For our own safety, and for guilt-free existence, we like to believe that molesters are not people like ‘us’
On New Year’s Eve, numerous women were groped, harassed and chased on the streets of Bangalore by an unruly crowd of molesters. All of a sudden, the likable, smart, educated young men around the women, in an open street celebration, became monsters. The anonymity and impunity guaranteed by the occasion turned them into beasts.
The videos and the photographs that surfaced are shocking.
In one such video, a woman is seen walking alone in a street at night. A scooter, with two males, follows her. By the way the scooter is swerving, they were either drunk or in a really carefree mood.
The scooter waggles around the woman. She stops for a moment and stands with a cautious
confidence. The scooter stops approximately ten steps away. She starts running. The pillion rider gets down and runs towards her.
He grabs her, she resists and slaps him. He drags her towards the scooter, where the other man is waiting, headlights still on. Then together they overwhelm her. At the mouth of the street, people gather to watch but no one responds.
It’s shocking because Bangalore is considered as one of India’s most advanced cities.
One easy way to look at it, from outside, is: India has shamed itself again. That keeps us at a safe
distance and saves us from the guilt. And hence from the need to actually think about any corrective steps.
In fact, that was indeed one of the reactions when I had written in this column three weeks back about the personal experience of my wife being molested by an auto-rickshaw driver in Kolkata (“The devil within,” December 10). A reader tweeted: ‘Thank god it was not in Nepal.’ As if that absolves us from the responsibility.
In India too people are applying this—what I would like to call—the ‘safe distance’ defense mechanism. Indians outside Bangalore are mostly saying: “Bangalore has shamed itself.”
And in Bangalore, there were strange reactions. The home minister of the state said, “Youngsters were almost like Westerners. They tried to copy the Westerner, not only in their mind-set but even in their dressing. So some disturbance, some girls are harassed, these kind of things do happen.”
This has become the most common defensive theme. The women were to blame because of the way they looked and acted. And in saying this, there are few women too.
‘You Can Choose to Be Safe, So Don’t Blame the Mob’ was the title of an article on the incident in thequint.com, written by a woman named Sonnal Pardiwala, who is a scriptwriter and spiritual healer.
She writes, ‘When you step out onto the street, you are fraught with an incumbent risk. You may meet with an accident. That’s why there are footpaths and zebra crossings. You may slip on the road if it is wet! Will you then blame the road because it is wet?’
And then she ends her article with this: “If I were to give one lesson to my child in the light of these events, this is what I would say. If you must party, why not do it in a place where security and accountability measures are firmly in place? A street is meant for walking, not partying—whether it is New Year’s Eve or any other night”.
There was an outrage against her views. And the editors were forced to issue an explanation which declared that they don’t endorse the views of the writer although they want to give an equal platform to all kinds of views.
There are other ‘educators’ kind of reactions too. The main theme from that corner is that incidents like this are a result of lack of education among the people. Boys should be taught, they say, to respect women. Some extremely naïve views on this line also argue that by telling boys that molesting is wrong, and it is a crime, we will stop this menace.
And then, there were reactions from the likes of the celebrity writer Chetan Bhagat, who tweeted his article published in The Huffington Post, which he claims to be one of his most shared articles ever.
His theory is: “Various kinds of power exist in society. Males have been granted more muscle power than women on average. Women, on the other hand, have been granted a certain sexual power.
Through that sexual power, a woman can come across as attractive to a man, who will then need her consent to take things forward. This sexual power counterbalances the extra muscle power given to males”.
He goes on to say that “most male-dominated societies have denied and judged women who try to use this power. When we ask women to cover up, we deny them their choice in expressing their power’”.
He presents a different angle to analyze the issue, more akin to the feminist stand, relating the issue to equality for women.
I was proud that Geetanjali, my wife, had resisted and slapped the molester, an auto-rickshaw driver in Kolkata. But here, in Bangalore, women were groped right in the middle of a mass of people.
She had asked me, in the comments on the article, “Okay...tell me... Had you been present on that very day with me...how would you have reacted? Would you have quietly avoided the situation or would you have punished the accuser?”
When I wrote questioning whether there is something basically wrong with the male psychology, she was disturbed. My confession in the article that proximity to a female body is enticing for a male was, understandably, shocking for her.
She added, “For my safety I would like to believe that this feeling of elation you’ve mentioned is an individual experience”.
For our own safety, and also for a guilt free existence, we would all like to believe that the molesters are not people like ‘us’. They are either illiterates, or they are uncivilized molesters—real devils. Or worse, they are born rapists. And they are far and few.
But I am sorry Geetanjali, that’s not the truth. The truth is they are males just like me—educated, urban and fully aware that molesting women is wrong and punishable. And denying this will not help at all.