BENGALURU: A typical New Year’s eve celebration in Bengaluru reported on the first day of the new year is something that has remained unchanged for the past few years; families on their way to church to attend the New Year’s mass, families having a quite dinner and inviting the new year in oneness, youngsters congregating at establishments that make special arrangements for the evening to welcome the new year and in the company of friends excitedly counting down the last few seconds of the old year and jumping headfirst into the new one, youngsters cruising around on the empty roads of Bangalore, chanting and wishing anyone insight a ‘Happy New Year’. But on January 1, 2017, Bengalureans woke up to news that raked up the issue of the safety of women in the city.
Protesters raise slogans at the protest PHOTO – JEEVAN
The chain of events that led to the ‘Mass Molestation’ of women seemed rather simple when narrated. On New Year’s Eve, large number of people had gathered in M.G Road and Brigade Road, which are home to many popular pubs which see a humungous outpour of patrons on weekends and special occasions, to celebrate the New Year. Also, being the heart of the city, these two prime areas are lavishly bedecked during the holiday season and attract large number of revelers who converge there to welcome the New Year. The victims who later came out and recounted their ordeal to media outlets said that the perverse conduct towards them had already begun within the premises of the clubs. Right from lewd comments to inappropriate physical contact, the ordeal had begun even before the women revelers were on the streets and their protests were of little help they said. As the women moved into the streets to get away from the scene, inebriated men who were dawdling around reportedly tried to make the best of the developing disorder and molested them. The police claim that approximately 1500 policemen were posted in the area to manage the crowd. However, the victims said that the policemen in the vicinity were mute spectators and did little or nothing to protect or help them from the hooligans.
The police claim that there were 45 CCTV cameras in the site in question and no camera captured any ‘molestation’. Post the incident and further investigation N Praveen Sood, Commissioner of Police, Bengaluru said to the media, “The alleged mass molestation of women on MG Road did not happen.There was no evidence of it. The word mass molestation is a great disservice.”
On the same night, in Kammanahalli, a young girl from north-east, who was walking back home after getting off an auto, was molested by two men who drove past her on their bike and turned around to engage in the shameful act. The men present there while the incident transpired were silent onlookers and did nothing to rescue the woman. The CCTV footage of the entire event was provided to the police by one Prashant Francis, which led to the arrest of 4. Further investigation revealed that the miscreants had been stalking the girl for four to five days and acted on New Year’s night.
Youths of Bengaluru protest against molestation at Town Hall. PHOTO – JEEVAN
This however was not the end of the series of attack against women in the city. On January 4, 2017, a 21 year old woman who was returning home from her gym was allegedly molested in Kalyan Nagar by 2 bike borne miscreants. On January 6, 2017, a 25 year old woman who was visiting her relatives in HRBR Layout was allegedly molested while waiting for a cab home at 9p.m. These are just some of the incidents that have been brought to light post December 31, 2016.
There has been much furor over these attacks and has drawn the attention of the media, activists and citizens across the country. A large section of the society have raised their voices against it and openly condemned them. Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Head of National Commission for Women, called these acts ‘unacceptable and regrettable’. But a handful of leaders who are in positions of power and great accountability made comments that dropped the onus and blame on the women for the behavior meted out to them.
G. Parameshwara, Home Minister, Govt. Of Karnataka, told the media that the cause for such untoward incidents is the youth trying to ape the west. Another leader echoing a similar view was Abu Azmi,a leader in the Samajwadi Party who said on a popular Indian news channel that it has become fashionable to show more ‘skin’ and the consequences of that have to be borne.
These shocking comments have raised further reactions of aghast from all quarters. Maya Sharma, a senior journalist said to The Beacon, “It is absolutely atrocious. It shows their mindset. If these are the leaders, if these are the people who are heading, the public figures, then what does it say for the people, the ordinary person on the street? What are they looking to? Then they will fear no consequences. It’s absolutely terrible. They have to be politically correct. They have to think it. If they can’t think it, they have to say the right things. Even if they think in the retrogressive fashion they have to be very careful with what they come out with. It is very important.”
Santosh Hegde, Fmr. Judge, Supreme Court Of India, Fmr. Solicitor General of India and Fmr. Lokayukta of Karnataka, during a personal interview with The Beacon opined that it was totally irresponsible on the part of these leaders to make such statements.
Many protests and marches have sprung since then and gained momentum. ‘Night in My Shinning Armour’, an initiative which was started by a group of students and has been trending with the #IWILLGOOUT, is one such example. On January 11, 2017 a protest was organized by the group at Town Hall. In attendance were senior police officials, students, journalists and activists.
At the protest when asked about the questions, which the aggrieved parties have to answer with respect to their outings and attire while lodging a complaint at police stations, Malini Krishnamaurty, Inspector General of Police, Karnataka Special Reserve Police said to The Beacon, “Nobody will ask like that. Somewhere someone asked something and you are repeating all this.”
Answering a question about the perceived image about the police, DrChandragupta, Deputy Commissioner of Police – Central Division, Bengaluru said to The Beacon, “The opinion about the police is formed based more on hearsay rather than personal experience. And when opinions are formed they must be cross-checked without spreading them.” When asked if the police department has been misrepresented he said, “Nobody is being misrepresented. Things have come to the knowledge of the people and they have spoken. The department is taking action and probing into it.” He further added that youngsters should understand that the society is more complex than what one reads about it.
When asked about the short memory of the media, Maya Sharma agreed that there is a new headline every day. However, it is all incremental.
When asked if Bangalore is still safe for women, Ragini, one of the protesters, who lives in Bangalore and works for ‘Teach for India’ said, “It’s not about one isolated incident. It’s not about now do we feel safe. We have not felt safe as long as I can remember. In whatever city I have been in India. So I don’t think it’s because of this, now women don’t feel safe. Women haven’t felt safe for a very long time. It’s because of this issue that suddenly people are starting to talk about it. And it is going to die down in a couple of months as well.”
Night In My Shining Armour at Cubbon Park PHOTO – DONNA
K.E. Radhakrishna, an educationist and a member of Janata Dal (Secular) said to The Beacon that, “Every Metro has a problem. Whether it is Mumbai or Delhi or Hyderabad or Kolkata, a metro has its own pressures. Metro allows you to have anonymity. If a girl knows you and you know her, you will never attack her. Anonymity as well as fearlessness in big crowds. In a crowd there is a scope to get lost. It all begins with small fun. They don’t realize that fun leads to a crime. Most of the crimes also originate from fun. It’s not only the problem of Bangalore; it is a problem of most of the cities in the world.”
Radhakrishna, who is also the former principal of renknowned colleges in the city viz. Seshadripuram College and Surana College, pointed out that though men and women are equal, they are ‘different‘. He also mentioned that blaming the governance only is running away from facts and no particular party forming the government in any state can be blamed for it.
While much has been spoken about the incident, no clear solution or roadmap to combat the issue has been drawn. When asked about what are the best ways to reduce this Tejasvi Surya, Secretary, Bharatiya Janata Yuma Morcha, Karnataka and an Advocate practicing at the High Court of Karnataka suggested that the solution lies in 2 folds. The first being, making use of better technology and surveillance systems coupled with better policing. The second being, rekindling the ethos of respecting women among young people and sensitizing them about it.
When asked if this could lead us to being called a country with no reported cases of assault against women, he said, “Answering your question specifically, as to whether by better policing and better gender sensitization, this is going to end all assaults on women, I would say that it is going to significantly lessen. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that all these things are going to vanish from the society. The challenge of civilization is to reduce the occurrence of crime. I think we will move towards that.”