But 'these things' must not happen

Knapps

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06, Jan 2017

If drunken men molesting women on New Year’s Eve shocked us, grossly ignorant comments - of the “these things happen” kind - by politicians added insult to injury. As police officers’ responses oscillated, we yet again confronted numerous ugly facets of patriarchy beneath superficial sophistication. Even before birth, the girl’s family prepares to raise her in a protective environment where security means shackles. Deterrence by effective implementation of laws is the pressing need.

With what outrageous events did we again begin New Year?

Mass molestations that caught women unawares and happened despite the presence of police force and gave the wretched culprits a sense of accomplishment mainly characterized the dawn of a New Year in Bangalore.

  • 24-year-old Chaitali Wasnick, a photographer, shared her experience: At 1:30 am, she was trying to catch a cab near Indiranagar when a man – in the midst of police and bystanders – tried to grope her. She punched and hit him repeatedly, and it was after that that these bystanders came to life and tried to stop her from giving her attacker what he duly deserved!
  • It wasn’t only when they were “unescorted”. One woman whose friend was to pick her up just had to walk a short distance to find him. She had just started in the direction of Brigade Road when a mob of men rushed out. The men unabashedly pushed, grabbed, groped and shoved any girl or woman they found. Suddenly someone pushed her and she had to remain on the ground till a group of girls helped her up. The girls were within a protective ring formed by their friends to help them get out unharmed. Though she joined them for the remaining distance, guys tried to reach out and forcefully touch the girls. It was so fast that identification or even a glance of the assaulter was often impossible, let alone putting on a resistance.
  • It was not merely the “unruly places” or “low-class guys”. This happened even in a pub that has an entry fee of Rs 6,000-7,000.

Some thoughts inside the women’s minds: “At least, that they wouldn't do such things. These people weren't illiterate or uneducated”; “Who would I file a complaint against I don't know a face or name. Even if I go to the police, they will ask who the complaint is against.

  • 1,500 police personnel and their lathi charge techniques did not help.
  • A woman witness of the molestations on MG Road told NDTV she saw “girls crying and shouting for help”. Some witnesses reported the women trying to fend off the molesters.
  • It was not merely the “crowded places”. Around 2:30 am, Sunday, near the Kammanahalli 5th Main Road, two men on a scooter blocked a young woman’s path, got off and groped her. She had just stepped out from an autorickshaw and her house was 50 metres away.

Why are some of us shocked?

The list of adjectives increasingly used to describe Bangalore include sophisticated, modern, cosmopolitan etc. Apparently these impressions mask the stark fear the city arouses.

  • Some felt such incidents are expected in Delhi and are therefore shocked it happened in a place like “Namma Bengaluru” or “Silicon Valley of India”. Waseem Khan, a Bangalore-based fashion photographer told Bangalore Mirror: “It is disheartening to see where Bengaluru is going. We often hear such incidents in Delhi but hearing that shocking news from Bengaluru is really painful. I think the culprits should get caught and punished and that should be made an example. I think young men need to be educated on how to behave”
  • Some of the women molested said they had expected Bangalore to be a safe place and were shocked when told this had happened last year too.

In the aftermath, some have expressed shock and anger at the reactions of Karnataka Home Minister G. Parameshwara and the senior police officers.

When do we realize this is not surprising?

  • Harish Iyer writing for The Quint points out that superficial sheen does not exculpate the city from patriarchy-driven rape culture: “The ‘rape culture’ born out of centuries of patriarchy isn’t limited to Bharat. It is also prevalent in India. After all, Bharat and India are not really that different.

When each time police, politicians and society blame victims in one way or another, how can incidents like this mass molestation just go away

  • Molestation is not about the place, time of the day, attire or any other reason given to avoid reality – it is about power; the smugness at having violated another’s body in a clever manner so that one can “get away with it”. And when or where patriarchy is ingrained, it provides ample opportunities to vest in masculine males a sense of power and superiority.

