Bengaluru was shamed by the mass molestation of women out in open on the eve of New Year 31st December 2016 at Brigade and MG Road, that too in presence of police! Cries for help were louder than the NY greetings. Cops were everywhere as ‘elaborate’ security arrangements were made with 1500 police and 560 CCTV cameras strategically placed. Even a special task force was said to be ready for any eventualities. By midnight hooligans in the garb of revelers started pawing, molesting and passing lewd remarks to women in the streets, forcing some of the women to literally take off their shoes and run for help. Once the crowd control began, many young women, some of them weeping started to run towards women police officers to save themselves. In many cases, young women were surrounded by drunken mobs. And in other incidents, bike riders were seen openly molesting women on streets at night.

The Government should have been duly ashamed that the police were helpless against the mobs who thought molesting women was a way of celebrating New Year’s eve. But instead the Karnataka Home Minister G Parameshwara blamed the victims and blame ‘Western’ clothes and culture, declaring that “In events like New Year or Christmas Day, there are women who are harassed or treated badly….Unfortunately, on days like New Year, a large number of youngsters gather on Brigade Road, Commercial Street and MG Road. And youngsters are almost like westerners. They try to copy the west, not only in their mindset but even in their dressing. So some disturbance, some girls are harassed, these kind of things do happen.” He also tried to imply that the alien culture of ‘outsiders’ (migrants from outside Karnataka) was to blame, and that ‘dressing like Kannadigas’ would have prevented such attacks! He said “There are all kinds of people from different states and different cultures. We can’t say you have to only behave like this, you have to dress like Kannadigas.”

The Bengaluru police tried to shoot the messenger and blame the newspaper – Bangalore Mirror – that first reported the incident for tarnishing Bengaluru’s image as an IT-BT hub. The new Bengaluru city Police commissioner Praveen Sood said that police cannot act unless the victims complain, and asked why only the Bengaluru Mirror published this news? The Police Commissioner’s claim that he cannot act without victims’ complaints is wrong since the police is in fact obliged to take suo motu cognizance of the available evidence and the incidents which were after all witnessed by police personnel themselves.

The response of Opposition political leaders as well as other authorities also seemed to reflect greater concern for the fate of ‘brand Bengaluru’ rather than for women’s rights and freedom! For instance, prominent BJP leader Mr Suresh Kumar said that the incident is a big blot on Brand Bengaluru and that with few days left for Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Bengaluru cannot afford such an incident. The State Women Commissioner MS Nagalaxmi Bai and Bengaluru Mayor Ms G Padmavati also expressed similar sentiments. The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas that was to be held in the first week of January at Bengaluru assumed more importance in the discussion rather than the everyday safety and freedom of women in the city.

In the media, many women’s first person narratives have been published, testifying to being attacked by mobs of hooligans, and groped and molested repeatedly on the streets. Also, CCTV footage from a private house in Kamanahalli showed a girl being accosted by two scooter borne men, one of whom forcibly hugged, kissed and dragged her towards the scooter for abduction. However, she fought and could raise an alarm at which the hooligans ran. In this case police could catch 4 persons and lodge an FIR. Once people began organizing protests all over Karnataka, the police were forced to begin to take some action.

What must be the response to the Bengaluru molestations? The issue is not just one of ensuring safety on New Year’s eve or other such occasions. The first thing is to recognize that women have every right to the city and to night life. Politicians and police officers indulging in victim blaming ought to face punishment, and instead the Government has to take responsibility for ensuring safe access of women to public spaces at all times and on all days. Gender sensitivity should be an integral part of education, and the work force must be inclusive with more representation of women. CCTVs per se are not a solution to women’s safety – and there is every danger that they will be used as tools of surveillance on citizens and on women, making the State an intruder in our private lives. More judges and courts are needed to ensure speedier trials, especially in cases of violence against women and children. The Justice Verma committee recommendations should be implemented – which calls for political will.

Who should be blamed for such incidents? Many women have pointed out that such incidents are routine on Brigade and MG Road – these are not exceptional incidents confined to New Year’s eve. The Kamanahalli issue was clearly pre-planned as hooligans hung around the eateries and tea stalls – these assailants were not outsiders! To blame dress, language, North Indian migrants, western culture and so on is to take responsibility and blame away from where it really belongs: with the assailant men and with patriarchy.

The Karnataka Home Minister from the Congress party ought to remember that telling women that they ought to ‘dress or behave like Kannadigas’ is itself a form of violence against women. Members of the Sri Ram Sene in Mangalore 2009 or the Bajrang Dal in Mangalore even now often inflict such violence in the name of moral policing – are they not Kannadigas?!

It is society and the political economy itself that is then manufacturing these molesters. We cannot simply call for ‘development’ to counter gender violence. The truth is that consumerist capitalist culture combines with feudal patriarchy to create a model of ‘development’ that denies women their autonomy and freedom and projects them as passive objects of consumption. The women’s movement must challenge this model of development.
The women’s movement in Karnataka and India has responded to the molestation and the victim blaming with a sea of protests asserting women’s determination to occupy and claim their rightful place in the city and in night life! 


Box

Stop Rationalising Violence Against Women

(Excerpt from a piece by Kavita Krishnan in Scroll.in)

Radhika Menon, a lecturer in a Delhi University college and a frequent writer for Liberation was assaulted in early January in broad daylight at a petrol pump in Delhi. A man on a two-wheeler drove towards her, grabbing her bag, possibly to snatch it or to drag her towards him by her bag. She resisted and held on to her bag, dragging him down. He then repeatedly slapped and punched her and called her a whore. The petrol pump staff and bystanders did not note down his vehicle number despite her repeated appeals to them to do so. When she later asked them why they did not intervene or help in any way, they casually told her, “We thought he must be your husband.” Clearly, violence by an intimate partner is considered entirely normal – men are allowed to beat wives who are seen as their rightful property.

Can there be a more stark demonstration of the fact that men’s entitlement to inflict violence on “their own” mothers, sisters, wives, breeds social tolerance for violence against all women?

When men are taught to feel entitled to control the bodies and lives of women in their homes and allowed to feel free to abuse them at will, is it any surprise that they learn to feel entitled to extend those attitudes to all women?

“It was as if by calling me a whore,” wrote Radhika Menon about her experience, “a public permit had been won” by the attacker to hit and abuse a woman. It seems that both assumptions – “she must be a whore” and “she must be a wife” – serve equally well to sanction violence against women. Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi said, “You have to keep petrol away from fire. And if there is sugar, ants will come automatically to it,” to justify saying that girls have been given too much freedom. Madhya Pradesh Minister Kailash Vijayvargiya had, after the December 2012 Delhi gang rape, declared that men could rape women only if the latter “crossed the Lakshman Rekha”. Azmis and Vijayvargiyas of the world need to clearly be told that by saying men can’t help being predators, can’t help being fire, can’t help being ants, we are giving men a licence to molest and rape.

Every time we tell women to respect “Lakshman Rekhas” and remain “within boundaries” we are telling men they need not respect even the boundaries of a woman’s body. A woman’s own body is her Lakshman Rekha – a boundary that no one should cross without her consent! We need to teach men to respect that boundary, to respect consent, to respect the right of a woman over her own body, and the world will be a safer place. But no – our male leaders are instead teaching men that women are sugar, women are gold – that is, women are objects of consumption or property to be owned or stolen. They are telling us that women are petrol and men are fire and so, if a man comes across an unaccompanied woman, it is “natural” for violence to “take place.” 