SHARJAH: Indian cinematic icon Shah Rukh Khan’s recent call to parents to teach their sons how to respect women may be well-intentioned and meaningful, but in reality such deference seems to be more in letter than in spirit. The incidents on New Year’s Eve in the south Indian city of Bengaluru (formerly known as Bangalore) have proved once again that where attitudes towards women are concerned, the male mindset in India is as skewed as it can get.
On Dec.31, several women were molested and heckled on M.G. Road, a favourite with tourists and residents alike. “It is completely wrong,” the actor remarked.
The same night, another woman was assaulted by two men in another area of the city.
The molestation of girls who wanted to have the year’s most important and eagerly awaited on-the-tiles moment were shocking, more so that it was happening in a city like Bengaluru, touted as India’s IT hub – a city of tree-lined avenues, gardens, fancy restaurants, swanky shopping malls, trendy fashion, where free interaction between boys and girls is a given, not frowned upon.
Yes, women still move about with carefree ease on their daily engagements. But like the static on the radio, there are disturbances.
Bengaluru resident Vineetha says the incidents are geared towards defaming the city.
“Bengaluru had a big bang on the New Year! How cruel the act was! We see people posting the incidents on Facebook, Twitter etc. This is just defaming Bengaluru itself.
“This reminds me of how uncivilised and crude our society is. People just adopt a position to give “moral lessons” to girls. They shouldn’t wear short skirts; they should avoid going out after it gets dark, and they should not talk to people of the opposite sex in a friendly manner. Has anybody bothered to teach how these men have to behave?? No!
“I just want to tell the parents out there to raise their kids in a right way and teach them gender equality. The change has to start within us.”
As city dweller Sarah says, “India has never failed to surprise the world by the fact that it’s a country where Durga, Lakshmi, Parvati and Saraswati are worshipped as deities of strength, wealth, prosperity and knowledge but where female infanticide happens; a country which has seen female figures as nation’s strongest leaders and successful celebrities but also has a high rape rate in the world.
“Can India truly become a developed country when its women citizens are denied the most basic thing that every human is entitled to, which is respect? How can there be ‘Unity in diversity’, when people of the same city hesitate to rush to the help of a troubled woman, where there is differentiation between north Indian and south Indian and the women of north India are treated as inferior in South India?”
What Sarah finds really infuriating is that wearing red lipstick is also considered provocative for men.
“Now not only going alone on a deserted road is dangerous because you never know which demon is lurking around in the dark but a crowd is equally more creepy for the fear of getting groped or someone standing behind you in a bus or metro.”
She adds, “Ask any guy in India who The Nightingale of India was, and they wouldn’t know, but there won’t be a single man who doesn’t know who Sunny Leone is. That is the level of low-mindedness of our country’s men.”
Another resident, Rashmi, comments: “Molestation has been an issue for the past many years – gropers in buses, at railway stations, malls etc. Women these days discuss these issues and hence we feel that the incidents have increased (sigh! these were always there). Mostly in all cases women were blamed for all of this!! Thanks to our patriarchal norms, women who party or wear skimpy clothes are branded as an avid invite for lust. And the ones who set these norms are the ones who idealise our bikini-clad semi-nude models. Lack of stringent laws and approachability has made these incidents a joke. How many more cases will it take for Indian society to finally realise that the problem lies within itself, and the regressive norms it imposes upon Indian women? “
Somja says: “A woman is no longer safe in the middle of a crowd, let alone being alone in a lonely area. Safety measures should increase in the city to give equal opportunity to both the genders.
“You should leave all beautiful views, places and celebrations, because you are a woman. You should stay at home, because some people are standing in the dark to touch you. This is the thing our girls and boys are learning from their childhood. This way of thinking should change.”
Not all agree that the city is extremely dangerous for women, though. In fact, a good number think it is considerably safe. One college student, who pleaded anonymity, remarks, “Bengaluru is an amazing place but isolated incidents like these give it a bad reputation.”
So where does the solution lie? Women, say some residents, should be trained to become stronger, the public should be taught to become more intolerant of such atrocities rather than being mere spectators.
Ishika comments, “If the city needs to be safer for women, educate the boys to not believe in always having the upper hand. All this stems from our very own education system. It’s about being able to differentiate the right from wrong. Our society has a mindset that varies and that’s where we find conflicts in thought. If we’re all on the same page, things would look much different. We’ve got to train our young men and women to be equal. And what is equality if we’re not practising it?”
Adds Joseph, “Strict penalty should be meted out to the scofflaws and even irresponsible and shameless bystanders. Working women should be provided special protection between 9pm and 7am by their respective offices and the state government as well. Every Indian should be a responsible soldier in fighting such crimes.”
So who is to blame for this unfortunate series of events in Bengaluru, and all over India? Says David, a city-based professional, “I am reminded of the summing up by Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie’s famous novel Murder on the Orient Express, where we find that almost everyone on that train was in collusion for the murder.
“In India, you have all these factors, acting in collusion: a patriarchal mindset of the authorities – the minister advising a dress code to curb obscene attacks; the constant, round-the-year blaring of lewd lyrics on radio and mobile phones; and brazen “Item” numbers to boost sales of tickets; a cynical and boorish police force expressing helplessness and asking girls to report at the police station to file an FIR if you “want us to take any action”; media channels seeking sensational news to boost TRP ratings and a Government that chooses to sermonise over preventive steps rather than taking stern action – all these are pointers to the collective guilt of Indian society to what happened in Bengaluru. Is it something unique to Bengaluru? No!”
(The report is based on email interviews conducted by the author)