This misguided sense of power does not make mass molestations happen only in Delhi or Bangalore or even India. Some other examples include:

  • Two incidents of mass molestation in Mumbai – on the occasion of New Year’s Eve and of women devotees during Ganesh celebrations – had been reported before this.
  • Taharrush, a “game” in which cowardly men encircle women and forcibly grope, strip, beat, penetrate and rape them. This mass sexual assault of women has been reported in Egypt since 2005.
  • Mass sexual assaults and thievery in Germany at New Year’s Eve celebrations last year happened at Hamburg, Frankfurt, Dortmund, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart, Bielefeld and mainly Cologne. Police said at least 2000 men formed groups to assault 1,200 women in the areas. At least 24 rapes were also reported. This year 18 women in Innsbruck reported forcible groping and kissing by unidentified foreigners and police in this Austrian city are searching for the group.

Where are the reasons for shrugging off such incidents?

The single word patriarchy manifests itself in numerous forms and at all levels of our society.

  • Our “leaders”. Tiresome as this is, each time the debate over ghastly violations of women’s safety comes up, one politician or the other makes comments that at best can be described as uneducated and chauvinistic. From Mulayam Singh Yadhav’s “boys will be boys… they commit mistakes” to Sheila Dixit’s “One should not be adventurous being a woman”, irrespective of context, they make the heinous threat women are always exposed to simplistic.
  • Our “protectors”. We observe sensitization initiatives by police but in the cases highlighted such as Bangalore’s mass molestation incident, they initially shrug it away – no complaints were given – and step in only after public backlash. A part of the patriarchal system, they tend to shift the blame from men to women.
  • Most importantly the family and community and from them we ourselves. In numerous subtle and explicit ways, the girl’s immediate environment almost always makes her feel she needs to be protected. This indirectly gets across the message that she is weak and can’t stand up to herself. While the excuse of safety is often easily given, it ends up restricting her. And almost always boys are never told or taught by examples to respect women. While the so called minor discriminations are important, they are barely accepted as discriminations. Unless it is rape or murder, we condition our girls and women to ignore violations.

Who said what?

  • Brain dead comments by politicians stirred outrage as usual. A few Bollywood celebrities condemned the remarks and expressed shock at the incident.
  • As if a defence was needed for the outrage, custodians of men’s rights used the hashtag #notallmen to make feeble arguments – not all men are rapists, surely a few decent men exist, not all men cheat other girls, not all men have problems with women displaying cleavages in public, and so on it went.Apart from reinforcing their ignorance, these arguments blatantly refused to see the point that the outrage over the mass molestations reflected a need to deeply examine the plethora of women’s issues in the country. By choosing to be willfully ignorant, the “defenders” merely reinforced they were part of the root cause – patriarchy.
  • Twitter users pointed out the problem with such a defence: “Forgive the ignorance, but how does #notallmen address women's safety concerns Should we be grateful that some men are good ” “#NotAllMen Indeed. But yes all women. ALL women have been molested or assaulted or groped or catcalled at least once. #YESALLWOMEN
  • Retired police officers said the police could have put to use lessons learned from the past. “It has been the case since the 70s. Handling the New Year crowd in Bengaluru is very difficult, but that means the police department should have a clear plan and be well-prepared to ensure there are no major incidents,” said Ajai Kumar Singh, retired director-general of police.

How should the government deal with such incidents?

  • Step out of denial and victim blaming and take action. First and foremost, the government must ensure that those responsible for the shameful incident must be caught and punished, irrespective of who they are. As one Bollywood celebrity said, “In today's times, those who molest women think that nothing will happen to them. When examples are set before them that of culprits getting punished and being thrown behind bars, that is when situation will change and criminals will feel scared. It is important to do that.”
  • Dhanya Rajendran, editor-in-chief of thenewsminute.com, said, “One is that India has a lot of laws dealing with such things, but policing is still not efficient – there is not enough fear for the law and for legal repercussions”. She added, “It's now time for us to see this as not only a women’s issue but as a clear law and order issue, as a problem with our mindset, and deal with it like that
  • The ghastly rape leading to the death of Jyoti Singh (‘Nirbhaya’) provoked widespread outrage and debate on the safety of women in India.Parliament responded swiftly to pass stricter laws to deter sexual violence and established fast-track courts to speedily deliver justice. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 aimed to make clear the various forms of sexual violence and encourage women – by lowering the barriers – to report such instances to the police.
  • This Act must be earnestly implemented at once to serve as an effective and fast-acting deterrent to perpetrators of sexual violence. They need to be made aware of the fact that violating another’s body in any way is not “trifling they can get away with”. In parallel, women must be sensitized and educated about their rights.

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Tags | molestation sexual assaults