after everything I had to go through, after being called names and being abused, being deserted by friends, SRFTI was again threatening me with this. 

I let the ICC chairperson know of the situation. I decided to lodge a complaint in case of any intimidation. I called the police and said that I wanted the house to be searched because I had evidence in there. The police was also going to question students. The student body member who had let me know of the arrival of police did not bother to tell me that there had been names given to the police to question. Whoever gave the names gave the names of those very students who had taken to social media to holler on top of their voice that they were all very ‘safe’ on campus. It was terrifying to see some of them talk animatedly to the police. One of my witnesses was out of town. I had nobody who was willing to testify for me because even though everybody had seen the truth they felt ‘safe’ only when they lied. 

I went with the police to the accused person’s house. His brother was living in N Sahay’s room. The arrangement of things had been changed. I frantically searched for an article I had mentioned in my complaint. I found it. It was a metal flower. When I gave it to the sub inspector of Panchassayar police station he asked me ‘what has this got to do with rape?’. I said that I had mentioned it in my complaint. ‘But your complaint is 4 pages long’. My investigating officer said nothing. When I kept on searching for a bookmark that I had given the professor the same officer asked impatiently what I was looking for. When I said that it was the bookmark he said that they had seized it in Mumbai when they had arrested the man. He was carrying it in his bag, I was told. The officer looked at me expectantly. What was I supposed to do? Jump with joy? I was raped. They were all there expecting the reaction of a lover. Two different things, dear police. The officer went ahead to say that he ‘must have carried the bookmark for sentimental reasons’. I asked him to stop calling it a ‘relationship’ and said that there were no sentiments involved in rape. 

I was looking for an article of clothing which I thought would be in the house. They refused to open the cupboards. I said that the accused was not going to keep women’s clothing in his own cupboard so his mother’s and sister’s cupboards will have to be checked. The inspector said that in that case if I said that he would have kept it in Sundarbans they would have had to check there as well. I said that they just might have to. They said they had no authority to do that. I asked them to return when they had the authority. The place had been lived in for a week anyway. They had not sealed it even after it being specifically mentioned in the complaint as a scene of crime. I called a lawyer I was consulting. He asked me to call back in half an hour. 

I walked back. The moment I left the place I started crying. I reached my room. I couldn’t bear the solitude in there. For the first time in my student life here I went crying to a classmate. Debja Ni and Sub were going to have lunch. I asked them if they could testify for me in front of the police. They tried to comfort me. I cried for a long time and then went to the canteen. Debja Ni and Sub testified for me. I felt a little better. At least they wouldn’t lie. At least they knew what it was like to be isolated because you decided to speak the truth. 

After I recovered from the bout of depression I called up Swayam, the NGO which had kindly offered me support. On social media everyone was asking me to get a lawyer. It is easier said than done. I will get a public prosecutor from the government only after the accused is produced in court which will be done within a period of three months from his arrest. I can consult lawyers meanwhile but there is no lawyer who is available to be with me whenever I face the police. They have their own jobs and families to feed. I told Swayam about the situation. 

One of those days three female complainants including me had gone to Panchassayar police station to file a general diary (GD) because we were told that that was the procedure to get call records of certain dates. These call records were evidence in our cases against professors with the ICC. We were humiliated at the police station. To get a GD done which is the right of any citizen we had to shout, plead and cajole the officers for more than an hour. One whole day was ruined because of that visit. 

When Gargi and Suruma from Swayam accompanied me to the same police station after a few days I was astounded at the change in attitude of the same police people who had humiliated us. Nobody from the institute had come with us despite our demanding it several times. When I walked in there with two women whom they realized are from an NGO they were the sweetest people on earth. I was too stunned to even ask why there was such a change of attitude. When I said this to Swayam they said that in other parts of the country it was worse. I cannot imagine what women go through every time they approach police. They are treating young educated vocal women like me like shit. What would they do to women who were seeking justice with nobody to help them, no knowledge about the legal system and unaware of the ways of the judiciary. 

Following my visit with Swayam to Panchassayar police station they arrived on campus to seal D9, where N Sahay had raped me and where at present his brother was living. Yesterday (11th February 2016) the police came with a lock opener and opened and checked all the locked cupboards. I couldn’t find what I was looking for. Still I feel better now that his brother is not on campus. 

People ask me why I maintain a public diary. The answer is very simple. I know that I am not the last woman who is going to go through all this. Even though every day is a challenge for me, even though I am depressed, I know that I will survive it all. I write so that any woman who goes through such an ordeal can gather strength from the story of a fellow survivor. The only way out of this mess that I see is through women helping other women.

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