While the liberal Bengali ‘bhadralok’ can let many a thing slide, be it bigotry, brain drain or Bengal’s stunted industrial infrastructure, one thing that almost always gets their goat is a joke on Rabindranath Tagore.
Even as the rest of the country was embroiled in the coronavirus scare, protests against the new citizenship laws and intense communal violence that unfolded in the past week in Delhi, the Bengali bhadralok was busy debating an issue that seemed to command their undivided attention - a viral photo of some women students with lewd words written on their backs with abir.
The incident occurred during the famous annual “Basanta Utsab" celebrations held on the occasion of Holi in Bengal’s Rabindra Bharati University in BT road, Kolkata. The saree-clad women were students of the University and had used red powdered colour (abir) to write a lewd distortion of a famous song by Tagore called “Shedin Dujone“.
The fact that young women could take autonomy of their bodies and freely paint profanities on themselves on Holi (a festival that is otherwise marked by multiple cases of sexual harassment and molestation faced by women across India) was unacceptable to begin with many. And with the profanity inserted into a line written by Tagore and displaying it in the institution set up in his name was too much for the delicate and puritanical Bengali sensibility.
As the image went viral, social media instantly erupted with outrage. Many called for the rustication of the girls from the University. Not just common netizens but also prominenet Rabindrasangeet singers also jumped in to slam the students and call for action.
In the name of Dol Utsav, the students of Rabindra Bharati created an ambience of garbage which is unthinkable.Their parents embraced Rabindra culture but failed to imbibe into them. Bengalis will never forgive this behavior. pic.twitter.com/XBlslGk0Bu— Debasish pyne (@DPynep) March 6, 2020
Assassination of Rabindranath Tagore at Kaviguru's place, Rabindra Bharati University… Such a shame! Where are we heading!!!#RBU#BanRoddurRoy #Tagore #EiSamay pic.twitter.com/9yNHSwMHjD— Kamalesh Chowdhury (@kamalesh_ES) March 5, 2020
Shame on you such mentalities who's doing such barbaric activities in The respectful Rabindrabharati University by the name of "basanta utsav" !! Using of slangs in Rabindrasangeet dont makes u intellect it just shows ur garbage mentality !! #RBU #basantautsab pic.twitter.com/mClLML3Dbd— Boni (@shibajeeunique) March 5, 2020
I don’t want to translate the writing on the backs of the ladies because it is so disgusting . This is at an institution dedicated to Rabindranath Tagore and is this what is meant by culture and freedom? A blot on Bengal. https://t.co/kdrQ2k91B1— Swapan Dasgupta (@swapan55) March 6, 2020
Such was the outrage that the college authorities reportedly filed a complaint in the Sinthi police station. A matter that could have been solved via disciplinary action by the University authorities itself is now being “investigated" by cops. According to reports, the Vice Chancellor of the University, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, resigned following the controversy on Friday.
However, calls for rustication and outrage against the besmirching of the lyrics by the poet, often lovingly referred to as “Kobiguru" in Bengal, soon turned sexist with many resorting to slut-shaming the women. The image of the female students were also accompanied by images of boys with obscenities written on their kurtas. But they failed to get as much attention and the more viral image of the women was constantly shared with admonitions for the women.
Where are the Feminists ? They are Rabindra Bharati University students pic.twitter.com/EnkNafJC1J— 🇮🇳 Shruv Iheme 🍻 🚬 (@ShruvRahul) March 8, 2020
Few days back some commie minded anti hindu though being hindu students of rabindra bharati university wrote slang on their backs with colour about a rabindrasangeet. Waiting for some more slang about their own mothers now. Where r u anti hindu commie bengalis hiding now?— Ritobroto Banerjee (@ritorbandco) March 8, 2020
Sorry cant… all cuss words. Disgraceful to be used by women of Rabindrabharati in the name of women empowerment.Ask a bengali guy.— Shampa शम्पा শম্পা શમ્પા (@ShampaDey13) March 7, 2020
Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata: At a pre-Holi event, girl students had sexual smut painted with Gulal on bare backs in a distortion of a Tagore song.Bengal school: Girls sang a lewd parody of a Tagore song with vulgar gestures & uploaded the video.https://t.co/xkwljD8eL0— Sankar Chanda 🇮🇳 (@sankarchanda99) March 7, 2020
Girls student write slang word on their back in pre Holi festival in Rabindra Bharati University/WB. Hope #SheInspiresUs with this activity.Women r not weaker sex by #MiLord What to say @narendramodi ji @smritiirani ji @DrSJaishankar ji @tathagata2 @CPIM_WESTBENGAL @swarup1972— SOFT SaveOurFamilyTradition (@SOFT82420075) March 6, 2020
In fact, even Bengal’s Bharatiya Janata Party unit chief Dilip Ghosh came down on the women for the incident, claiming that the students had lost their decency.
“We all need to think where our society is heading. If these women behave like this on the roads, how will the people behave with them? They will become victims of crime,” he said.
Excellent! pic.twitter.com/efMziyDrqC— Initnamees 🇮🇳 (@SeemantiniBose) March 9, 2020
The outrage was not just leveled against the students themselves but also at Bengali artist and entertainer Roddur Roy who has inteh past year gone viral on social media with his parody songs and strange YouTube videos. In fact, one of his most viral parodies is of “Shedin Dujone" itself. Many blamed him for insulting Bengali culture and popularising such vulgarity among Bengali youth.
Nevertheless, many came out in support of the women and called out the “slut shaming".
Others felt that it was hypocritical of Bengalis to enjoy Roddur Roy’s parody compositions on YouTube but as soon as women did it, all hell broke loose.
There was also an outpouring of support for Roddur Roy himself whom many are hailing a a hero for attempting to break the cultural moulds of conservative, Tagore-loving Bengalis. Supporters of Roy’s work argued that though nonsensical, Roy’s work had managed to outrage the conservative cultural pride of certain Bengalis who refuse to adapt to modern change and accept any critique or sarcasm regarding their “culture".
The controversy seems to have worked in favour of Roddur Roy, whose novelty parodies which mostly include lews words and expletives, are more viral than ever.
(This story was originally published on March 9, 2020)
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