Hok Alingon: Where does a hug and a hissy fit leave ‘liberal’ Bengalis?

Shreya Biswas
Shreya BiswasMay 11, 2018 | 17:25

Hok Alingon: Where does a hug and a hissy fit leave ‘liberal’ Bengalis?

A few years ago, when I was still in college, I saw a police officer chase after some children for harassing a young couple near the Victoria Memorial. "Nijer chorkaye tel dao! (Mind your own business!)" the policeman had snapped at the children, his lathi beating the ground.

From that day to last week, we have come a long way — with a man and a woman being beaten up because they were spotted hugging inside the Kolkata Metro.


There are many versions to the story. Some say the man was only trying to shield the woman from unwanted advances in the crowded Metro compartment. Others recall that the couple were getting frisky like two enthusiastic bunnies. Whatever the case, they seemed to have annoyed the bejesus out of their co-passengers, and soon, a ready mob got down to do what Kolkatans do best on their streets: argue.

Now, normally, street arguments in Kolkata end after a few heated rounds of “Aapnar ki oshubidhe, moshai? (What’s your problem, mister?)” and “Mukh shamle kotha bolun! (Watch your mouth!)”, but this hustle was destined to spiral out of control. The next thing we know, the couple was dragged off the Metro and beaten up by fuming “kakus” and “jethus” — all because of a hug.

The viral picture showing them being cornered, in the grip of an assault, started a revolution. Photo: Screengrab

The incident angered many, but not everyone was miffed to the same extent. For some, the mob’s actions were unforgivable. Their point: no matter what, you cannot gang up against one or two defenceless people and assault them. These were the righteous folks who believe one should not take law into one’s hands. Deep within, however, they are not very different from the “kakus” who attacked the couple on the Metro. Why? Because most such people shaking their heads in dismay at the violence would be grinding their teeth at couples indulging in Public Display of Affection (PDA) as well. #Sanskaari


Then, there were those disgusted at the moral policing. Their argument was simple: my PDA is none of your business. But while this group stood tall and hit back in protest, not all of them were slamming just the moral police, but Kolkata as a whole. Their point: the city had given out the “fake” impression of being liberal all along and with this incident, that mask was pulled down.

Is that really true?

Let’s see. For one, you have people with a traditional mindset everywhere, even in ultra-modern western countries. And you also have those with narrow-minded beliefs. So, to say that PDA does not offend anyone in Kolkata is to flat-out deny it. At the same time, Kolkata — unlike a few other Metros — isn’t the city where you would be beaten into a pulp for publicly celebrating Valentine’s Day. Ask more than one person who has dated in Kolkata, and here’s what they will tell you happens when you hug/hold hands/get cozy in public. Uncles frown, yes. Aunties glare, yes. Pervs watch, more than you can handle. But violent moral policing where your safety is at stake? Still not a common sight in Kolkata.


Does that mean the moral police is nowhere to be seen in Kolkata, or Bengal at large? Sounds too good to be true.

Last week’s hug-in-a-metro debacle did not introduce Kolkata to the existence of moral policing, but it did open up a can of worms. When the incident was reported by popular daily Anandabazar Patrika, reactions on social media showed that there were, indeed, people who condoned the assault. Their belief: PDA is wrong and punishing people for it with gonodholai (mob attack) is fair. #Facepalm

But does the reaction of a certain number of people mean narrow-mindedness has consumed the whole city? No, it only means Kolkata has a mix of both: liberals and conservatives.

Speaking of conservatives, one particular defence of the incident that rendered me speechless was made by an RJ of a much-reputed radio station in Kolkata. She posted a three-minute video on social media, narrating the “true story” of what happened on the Metro. It shows her saying her “sister” was a witness to the incident, and had told her that the “gurujon” (the elders) inside the Metro did what they did only because the couple’s actions called for it. She goes on to accuse the couple of being “intimate in an inappropriate way with the intention of provoking others”, calling it “Chipko movement”, blames the man for misbehaving with the gurujon, and slams the woman for not having been in the women’s section of the Metro. #NotSanskaari

What is more, in her desperation to defend the perpetrators, the RJ compares this incident to violence against women. With her poorly-enacted impression, she draws an analogy between the Metro incident and a hypothetical instance where a man is assaulting a woman on the Metro, and asks the audience if they would indeed not want the public to intervene. At no point does she realise that she is comparing consensual acts of affection to a crime.

As strong-willed as she sounds, the RJ here fails to make a strong case for the moral-policing gurujon. Throughout her monotonous, long video, she doesn’t pause to provide a shred of evidence to support her “true story”. She rebukes her audience for disrespecting the gurujon and jumping to conclusions, but conveniently skirts the fact that the mob had, indeed, taken law into its own hands.

Her “sister” remains nameless and faceless till the end. #ConvenientMuch

As fallacious as her account is, the RJ’s blatant support for the perpetrators and cheer from her audience reiterate the fact that moral policing is very much prevalent in Kolkata, as are its supporters.

At the same time, the flak which this video and the Metro incident got proves that Kolkata’s “liberal” image is not fake.

The couple were beaten up at a Metro station far away from Delhi, and the incident was only reported by a regional newspaper initially. The news could’ve died there, but it didn’t. The victims made no social media appearance, no official complaint, nor any public post or appeal.

Nonetheless, an ordinary report in a Bengali daily got enough traction, brought citizens together in outrage in Kolkata and other parts of Bengal, and was picked up by national news. Soon, there was a widespread debate, one that saw protests on social media as well as on the streets and Metro stations across Kolkata. The victims remained unidentified, but the assault became everybody’s business.

The viral picture showing them being cornered, in the grip of an assault, started a revolution — Hok Alingon (let there be embrace) — which is still alive and kicking.

That says a lot about a city that is not interested in taking the hissy fit of the moral police lying down.

Last updated: May 11, 2018 | 20:02
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