Kolkata: Five of West Bengal's outdoor advertising agencies and one major newspaper group have refused to run public interest advertisements, urging chief minister Mamata Banerjee to 'stop attacking protesters and start attacking the problem' of violence against women, says Avaaz, a global campaign group. One advertiser reportedly told Avaaz that the state government would "tear up my limbs" if he ran the adverts on his billboards.
The advertisements are a direct response to Mamata's handling of the recent gang-rape and murder of a young student from Kamduni. After the incident, the chief minister lashed out at protesters, telling them to "shut up", branding them "Maoists" and arresting and detaining 13 activists. Avaaz has criticised the chief minister for creating a culture of fear and intimidation which is making "West Bengal the new epicentre of violence against women in India."
Alaphia Zoyab, campaigner for Avaaz said: "West Bengal now officially has a reputation for being the epicentre of India's crisis of violence against women. If chief minister Banerjee prefers to go after protesters rather than the rapists causing this problem, in a democracy the public has a right to respond. The solution is not to terrify the public into silence and self-censorship but to address our concerns."
In July, Avaaz launched an online petition calling for a thorough investigation into the Kamduni student murder, a fair and fast trial for the perpetrators and systemic reforms to address the alarming rate of violence against women. In particular, Avaaz called on the chief minister to devote public funds for a mass education campaign designed to change cultural attitudes that enable violence against women and girls. The campaign was signed by over 17,500 people who also supported putting up a hoarding to drive home the message directly to the chief minister which advertisers have declined.
In January, Avaaz launched a report outlining that government-sponsored public education is key to ending violence against women. Avaaz has sent a copy of this report to chief minister Mamata Banerjee's office, urging her to engage constructively on this issue and provide funding but to date have not had a response from her.
Suzette Jordan, who survived a brutal rape in Kolkata last year and helps other survivors of rape and other forms of violence against women, said; "Instead of controlling our daughters and raising them with shackles we need to teach our sons that real men don't bully, beat, harass and rape women. But for that message to have a revolutionary impact, it has to be backed by the government supporting rather than silencing people's demands for action. Government and society have to work together to bring about a safer tomorrow for women and children."
The Kolkata Police has unveiled a new Rs-20-crore programme where they will start the 'Atma Raksha' (self-defence) section to teach young girls taekwondo, judo, karate and wrestling for a month and set up a new SOS system. But these initiatives are coming from the tourism ministry with a special focus on a very narrow segment of women travellers, leaving behind a huge mass of Indian women.
This level of self-censorship has become the norm, with all advertisers claiming that they feared violent reprisal attacks, says Avaaz. One hoarding owner told Avaaz while rejecting the advertisement, "They'll tear up my limbs. It's a nightmare here. They are the super dons of Calcutta." Another leading agency representative said, "There is an unwritten guideline. We can't do anything against the government."