Bengaluru outrage: Time for law to step in

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By Sandeep Sahu

The incorrigible Abu Azami has done it yet again! Three days after a group of men brought shame to the city of Bengaluru, the country at large and men folk in general by groping, molesting and assaulting women out on the streets to ring in the New Year, the man known as the face of the Samajwadi Party (SP) in Mumbai sought to rationalize, explain away and even justify the act by coming up with a simile that is disgusting to say the least. “Agar shakkar giri hogi, to cheenti wahan zaroor aayegi” (“If there is sugar, ants are bound to appear”), said the man who has been soundly pilloried for similar misogynistic and male chauvinistic comments about women in the past too.

Azmi made it worse by adding “Isse bahut log mujhse naraaz honge. Lekin chelega kyonki ye sachai hai” (Many people would condemn me for this. But that’s okay because this is the truth”). So, he was obviously fully aware of the kind of reaction it would provoke while expounding his version of the ‘truth’.

India has long gotten used to such tasteless comments on women by our politicians and their tendency to attribute acts of molestation and rape to the way they dress, their lifestyle and the like. It has got to a stage where such comments don’t even raise eyebrows anymore. As for Azmi, what better can one expect from the leader of a party whose chief made that immortal comment “Boys will be boys” while talking about rape?

His counterpart in Congress and Karnataka Home minister G Parameshwara fared only marginally better with his equally abominable comment “They try to copy the West, not only in their mindset but even in their dressing. So some disturbance; some girls are harassed; these kind of things do happen.” With no less than the Home minister of a supposedly progressive state possessing this kind of medieval mindset, one shudders to think about the safety of women in the country.

Both Azmi and Parameshwara have been duly served notices by the National Commission for Women (NCW) asking them to explain the blatantly sexist comment they have made in respect of the ‘mass molestation’ of women on some of the busiest streets in the IT city on New Year eve. But given how such notices have ended up in the past, it is safe to assume that neither of the two worthies will spend sleepless nights thinking about it in the days to come.

It is not as if people like Azmi and Parameshwara develop such a sexist and misogynistic attitude after they become politicians. They share their mindset with millions of Indian ‘Alpha Males’ for whom a woman’s body is there for the taking. For all the glorification of womanhood, the average Indian male genuinely believes that women dress skimpily only to draw attention to themselves and takes it as an open ‘invitation’ to have a go. Politicians attract more attention only because their views are publicly aired, dissected and condemned.

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Since it is well nigh impossible to ‘cure’ the disease called misogyny – at least in the near future – the least the State can do to reassure women is to ensure more effective policing. It is a shame that even the presence of cops on the streets did not deter the ‘revellers’ from doing what they did. In the few cases where their help was sought by the harassed women or their male companions, the policemen were just happy to chase the molesters away. Had they hauled up some of them and put them behind bars, it would have assured the victims that the law enforcement agency is there to protect them.

The new police commissioner of Bengaluru, who was at pains to emphasise that he took over only on January 1 (thereby washing his hands of any responsibility for the outrage), would well to suspend the cops who failed to protect the victims and apprehend the molesters and may be even initiate criminal proceedings against them. But his utterances in the last three days do not inspire any confidence in this regard.

Decades ago, Mahatma Gandhi had said India would be truly free when a woman can roam the streets in the dead of the night without fear. It seems the ‘freedom’ that the Mahatma talked about would continue to delude us for several decades – if not centuries – more.

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