Young Kolkata offers free hugs outside metro station where couple was attacked

Kolkata has seen anti-moral policing protests on the streets as well as Facebook and Twitter after a couple was beaten up for public display of affection.
Protesters offer free hugs at the Tollygunge metro station in Kolkata on Wednesday.(Samir Jana/ HT Photo)
Protesters offer free hugs at the Tollygunge metro station in Kolkata on Wednesday.(Samir Jana/ HT Photo)
Updated on May 02, 2018 06:31 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Kolkata | By HT Correspondent

The recent assault of a couple by a few passengers who were affronted by their allegedly public display of affection on a Kolkata Metro train has spurred protests across the city over the last two days.

While a group of youngsters offered free hugs’ outside the Dum Dum metro station to register their support for the couple on Tuesday, others lambasted the “frustrated passengers” who decided to play moral police in a city otherwise known for its tolerance. A similar protest was held at the Tollygunge station on Wednesday too.

The incident had occurred around 9.30 pm on Monday, while the unidentified couple were travelling in the train with their arms reportedly wrapped around each other. An argument ensued after a number of co-passengers, mostly elderly men, raised objections.

The man was roughed up soon after the two got off at Dum Dum station around 9.45 pm. When the woman tried to prevent them from assaulting him, a few blows landed on her too. No complaint was lodged either with the police or metro authorities.

“We did not receive any complaint, and nothing could be found in the CCTV footage either. The security official present at the station did not report anything,” said a Kolkata Metro spokesperson.

However, many lashed out at the attackers on the social media. Although a few objected to “people getting intimate in public”, they were outnumbered by those speaking in support of the couple.

The ‘free hugs’ protest outside the Tollygunge metro station in Kolkata. (Samir Jana)
The ‘free hugs’ protest outside the Tollygunge metro station in Kolkata. (Samir Jana)

Even exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen took the opportunity to criticise the incident of moral policing. “A young couple embraced in the Kolkata metro. It made a bunch of frustrated old losers angry. They beat them up. Scenes of hatred are allowed. Scenes of love are considered obscene,” she tweeted.

Others thronged Dum Dum metro station, where the assault occurred, to drive home their point. “Kolkata is a city of tolerance and liberal outlook. One should have the liberty to express their feelings here,” said Abhisekh Kar, a student who participated in the free hugs protest at the site.

Arunava Ghosh, a Congress leader and advocate, expressed a similar sentiment. “Whether an adult embraces somebody or plants a kiss (in a consensual manner) is a matter that belongs in the personal domain. No third person can poke his nose into it, let alone take the law into his hands. In fact, moral policing in such situations is illegal,” he said.

Advocate Chandradoy Roy posted an image of a couple embracing on his Facebook page. “This could be us, but the people of Kolkata would beat us up,” the caption read.

Some posted hazy photographs of the incident in an attempt to identify the assaulters and shame them on the social media. A few others dug out portions of Supreme Court verdicts purportedly stating that kissing in public was not an offence to claim that the attackers were, in fact, the ones who behaved unlawfully.

At times, the protests even assumed political overtones. “Lies are being spread. I was not present at the spot. I did object to the behaviour of the couple, but that was only after reading newspaper reports,” Debtanu Bhattacharya, leader of far-right organisation Hindu Samhati, wrote on his Facebook wall after some alleged that he was involved in the incident too.

Others came out to protest the portrayal of their relatives as alleged perpetrators of the crime. “I experienced another kind of harassment tonight. My father-in-law’s profile has been unethically and shamelessly shared as one of the harassers in the Kolkata metro assault case... He was at home with his family the entire evening. He is a man of knowledge and dignity, and would never ever hope for such things to happen,” a young woman posted on the social media.

Metro authorities have launched an internal inquiry into the incident. “We have also shared a photograph being circulated in the public domain with the city police. We are not in favour of moral policing. We are planning to bring more areas in our stations under CCTV coverage and intensify patrolling by special Railway Police Force squads to prevent such incidents in the future,” said Kolkata Metro general manager Ajay Vijayvargiya at a press conference on Wednesday.

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