Five days after the supposed "mass molestation" in Bengaluru’s upmarket MG and Brigade roads, everyone needs to take a step back and figure out what really happened.
There are two major narratives: One is that, at the stroke of midnight, men in the crowd (more than one lakh according to some estimates) simply went nuts. As if with one mind, Bengaluru’s depraved men started pawing and groping at any girl they could get their hands on. Women ran for their lives, but the police were of no help. This is what breathless anchors on national TV channels will have us believe.
The other narrative is what Bengaluru’s hapless new police commissioner Praveen Sood has been trying to get across. According to him, nothing happened.
Both narratives could be bogus. The truth, as always is in such cases, lies somewhere in between.
Yes, girls were molested by drunken louts, but many eyewitnesses say that the mass molestation as reported in the national press and eagerly picked up by international media (if it shows India in a bad light, that’s news, baby!), may not have happened. But something did happen, according to the Bangalore Mirror, which tracked down ten witnesses who all said they were subject to or witness to molestation.
The tradition of Bengaluru’s MG Road-Brigade Road partying on New Year’s Eve started somewhere in the 1970s.
Worshippers at the number of churches in the area (St Patrick’s, St Mark’s, St Andrews, Marthoma’s, to name a few) would spill out after the midnight mass and head towards couple of restaurants still open on the Brigade Road. The young men and women would be dressed in their finest clothes and, since it was a small town those days, would walk up and down Brigade Road wishing everyone they met.
By the mid-80s, things started getting a little more rowdy. The genteel church-goers began to disappear, replaced by a more boisterous, drunken type of celebrant. As a crime reporter, I spent many a New Year’s Eve with the police deputy commissioners, all of who would be there in full uniform, supervising their subordinates, making sure that the celebrations did not get out of hand. It never did.
By the late 90s, this changed. Incidents of girls being molested have occurred almost every year with unfailing regularity the perpetrators have never been caught. This time too, mass molestation or not, there is every indication that the perverts will get away with it. Till now, four persons were arrested for having perpetrated a horrific assault on a girl in the Kamannahalli area of North Bengaluru. However, early investigations suggest that this was a stalking case, unconnected to the supposed events on MG Road. That hasn’t stopped national media from playing the CCTV clip as part of the "mass molestation" reports.
Many people still believe that Bengaluru is safer when compared to cities like Mumbai, Chennai, and rape capital Delhi. New Year’s Eve is not the only public night-long event in the city. The city’s Karaga festival and St Mary’s Feast attract lakhs of celebrants. These pass off, year after year, with no incidents at all. However, over the past few years, New Year’s Eve in Bengaluru has proved the exception.
Whatever went on on MG Road, the government should take some blame. Everyone knows that New Year’s Eve in Bengaluru is a major law and order issue. Yet, the government chose 31 December to transfer 50 IPS officers, including Bengaluru’s police commissioner. The new commissioner, Praveen Sood, is known for his uprightness and efficiency. But, it is too much to expect him to hit the ground running. If he failed, and the jury is still out on that one, the blame is not his.
Today, Bangloreans are a confused lot. They wonder, what is more shocking? Allegations of mass molestation in their fair city? Or, the way politicians have reacted?
Home Minister Parmeswarappa’s comments that this is a result of western culture showed gross insensitivity. He has since said he was quoted out of context. But, even while commissioner Sood was denying that there was mass molestation, other state government spokesmen were coming out to say that this was carried out by Hindutva elements who wanted to discredit the Siddaramaiah government ahead of a major investment event scheduled for later this month. They probably didn’t realise, that this, in another way, is admitting that the mass molestation did happen. Clearly, no time was spent on synchronising the stories.
At a press conference on Thursday, the home minister announced a plan to strengthen women’s safety is the city by installing more CCTV cameras and a more robust emergency response network. But this seems an attempt to deny responsibility, distract attention, and avoid being pilloried for not making even a single arrest after five days.
Actually, it really does not matter if the molestation was perpetrated on an industrial scale or was limited to just one or two cases that got blown out of all proportion. The fact is that Bengaluru’s image just took another heavy blow.
Updated Date: Jan 05, 2017 16:16 PM