Bengaluru molestation: Misogynistic officials offer no solutions, only pass moral judgment

In yet another horrifying incident of gender-based violence, scores of women were molested by drunken revellers on New Year's Eve in Bengaluru.

In response, politicians and law enforcement officials, yet again, exposed their callous indifference in such matters. Reactions from Karnataka's ministers and custodians of law and order exemplify reasons why such violent events recur time and again, all over the country. The unabashed misogyny at the highest political and administrative levels in the aftermath of every such incident shows why legal buffers — if not the many laws and amendments — will always prove ineffective in yielding results against gender-based violence.

The all-round "blame the women" attitude by politicians and police serves to embolden perpetrators of violence. Depressingly, the discourse catapulted to the centre stage of national agenda following the gang-rape of a medical student in New Delhi five years ago but was hardly successful in resetting the terms of the national conversation on gendered violence. Things proceed as if it's business as usual.

Police personnel try to manage crowds during a New Year's Eve brawl in Bangalore. AFP

Police personnel try to manage crowds during a New Year's Eve brawl in Bangalore. AFP

As has been the case in the past, politicians still offer lame, misogynistic excuses, pointing the finger at victims of assault, blaming them for succumbing to Western influences and deviating from the traditional norms of decency.

Not surprisingly, this mindset was on full display after the recent Bengaluru incident as well. According to a report in The Guardian, an inspector at the Cubbon Park police station said in his response, "We had deployed 1,600 police personnel in the area for New Year's celebrations and around 60,000 people had come there that night." The inspector even went on to claim that they had the situation "under control".

G Parmeshwara, Karnataka's home minister, blamed women partying at night in the streets for behaving "almost like foreigners". "They tried to copy the Westerners, not only in their mindset but even in their dressing," he said, adding, "(On) events like new year's, there are women who are harassed or treated badly." He shrugged off the violence, claiming that "these kinds of things do happen".

It may be relevant in this context, to remember that five years ago, this was the very state where lawmakers were caught watching pornography in the state Assembly. Three ministers — Lakshman Savdi, CC Patil (minister for women and child development) and Krishna B Palemar — were caught watching porn clips on a cell phone. "Close up shots of the ministers watching blue films were beamed on television channels in the evening and sparked off a furore. The television visuals showed both ministers sitting next to each other, gazing into Savdi's handset and having a banter," a report in The Times of India said at the time.

What makes matters worse is that the usual markers of political affiliation and ideological variation blur into insignificance when it comes to misogyny — a behavioural trait all politicians seem to share in common. Markers of identity like caste and religion drive politicians into taking aggressive postures, trying to keep such issues alive in the discourse to facilitate political mobilisation. That, tragically, has never been the case with violence against women, though. The lack of women's representation in assemblies and Parliament further helps male politicians sidestep the issue.

For decades, lawmakers have, in one form or another, combined their strengths to repeatedly stall the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in the Parliament. Parties like the Congress and those from the Left, who publicly backed the 33 percent women's quota in the state assemblies and in the Lok Sabha, have also refused to take proactive steps to pass the legislation. The legislation has been hanging for over 20 years.

This state of affairs, breeding indifference and inaction, is strengthened by the reality that women are still not a distinctly identifiable electoral constituency. Even though things are beginning to change in this direction, with women beginning to emerge as a separate "vote bank" in recent elections (consider Nitish Kumar's prohibitionist policies), the crystallisation of such a gender-based vote bank is yet to take place. But the question remains: For how long can governments and political parties remain impervious to women’s concerns?

Some form of punitive action must be initiated against officials and leaders who indulge in misogynist speeches and action — especially in their responses to events like the one in question. That might be a starting point in changing our political and administrative culture. The responsibility for initiating this change squarely lies with the state and central governments and the political parties. Little wonder then, that there seems to be no real hope of such a transformation taking place in the near future.

Updated Date: Jan 04, 2017 07:43 AM

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