A debate with friends on Facebook on Mamata Banerjee has turned into a nightmare for a 21-year-old engineering student in Kolkata.
On Friday, she criticized the Bengal Chief Minister’s parade for Goddess Durga. On Sunday, her post became a giant street-side banner, which reads: “We condemn the criticism of the Chief Minister.”
The student from Calcutta University is terrified, and not just because of the banner put up for thousands to see. She says she has also been threatened by local women with links to the ruling Trinamool Congress.
The hoarding has been put up by a group that calls itself the “Dum Dum Ward 8 Citizens Committee”. The group believes if the student has the right to criticize Ms Banerjee, others have the same right to denounce her publicly.
The Chief Minister’s parade of Durga idols on Friday was pitched as Kolkata’s answer to the Rio Carnival. The student argued in her post that it was a bad idea at a time Bengal is battling joblessness and poverty. Some of her friends agreed, others didn’t.
She never imagined that the post would land her in such big trouble. Deep Das, a resident of the Dum Dum area where the hoarding stands, disapproved of the woman’s views. “How can a 21-year-old say such things? Especially when the chief minister is doing so much for the state,” he said.
The area’s Trinamool councillor Avijit Mitra said the woman’s post had crossed lines – he quoted her as saying the Chief Minister “should be given a dunking in the river”.
“This hoarding is CPM propaganda. The girl is a member of its student wing SFI. I will take no responsibility. I will not remove the hoarding until locals ask me to in writing. Or else they will say I had put it up,” he said.
Residents like Parthasarathi back the student. Passing by the hoarding, he said: “Everyone has an opinion and the right to express it. This hoarding is not right.”
Back in 2012, the arrest of a professor for emailing Mamata Banerjee cartoons had caused public outrage. In 2016, there has been no arrest, but criticize the Chief Minister and one runs the risk of public naming and shaming.