At the stroke of midnight hour on December 31, 2016, when the entire nation reveled in jubilation, Bengaluru was jolted out of frenzy as numerous women were sexually assaulted on the city’s Mahatma Gandhi Road and Brigade Road. In the wake of these incidents, early on Saturday morning, the city witnessed a silent protest outside the Vidhana Soudha.
Around 70 people from various walks of life, with placards and art work in hand, came together to voice the angst of every woman who has been at the receiving end of such harassment. The protest was held with a sense of united anonymity, not resorting to any form of sloganeering.
“We do not believe in causing disruption through protests. At the end of the day, we want a thought that will push us to such an extent that we are ready to stand up and take action,” said Sulagna Biswas, a protestor.
While the Bengaluru mass molestation case brought out the dark side of India, the media has been ranting and outraging over the city aping capital New Delhi’s infamous ‘rape culture’. But Biswas begs to differ, “There is no such thing as a rape capital, a rape in Karnataka is as harrowing and inexcusable as a rape in Delhi.”
At a time when some Indian ministers are facing severe backlash for blaming Western attire for such deplorable acts, there have been dissenting views among women. “I am not sure if a girl going out independently in the outfit of her choice is safe. For now, the government should focus on basic infrastructure such as proper lighting on the streets. Debating moral policing comes at a much later stage when the public is more open to women wearing whatever they want”, said Amrita Singh, a localite.
“‘Was it really my fault? ’asked the short skirt. ‘No, it happened to me too,’ replied the burqa”, read a placard at the protest.
The city being a major hub of business has women working round the clock and feeling secure doing so is a prerequisite. But working women have inhibitions on travelling at odd hours. Bhavani, who works at the B.R. Ambedkar metro station right outside Vidhana Soudha, warns that time is inconsequential to such crimes.
She highlights: “It is not just about late nights. Miscreants target women near the Vidhana Soudha metro who come to work as early as 4 in the morning. Robbery is rampant at that hour. Why aren’t the cops ensuring our safety?”
According to data released by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Karnataka is languishing at the bottom when it comes to conviction rates in cases of sexual harassment. Of the ‘4,302 cases that went to the court (5,112 FIRs were registered) in 2015, just 69 ended in conviction.’ The state’s 1.6 per cent conviction rate is well below the national average of 12.5 per cent.
What is it that the country lacks? Is the law of land not strong enough to send people behind bars, or is it will of the man that is at fault?
Apurva, a Bengalurean, is willing to give the government the benefit of doubt but adds a caveat: “The laws that we have are very strict but we are not meting out the required punishment on time. The judiciary ought to be more proactive.” He adds: “Instead of advertising Make in India, we should first ensure Safe in India.”
Awareness of such issues should begin at grass root level. “Just like we have signboards for Don’t Drink and Drive put up on every street signal, we should also have boards saying Respect Women.Gender sensitisation is of utmost importance,” suggests Azam Nathaniel who works for ACTS, an NGO that focuses on health and education.
As the protest gained traction, the police had to intervene and disband the gathering. The protest – ‘Touch Me Not’ will hopefully catalyze similar mass movements for every woman who has ever felt unsafe in her own city or anywhere else.