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Bangalore’s night of shame

Sexual Violence
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Indian police try to manage crowds during New Year's Eve celebrations in Bangalore on January 1, 2017.
STR/AFP/Getty Images
Indian police try to manage crowds during New Year's Eve celebrations in Bangalore on January 1, 2017.
R eports of widespread molestation in Bangalore on Saturday night opened a new chapter in India's troubling recent record of sexual violence towards women, as thousands of revellers descended on the city centre to welcome the new year.

“People were pushing and shoving, touching, grabbing, groping,” a victim named as Pooja told the BBC. “I felt helpless,” she continued, “I didn't know who was touching me and groping me.”

The official reaction to stories like Pooja’s has sparked outrage. Despite pictures of distressed women published in local media outlets, Karnataka State Home Minister G Parameshwara blamed the molestations on young people for “copying the Westerners, not only in their mindset, but even in their dressing”. Mr. Parameshwara shrugged off the incident: “these kind of things do happen". 
The default response to Saturday’s molestations has been to doubt or discredit the victims. Local police reported that no official complaints had been lodged, to which a prominent Hindustan Times journalist responded that it was “incredulous that virtual mayhem has broken out in the alleged incident’s aftermath without an iota of evidence”. Bangalore’s police commissioner has subsequently echoed this view, claiming that there is no proof that mass molestation took place on Saturday night, despite overwhelming indications to the contrary.

Bangalore-based women’s rights activist Priya Chetty told The World Weekly there was “deep anger” in the city concerning “the growing blind eye to women’s safety”.

India’s failure to protect women is a long-standing concern. After a young woman was gang raped and murdered on a bus in Delhi in 2012, TrustLaw (a Reuters legal news service) ranked India as the worst G20 country for women to live in. Of the 672 cases of harassment, rape and sexual assault recorded in 2015 in Karnataka, none resulted in convictions.

What can be done to change what Ms. Chetty describes as India’s “regressive” attitude towards women? Perhaps grassroots action is the answer. This week, #YesAllWomen began trending on Twitter, as women shared stories of harassment and molestation to counter victim shaming. Petitions have been circulated to hold perpetrators accountable and ensure that basic controls are given to citizens for their safety.
Henry Goodwin
The World Weekly
05 January 2017 - last edited today