The shameful mass molestation episode in Bengaluru on New Year’s Eve is indeed a black mark on a city often dubbed as the “safest" in India for women. Reports indicate that the source of outrage, in this case, is two-fold. Many of the city’s residents are angry at the inability of the Bengaluru police to maintain even a modicum of law and order on a festive night. They are further appalled at the Karnataka Home Minister’s disgusting attempt to deflect blame from the failures of the city’s police and the criminal acts of perpetrators to the victims. G Parmeshwara, the home minister for Karnataka state, appeared to brush aside the incident and laid the blame on young people trying to “copy” western mindsets and clothing. Despite the presence of 1500 police personnel in the heart of the city – MG Road and Brigade Road—women were molested en masse, while male friends and kin had a difficult time protecting them from drunken hooligans. Despite claims by senior police officials that the entire city police force was to be deployed to maintain law and order during New Year’s celebrations, eye-witness accounts indicate that they were severely outnumbered. In the midst of several thousand, who had gathered for the night of revelry on MG Road and Brigade Road, a story by Bangalore Mirror claimed: “the cops had no option but to take a backseat and intervene intermittently depending on the ‘gravity’ of the situation”.
Apparently, the police were poorly equipped to deal with any adverse situation arising out of the celebrations. There was neither a clear plan nor any modicum of necessary preparation to prevent or deal with such incidents. Every year on the 31st of December, the city’s police are aware that partygoers often turn disorderly and it is their duty to anticipate any adverse incidents and deploy adequate security measures to deal with them. On the intervening night of December 31 and January 1, they were found wanting. What's worse, the city police have not registered a single case of harassment or molestation. Despite the availability of numerous eye-witness accounts and photographic evidence, not a single perpetrator has been brought to book. Beyond the police, the city’s residents must also introspect and understand how matters have come to such a head. Often, the general discourse on sexual violence often entails an explanation of how a woman’s presence in a particular space makes her more vulnerable. In Bengaluru, one is already hearing murmurs of “what was she doing there anyway?” considering the significant presence of drunk and unruly men on the night. In other words, the rationale is that staying away from certain spaces makes one safer from sexual violence. This is a patently wrong understanding of the dynamics involved. Incidents of sexual abuse take place at homes, public toilets, outside hostel or even public parks. Should women avoid these spaces to feel safer? There are greater socio-economic dynamics at play, and citizens must reflect on working them out and making the city safer for women.
An incident of sexual assault against one woman is reason enough to outrage at the state of our society. The incident in Bengaluru has also evoked much fear, reminiscent of communal riots in this country, where mass sexual assaults are often the norm, rather than the exception. The depravity of men in large groups, driven by a sense of false entitlement based on a patriarchal mindset and, in this case, fueled by liquor, indeed presents an all-too-familiar picture. A similar level of depravity was on show in Cologne, Germany, a year ago, where at least 16 women were raped and several hundred sexually assaulted. With the media reporting terrifying stories of sexual violence on a daily basis, many Indians have become numb to the plight of millions of victims and outrage only follows incidents like the mass molestation in Bengaluru. Considering the high incidence of sexual violence, the comments of Karnataka Home Minister G Parmeshwara should be condemned in the strongest words possible. Anyone, but the offending men are blamed for the violence perpetrated on women. The responsibility of such crimes solely rests on the perpetrator. Sexual assaults can’t ever be the result of what the women may think or wear. They are the product of a particular mindset and the failure of our governing institutions.