New Year greetings from Kolkata

A lane in Kolkata

Here’s wishing everyone a happy New Year from Kolkata (formerly called Calcutta). Kolkata is a world removed from Singapore though only four and a half hours away by plane. There are still plenty of old buildings in the lanes and streets of Kolkata. Public buses and trains are overcrowded. So people want their own cars. And that adds to the congestion. Home to nearly five million people, Kolkata is almost as populous as Singapore, but with very little greenery, narrow, congested roads, it seems even more overcrowded.

I haven’t been blogging because I can’t always access the internet. (People do use the internet in Kolkata. Even maids and street vendors use mobile phones and almost everybody seems to be on Facebook. But internet speeds could make you weep.)

Of course, I read about the riot in Little India, which was covered by newspapers in India. It was shocking. What a shame that Singapore’s first riot in decades was started by Indian workers. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his New Year message rightly said: “We will continue to treat foreign workers fairly, but we expect them to obey our laws and social norms. The riot in Little India was inexcusable.”

But these things happen in India. Today there’s this story in The Times of India: Kolkata police ‘hijack’ rape victim’s hearse, forcibly cremate body.

It says a 16-year-old girl was gangraped twice and then, after she died in hospital, the police forcibly took her body for cremation. They ignored her family’s request to wait for a day for relatives to arrive and attend the funeral, says the report. The police acted in haste to avoid trouble, it adds.

Politics did rear its head in the tragedy.

The opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s workers’ union took the girl’s body to their headquarters, protesting against her death, before she was finally cremated. The Marxists got involved saying her father is one of their supporters.

Yes, Kolkata is very different from Singapore. But it is growing richer. People are buying cars and homes at a younger age than before, though there is widespread poverty too. Highrises coexist with shanties.