Kolkata train’s women vigilantes fight lonely battle against abuse

Lewd comments and gestures, stares and suggestive grins are the daily hazards women aboard Mathrubhumi — the ‘ladies’ only’ train in Kolkata — deal with. Aggressive male travellers barge into the train, sprawl on the seats, block the passages, and smirk merrily at the discomfort of the women passengers. The men are everywhere, except in one bogie. Here Shyamolina Mitra, an employee with Kolkata Police Cooperative Bank, and her ‘women’s army’ are holding the fort, beating back any male attempt to breach their defences.

Last year, Shyamolina and her gang of vigilantes, called Matri Bahini, had hit the headlines for leaving men with bloodied noses and battered egos for trying to board the ladies train. Things had worsened with molestations and harassment being reported daily. Those who protested the thrusts and pinches were threatened even further. When a girl protested, she was surrounded by rogues who took turns in kissing her before they got down, recounts Shyamolina.

She knew she had to do something. “It began a year and half ago. I boarded a and found two men sprawled on the seats. I asked them to get up but they started hurling filthy abuses. They said women should always be under their feet. This enraged me. I started thrashing one of them. Immediately, two more women joined me and beat up the other one. We hauled them off the train and forced other male passengers off as well. They had stood silently as we fought. We swore that we would never allow any male passenger in, except the elderly, ailing and hawkers,” says Shyamolina.

Her vigilantes have since been threatened with violence and even acid attack, but they remain undeterred. When TOI asked them why they travelled on women-only trains, the men claimed ignorance that it was a ladies’ special. But Susmita Naskar, a team member, said these men were habitual offenders. Unfortunately, with little support from the law or female passengers, Shyamolina appears disheartened. “I am tired of doing so. We thought all lady passengers will join. But they remain meek in their response. So we gave up,” she says.

After a series of complaints from women commuters, a vigilante group was formed. It hit headlines last year for leaving men with bloodied noses for trying to board ladies trains.



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