Bengaluru now, where next?

Mass molestation will happen again because the powers in India see it as just deserts for ‘liberated’ women

When fruit ripens on a branch, it is asking to be eaten. When women step out in short dresses and/or swig a drink in India, they are asking to be teased, groped and raped. Politicians in important positions say so, police brass say so, many people on the street say so.

The nice guy says such things didn’t happen before. The wise guy says women are becoming too westernized for their own good. Instead of doing something about the parrots, the keeper blames the fruit. It’s not a keeper but a scarecrow.

Bengaluru is in the news now because masses of men molested women revellers on New Year’s Eve. Has such an outrage happened before in India? Yes. Why weren’t the city’s police, who are presumably still headed by officers from Indian Police Service, prepared to prevent it? Is it possible they were not taught about the mass molestation of women in Delhi on New Year’s Eve in 1967?

What happened on December 31, 1967?

In the heart of the Capital, within sight of Parliament, dozens of women were molested in the presence of more than 200 police personnel — one deputy superintendent, 11 upper subordinates, 27 head constables, 149 constables, and traffic police staff of one sub-inspector, one assistant sub-inspector, one head constable and 14 constables.

This is the account then minister of state for home affairs Vidya Charan Shukla gave Parliament on February 14, 1968:

“Reports were received that large crowds of revellers who had collected at various places in Connaught Place on New Year’s Eve had stopped cars and molested women seated in some of these cars. There were also reports about manhandling and snatching of valuables from the person of passers-by.”

The government denied it had failed to make adequate security arrangements and termed it dereliction of duty. “The arrangements were not defective. The people who were put there to carry out the arrangement, they did not discharge their duty properly,” said Shukla.

M L Mary Naidu, a woman MP from Andhra Pradesh, gave shocking testimony about police behaviour: “They were there in large numbers but when the ladies who were attacked approached them, they said they had no arms and they had no orders to interfere.

“I was told that when the ladies who were attacked went to the police station with bleeding faces and bleeding breasts — there is nothing to laugh; this is something to cry over (perhaps some male MPs broke into titters) — the police people on duty just said: ‘Write your report and give’.”

Shukla was cagey about admitting that a foreigner had also been assaulted by the crowd. The victim was rumoured to have met and complained directly to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Blaming and shaming the victim

The same paternalistic words we are hearing from Karnataka ministers now have been spoken by people in power before.

In 1953, when Connaught Place was very much the heart of India’s capital, a shocking case of molestation was reported from a premium restaurant there.

Late in the evening of February 15 that year, women among a party of diners were molested by another group of five male diners who were allegedly drunk. Two of the culprits were caught on the spot, one was identified but managed to evade arrest while two others could not be identified. How could police not make the arrested duo name their companions?

The case came up for discussion in Parliament on March 3, 1953, and then home minister K N Katju addressed this homily to the House:

“The problem posed by this incident is not one of law and order but of public morality and good manners. Recurrence of such incidents in their entirety can be prevented only by the members of the public themselves behaving with strict propriety and desisting from the use of liquor.”

The minister’s tone left many in the House dismayed. C G K Reddy, the MP who had raised the question, asked: “Apart from the sermonising that we had just now, I should like to ask who the alleged miscreants are; I want the names… Reports have it that they are highly connected persons who are likely to escape the arm of the law.”

Did the home minister read out the five names? No.

When other MPs clamoured to know them, Katju turned to the House chairman: “Sir, I have got the names, but I would like to have your protection not to disclose them.”

We have been blaming victims and protecting culprits for so long, it has become part of our culture. So, after Bengaluru’s night of horror, where next?

***

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