Bangalore – the happy new year that wasn’t

Everyone loves new beginnings. For they come with the promise of something new, something better. Something to look forward to. A new year holds a promise for most folks. Where one mentally wraps up the unpleasant past and tucks it away in one corner. New possibilities, new endeavours, new boundaries to be scaled. Basically it is an annual acknowledgement of hope.

Ironically it was the new year that brought to fore the sheer hopelessness for half our population. It showed us a mirror to how far back in time we are stuck. Probably even worse, because we seem to be actually regressing as far as safety for women is concerned.

This New Year heralded anything but hope for thousands of women. Instead it stared them in the face and reminded them of their gradually shrinking space.

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A group of women were mass molested while they were out celebrating New Year’s Eve on MG Road in Bangalore. When questioned about the incident, the Karnataka Home Minister responded in a predictable fashion by saying that these are regular incidents and also implying that the women should not have been out there in the first place.

The discussion then moved to Social Media and what followed was a horrific mix of absolving the enforcement agencies of any obligation, and basically blaming the women for bringing it on themselves.

Arguments ranged from the very practical “MG Road is notorious for hooliganism, what were women doing there?” to the bizarre “These women should have been praying at home to bring in the New Year rather than drinking on the roads.” Some people also went on to blame the “Western culture of celebrating New Year’s Eve”! Some likened it to an open door which would obviously lead to goods being stolen. (Speechless!)

Saner arguments like “You are responsible for your own safety” and “Parents are duty bound to advise their children” were also made. Which on paper make a lot of sense but pretty much absolve everyone other than women of any obligation.

Which brings us to two key points:

  1. What is the duty of the State towards the safety of its citizens?
  2. How far will we go in reducing the safe boundaries for women?

If indeed it was a well-known fact and MG road has been witnessing these incidents for the last 15-20 years, what have law enforcement agencies been doing all along? After all, our taxes are being spent on maintaining them and common sense and self-preservation instincts in women cannot be an alternative to visible law and order.

The worst part is that there were reportedly 1500 policemen in Bangalore on the roads that night. Which brings us to the perception that common people hold about our law enforcing agencies. Is it a good sign that our police force is considered impotent and inept?

It has wider implications than just women’s safety. It reflects sadly on our internal security apparatus and its readiness to deal with any kind of hostile situations. That a group of drunk rowdy men can reduce our armed police force to mere bystanders is scary to say the least.

While on the subject of law and order, why were no FIRs filed by any of the victims? Is it because of the sheer hopelessness they feel with regards to law enforcement in our country? No one with a semblance of common sense would see it worthwhile to go through the rigours of an official complaint and come out empty handed at best and hounded and victimised in the worst case scenario. So in effect we are tacitly admitting that we live in a country where the law is an ass and it is for the common people to fend for themselves, basis their common sense, parental advice and societal advisories.

Coming to the second point. How far do we go in reducing the safe boundaries for women?

This was not a case of a woman or two molested on a deserted highway in the middle of nowhere. This was hordes of women being groped and assaulted in the midst of hundreds of others in the presence of policemen.

Women are regularly thrown into this situation in local trains, on the roads, in queues, in hospitals, in theatres. Do they stop stepping out due to potentially ‘molestable’ situations? Or is the advice valid only for situations where they seem to be having a “good time”?

Or worse still, do we move to a world where we progressively keep women away from being seen in public for their personal safety? Because, longer is the rope that we provide to law enforcers, shorter is going to be the safety radius we provide our women.

In an increasingly violence ridden world, fraught with lack of role models and empathy, it is the women who will pay a heavy price for this short sightedness.

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