It is with great trepidation that I open the morning newspapers these days. Every couple of days or so, they carry a report of rape in Kokata or West Bengal. It is so sickening. Just what is happening here? Something is surely rotten in our State of West Bengal! I am not naïve. Rape has always existed in West Bengal. But I’ve never seen such a continuous number of reports in such a short span of time in recent months. Maitree, an NGO, did an analysis of this situation. Its report was even picked up by the National Commission for Women. The report not only said that West Bengal recorded the second highest number of rape cases in the country but that the rate of increase in reported cases was twice the national average. West Bengal, to my horror, also had the second lowest conviction rate in the country. The report pointed out the rape victims included girls from the age of 7 to women of 72. The women included housewives, tribals, working women and even those mentally and physically challenged. The incidents occurred at all times of the day and night, in public places, government hospitals, homes, fields. Rapists ranged from students to tutors, teachers, family members, robbers, political party workers and government workers. The report said 39 percent of rapists were known to the women and that in about 25 percent of the cases, FIRs were not filed at all, or filed later only because of public pressure or court orders. In terms of statistics, the report claimed that 39 percent of the victims were minor girls and 17 percent of victims were mentally or physically disabled. It said 8 percent rapes happened in hospitals and trains and 44 percent of the victims were gang raped. In all, roughly half of those accused in rape cases were absconding. Furthermore, in 17 percent of the cases either the women’s characters or the veracity of cases were publicly questioned. As a man I am ashamed. As a man from Kolkata, I am doubly ashamed, mortified. West Bengal traditionally treats its women with the utmost of respect and even chooses to revere two goddesses – Durga and Kali – instead of a choice from a pantheon of Hindu gods. So why are West Bengal men behaving worse than animals? I am no sociologist. But as a thinking man with some common sense I have come up with a theory. It is to do with the socioeconomic condition that West Bengal, and more specifically its capital, finds itself in today. One of the main reasons why such atrocities are happening is because the average man is finding it difficult to accept the fact that women are their equals and that this is the way it is going to be from now on. Just by observing the way things are, I am beginning to see some monumental changes in Kolkata. I find more women on the streets now than before. There are more women in the workforce, more women driving cars and motorcycles, more women bosses. There are more educated women, more opinionated women willing to take a stand, more women who are aware of their rights. As the state and city see a new surge in development, get more open to and influenced by other cultures and societies, the West Bengal man has begun to feel emasculated now that he has to share what had so far been his monopoly. Given that we live in a patriarchal society, this must be particularly rankling and so he reacts by giving vent to displaced aggression to compensate for what he sees as his social and economic disempowerment. This I think is the crux of the problem. The man in Bengal must learn to share and understand that his male hegemony is over and accept that men and women together have an equal stake in society. Families, religious organizations and NGOs have got to step in to help men understand gender equality and that women are co-partners in the make up of our society. If it does not come naturally, then men have to acquire a sense of egalitarianism and learn that oppression of human beings because of gender is unacceptable and wrong. There is no justifying an atrocity against another human being. Women have to be treated fairly. In fact all human beings should treat each other fairly. I am of the opinion that rape is a crime of violence, of displaced aggression, not sex. I do not buy the notion that a woman is asking to be raped because of the revealing or obscene way she dresses or carries herself. I will not entertain discounting so ludicrous a thought even though the likes of Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal’s first woman chief minister, has no qualms in blaming women for their rapes. Fake rape charges are being leveled to malign the image of the state of her government, she says, and blames the rise in atrocities against women on a conspiracy by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Using such political rhetoric to sweep under the carpet a social aberration that has come to the fore is bound to affect us all the more as the state and city develops. Rape is a manifestation of what is going wrong and should be addressed before the whole of society is gripped by a sense of hate, bullying and aggression too difficult to handle. We owe it to ourselves not to nurture a warped society and to our children that they may grow up untarnished by such heinous acts against others. Lastly, I am worried that seeing such frequent reports of rape in the press will numb our senses and immunize us to this tragic human suffering that can be averted. God knows there is enough other suffering that befalls us in West Bengal.