“They come under the cover of darkness, their faces hidden behind their helmets. I try and move to the side of road but they follow me. They fondle my breasts and drive away. I freeze at the spot…”
A graphic Facebook post by a girl in Jorhat, a small town about 330 km from Assam’s capital Guwahati, about alleged sexual harassment by a group of motorcycle-borne people has become a rallying point for students and activists across the BJP-ruled state, demanding security for women and arrest of the unidentified accused.
As the storm intensified over the past few days, a state minister’s allegedly sexist comment had added to the fire with many seeking his resignation.
Parliamentary affairs minister Chandra Mohan Patowary – a former Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) leader who joined the BJP ahead of last year’s assembly elections – said the girl was an activist of the Left-wing Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and ridiculed her for making her ordeal public on social media instead of seeking police help.
Activists questioned the minister whether the sexual harassment was prompted by the victim’s leftist ideology even as students and activists staged protests on Wednesday across the state including Jorhat, Golaghat, Sonitpur and Guwahati.
The issue was discussed in the Assembly on February 13 when some legislators raised the matter.
An IPS officer Sanjukta Parashar, a former superintendent of police in Jorhat, wrote a Facebook post backing the girl going public with her ordeal.
“She has expressed herself quite clearly, the pain and the anguish of being sexually assaulted, the trauma of feeling lonely and the frustration at the inability to get help. Her words are a cry for justice, a cry for putting an end to such heinous acts by men. It becomes very easy for a woman to blame herself as the society tries to instil such thoughts in us as children,” she wrote.
“We won’t be parked cars, we as capable and competent women, will go to schools and colleges, to markets and to our jobs. We are not to blame, our clothes are not at fault, we won’t apologise for being women.”
In her post, the victim said that the repeated assaults – also on other women living in the locality which has one of the oldest women’s college in the state – had left her so traumatised that she has stopped moving out after sunset.
Protesters are also using a hastag #VoiceofSubhalaxmi for a social media campaign seeking justice for her.
Former chief minister Tarun Gogoi said on Twitter that the state government “should ensure to protect the rights of every girl irrespective of political beliefs.The law is not for BJP-ABVP-RSS only”.
The State Govt should ensure to protect the rights of every girl irrespective of political beliefs.The law is not for BJP-ABVP-RSS only..1/2— Tarun Gogoi (@tarun_gogoi)February 14, 2017
Indelicate remarks of Minister @cmpatowary & silence of Education Minister @himantabiswa in support of the victim student is very woeful.2/2— Tarun Gogoi (@tarun_gogoi)February 14, 2017
Sahitya Akademi winner Nirupama Borgohain, known for her path-breaking writings on women’s issues, has also lauded the girl’s courage for bringing the issue in public domain by risking her own security.
Assam director general of police Mukesh Sahay said police have registered a suo moto FIR though the girl has not lodged any complaint.
The latest incident underlines the rise of crime against women in Assam over the past few years.
Assam recorded a crime rate of 148.2 per one lakh female population in 2015, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The rate was second only to Delhi’s 184.3 per 1 lakh female population. The number of cases recorded in Assam in 2015 was 23,258.