Silent march in Kolkata against 'rape epidemic'

Last Updated: Sun, Aug 25, 2013 23:07 hrs

Nearly a hundred citizens marched in Kolkata on Sunday to protest what they called West Bengal's status as the nation's 'epicentre of violence against women'.

People wore bright pink t-shirts with the message 'Break the silence, stop rape in West Bengal' to send out a message to the authorities to take swift and tough action on women's rights.

Participants included celebrities like actor-director Sanjoy Nag and Bangla rock band member Siddhartha Ray (Sidhu). The marchers wore black tape over their mouths to protest the culture of silence that the state government has sought to impose on rape survivors and protesters.

At the end of the march, those gathered laid down flowers, each one of them representing a victim and survivor of violence against women in West Bengal.

Siddhartha Ray (Sidhu), of popular Bangla rock band, Cactus participating in the march, said, "I grew up in this state and I don't remember West Bengal and other parts of India being such a dangerous place for women."

"But today, every woman leaving her home wonders, 'Will I return home safe?' How many more should be attacked before we say enough is enough? Women have the right to live our lives without constantly looking over our shoulders fearing for our safety," he added.

For two years in a row, West Bengal has recorded the highest number of cases of violence against women according to figures released by the National Crime Records Bureau.

Last year, the state recorded nearly 31,000 cases, averaging 80 assaults a day. In June, a young woman in a village outside Kolkata was gang-raped and murdered, her body brutally dumped in a fish pond.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has come under criticism for her handling of the rising crimes against women, which the organisers said was underscored by her telling protesters to "shut up" when confronted about the situation.

Alaphia Zoyab, campaigner for global civic group Avaaz said: "There is a rape crisis in West Bengal and it´s time for authorities to go after those responsible for it, not those victimized by it. We expect all our leaders to stand up for and protect women, but are especially outraged that a leading female Minister like Miss Banerjee has thus far let us down."

"She still has a unique opportunity to be an inspirational ally in this fight and not an adversary -- if she were to prioritize tackling violence against women, including through a public education campaign designed to address a culture of misogyny, she could create a lasting legacy in the fight for justice and dignity for women," she said.

Nearly 18,000 people have joined an Avaaz campaign calling on Chief Minister Banerjee to tackle violence against women by committing public funds towards a mass education campaign.

Tackling the culture of misogyny and patriarchy in which this rape epidemic thrives is the only durable solution to the injustices women face. Avaaz has shared its report with the Chief Minister's office on why such a public education campaign would work.

While the authorities have recently unveiled a new 'Atma Raksha' programme to teach young girls self-defence and set up a new SOS system, these initiatives are being driven by the Tourism Ministry that will focus too narrowly on women travelers, leaving behind most Indian women, Avaaz said.

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