ON A DAY WHEN hundreds of thousands of Mohun Bagan fans are celebrating the club winning its first Calcutta Football League title in almost a decade, club president Swapan Sadhan Basu, known in the Maidan as Tutu Basu, made a mess of things with a blatantly sexist comment.
During the half-time of the Mohun Bagan vs Calcutta Customs match, when the Mariners were leading 2-0, broadcasters Sadhna News turned the mic to him to get his reaction on the club's imminent victory. He replied,
"It's like for 7 years only girls were being born, and this time suddenly it's a boy. How would you feel if that happened to you? That's how I feel."
There was immediate backlash from both Mohun Bagan fans as well as fans of other clubs and general spectators, who had tuned in to watch an exciting football match but were left disappointed to hear such archaic, hateful sensibilities being spewed by a senior club official who holds a lot of power in both Mohun Bagan and the West Bengal footballing community.
After widespread criticism online as well as in the mainstream media, Tutu Basu was forced to release a statement this morning, apologizing for his comments and saying he did not mean to cause hurt.
The damage, however, is done, with many connecting his derogatory attitude towards women with the Maidan's reputation for being unsafe for women. Although the last few years, both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan have seen a rise in the number of female fans who regularly attend matches, there are still some concerns for adequate safety and arrangements for them on matchdays; including proper lighting in passageways and clean bathrooms.
While the Salt Lake Stadium solved most of these problems during its massive renovation ahead of hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup, the Maidan arenas including the East Bengal and Mohun Bagan grounds have come under criticism for not providing adequate toilets, despite pulling crowds of over 15,000 regularly. Some female fans have come out with complaints that there were no toilets specified for ladies and on matchdays they had to travel a long away to the Esplanade area to use the toilets there.
These correlations show that Basu's comments can't be entirely chalked off to personal insensivity or biases, and suggest that sexist beliefs similar to Basu's are held throughout the Maidan which resulted in a situation that makes the football stadiums less safe and hospitable to women.
Whether Mr Basu leaves this matter with just a press apology, or whether the Mohun Bagan management takes this incident as a wake-up call and makes a real effort to reduce the prevalent sexism in Kolkata's football culture, remins to be seen.