Updated: January 4, 2017 12:10:24 am
It was once known as the “city of gardens”. But after December 31, 2016, Bengaluru could be renamed the city of horrors. As peaceful pedestrians gathered on the city’s famous MG Road, hoping to welcome 2017 with goodwill, a mob of men reportedly stormed the crowd, groping women, harassing them physically and verbally. A telling picture shows a young girl weeping against a policewoman, her skirt and top in disarray, her feet shorn of shoes abandoned while fleeing the mob, watched mostly from the sidelines by Bengaluru police, which made lackadaisical comments later about how they were outnumbered and that no official molestation complaints have been made.
It seems highly unlikely that these complaints will ever be made, given the remarks coming from G. Parmeshwara, Karnataka’s home minister. Instead of severely castigating the molesters and promising speedy, tough action, Parmeshwara blamed the victims. The minister remarked of the women, “They tried to copy westerners, not only in their mindset but even in their dressing… so some girls are harassed,” reportedly adding a callous, “These things happen.” The minister apparently also said he couldn’t force people to “dress like Kannadigas”.
Perhaps the message from the state’s silent authorities is the same. Women not covered in traditional costume will be molested; the state will criticise the victim’s apparel, not the criminal’s behaviour. Implications for Bengaluru’s residents aside, Parmeshwara’s statement will make “westerners” visiting India’s IT hub think again.
Bengaluru’s night of shame mocks the cultured cosmopolitanism the city is famous for. Having benefitted from “western” business, blaming crimes on “western culture” is unacceptable — and an attempt to mask a glaring lack of law and order with a disturbing misogyny that flares approvingly when women, in pursuit of happiness or work, are attacked in public places. Once, Bengaluru was the harbinger of cutting-edge modernity for India. The molestation incident now makes it seem the foretaste of a dreadful medieval nightmare where women aren’t citizens with equal rights to public spaces and personal dignity. Instead, women are just bodies to be assaulted by strangers and chastised by the state. For Bengaluru — and the rest of India — this is not the start of a happy new year.
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