Woman power stuns train goons

On board Canning Matribhoomi Local: They call themselves the Matribahini – vigilante guardians of the women special train launched by chief minister Mamata Banerjee. Thugs, molesters and mischief makers who muscle into women-only coaches have found out very quickly that tangling with the sari army leaves them with a bloodied nose and a battered ego.

TOI saw the Matribahini at work on the ‘ladies’ special’ Canning Matribhoomi Local. The women look no different from the para’r mashi, or the office executive rushing to beat the clock. But once inside the train and face-to-face with a rogue, they turn into lionesses. They have braved threats of acid attacks and assault and are never shy of a good fight for what’s right.

Even the railway police seem willing to give them a free hand. “Marpit jokhon kortei nemechhen, bhalo bhabe korun (When you are out to fight it out give the rogues a good bashing),” was the suggestion from a GRP officer, says Shyamolima Mitra, an employee with the Kolkata Police Co-Operative Bank, leader of the Matribahini.

The vigilante group has struck fear into men who are always looking to squeeze into a women’s train. Ever since the Matribahini gave the war cry, the number of intruders has dropped sharply, say sources.

“It began all of a sudden three months ago. I boarded the train from Champahati and found two passengers sprawled on the seats. I asked them to get up but they started hurling filthy abuses. They said that women should always be under their feet. This made me go insane with anger. I started thrashing one of them. Immediately, two more women joined me and beat up the other one. We hauled the duo off the train and forced other male passengers off as well. They had stood silently as we fought. The three of us swore that we would never allow any male passenger, except the elderly, ailing and hawkers, “said Shyamolima.

What started as a band of three is now 30 strong – led by Ritu Haldar, Bula Sarkar, Bulbul Banerjee, Bibha Majumdar and Sumitra Naskar. Common names. Varying ages. Uncommon bravery.

TOI followed them on Monday as they checked coach after coach, shouting and sometimes shoving men off. They would start politely but firmly: “Eta ladies’ special. Neme jaan.”

The male ego took a bruising. Some got down at very next station, red about the ears, but most of the intruders stuck on against the “female audacity”. Then push came to shove. The Matribahini corralled the men into the middle of the coach and shouted them down. Glare for glare. Word for word.

The men lost the argument and most got off at the next station, sheepishly, jeered by a few passengers on the platform.

The few that stubbornly stayed on in the coach were in for some special treatment. They were taken aback when slaps and punches started raining down. There was nowhere to go. The train had started. Stuck in the coach, outnumbered and outgunned, they could only cower from the blows. Chastened, they scurried off at the next station.

“There were so many men on the train earlier that no one would believe it was a ladies’ special. The gates were invariably overcrowded by men. Any woman would feel intimidated to board the train. Once a girl protested but she was immediately surrounded by a bunch of rogues who took turns kissing her before getting down at Ballygunge station. We decided enough was enough,” said Shyamolima.

“One day, we saw a youth making obscene gestures at a couple of college students in the compartment. The girl looked terrified. When we confronted him he started abusing us. We gave him a severe thrashing and forced him off at Garia. He threatened to get us beaten up by eunuchs. Later, we heard from hawkers that he was a notorious criminal. So we reported him to the GRP. But we are determined that we will beat before getting beaten up,” said Sumitra Mondal, a hefty lady in her 30s. Her husband’s sudden death forced her to leave her small son at home to work in a glass factory.

The women often go to the GRP, missing office on some days to see a case through. “What we understood was that they had limited resources to protect all women passengers. But we got the assurance of a help on a phone call and a word of encouragement,” said Shyamolima.

Rogues have threatened them with acid and razor attacks. “At times we think it is too risky for unarmed women like us. But the very next moment, we feel that if we give up, it will be many steps back. Slowly and gradually, this battle has generated courage in other hapless women travelling on the train. For long we suffered harassment, molestation, taunts, abuses and assault. Now it is time to fight back and end the humiliation,” said Nilam Roy.

“Before we banded, none of us knew the other. We used to travel like islands. But this battle has developed a strong bond,” said Bibha Majumdar.

The Matribahini not only fights for the women. Dinabandhu Haldar, a teenage hawker, owes his sight to them. “My left eye was badly damaged after a man beat me up because I stopped him from using abusive words against the didis. These sisters pooled in their resources to get me treated,” Haldar said.

“The hawkers have always been a strong support for us,” said Pakhi Sakar. There is a penalty of Rs 500 for men boarding this train but police let them off after taking Rs 100-200, says the Matribahini.

Eastern Railway spokesperson Samir Goswami said: “We are trying to put lady RPF personnel on such trains, particularly in the evening. We will definitely increase raids by RPF and railway personnel to catch intruders.”


Published in: on November 5, 2011 at 2:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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