Even as I type this piece, I have got for the fifth time on my handset the same message (the last with a victorious ‘See I told you?”) a Whatsapp forward on a piece by a Delhi journalist whose daughter studies in India’s Silicon Valley (the cliched title for the city I live in, and is in the spotlight now for the ‘mass molestation’ incident).
“Politicians have waded in, women’s rights group are calling for quick action. That’s all fine, but where is the evidence,” asks Ruben Banerjee in the Hindustan Times.
In other college-cousin-ex-colleagues groups and a national network of media women that I have been a part of, opinions are being shared by the minute, experiences of being groped and molested while in a mela, ganesh visarjan, et al, calls for action being sounded out, viral videos being put out on how this is a country’s collective shame and events planned over the coming weekend saying women ought to reclaim their right to safe public spaces.
Men friends have let me in on a piece that’s appeared in a male website that speaks on ‘behalf of the ignored gender’ with purported evidence and quotes of editors and cops proving how the media has created stories on the ‘Bangalore mass molestation’.
Bangalorean groups and blogs asking the national media to stop ‘calling this Bangalore’s shame’, and media persons blaming the media house that broke this story for ‘blowing this story out of proportion’ for ratings’ sake.
My own reaction I confess was that of a mild jolt when I was tuned into the BBC Radio yesterday afternoon for my fix of world news and I heard the anchor speak of the ‘horrific’ sexual assaults on women in Bangalore, India, on New Year’s eve.
And as I finish typing this part, I have already got a call from a local Kannada television channel here in Bangalore if I can be part of their panel discussion this evening to give my ‘abhipraaya’ (Kannada for opinion) on the “Dec 31 incident”.
Which side are you – the reader on? Which of these do you believe has happened, what part has outraged you, and what reportage have you smirked at, saying this is absolute fiction?
It is confusing enough if you are a television-watcher, an India-follower and a Kannadiga lapping up news on home country and hometown from wherever you are in the world. But if you are someone like me who has also reported on and from this snazzy cosmopolitan IT city on radio print and television for over a decade now, the bizarre manner in which the incident has played out (reported first time on January 2 instead of the 1st), the blaming game between BJP and the Congress on social media, and the people’s own absolutely-divergent views all on the same New Year party on the city’s MG Road, becomes a curious case-study of many things – of how the media decides the discourse on any subject, but also of how the same city reacts differently to different incidents even if it pertains to the same gender.
Therefore, as a woman, Bangalorean, a contemporary Indian, watching with a deep sigh what unfolded as the new year rang in, I thought the best way would be to leave you the reader with a bullet-point list of what I have curated from the reportage one has been reading as well as one-to-one conversations with those very journalist friends who first reported on this and have been covering the episode. All this, along with one’s own thoughts and take on the incident.
For me, the molestations-incident brings to the fore Divides of different kinds, even beyond despicable drunk men wreaking this horror on women in a public space, and the fault lines in our own mindset.
Needless to say, one hopes the perspectives I have shared are applicable not just for Bangalore alone.
1.Kshithij Urs, an activist working on various city issues, posted on his wall how the garment worker-women of Bangalore have condemned the mass-groping of women. To jog your collective memory, these women representing a workforce of 12 lakh workers in the city, were who suffered in the clashes in this same city April 2016, ‘brought the city to a halt’ when they all they were doing was to ask for their rights to withdraw EPF of their own earnings, and were striking against appalling working conditions and abuse in their garment units. Now is therefore a good time I guess to ask, how many of us the enlightened educated class of us women and men, protested or even empathised with these women? Or did anything to signal to the garment industry bosses that we as consumers refuse to accept until they improve the work conditions of those who are making what we wear?
2. Raksha Kumar, an independent journalist, who was interviewing a man in Bangalore yesterday regarding the Dec-31 incident asked her instead, “But don’t women enjoy being touched by random men? We are told that women are sexual beings too.”
2. Anantha Subramanyam, a friend, senior and sensitive photojournalist now with Bangalore Mirror who has covered the city for long and whose pictures first told us the story that we didn’t want to hear, telling his editor after being on duty Dec 31 on Brigade Road that “it was a terrible night”.
3. A whatsapp message I got from a media group on a news report that said it is now confirmed that the girl walking home alone that same night in another area in Bangalore and who the CCTV images from a neighbourhood camera has captured being groped by two men, is from the Northeast.
4. Personally, this episode brought back memories of an incident six years back that gave me a rude reality check as I had until then always thought my city is safe. I remember realising with a shock that Safe is a relative word, and *conditions apply. (*: Largely for those like me, fairly sheltered, with own roof on the head, and for who Bangalore is ‘native place’.)
This revelation happened when a young intern who worked with me while I was reporting for a national television channel, had not turned up for an assignment she was to accompany me on, that morning. When she landed at office later, with a hassled look, I learnt how she and the girls in her PG in Koramangala had been suspecting there was a secret cam in their bathroom, and that indeed had turned out true. The police was called and the case ‘solved’, but the daily day (night) mare faced by thousands of women – and men who find it harder to convince owners to give them a roof! – who are single in the city and who come to work to enhance their earnings and the country’s GDP, is nowhere close to solution or closure.
5. A Bangalore journalist – veteran of many New Year coverages – who was there on Dec 31 night, estimated the new year reveller crowd, adding the city’s central business district areas of MG Road, Brigade Road, Kamaraj Road et al, at close to 10,000. “The police won’t agree with this, but this time the number of people I saw on new year’s night was like nothing before, and a few cops told us there is not much we can do. And honestly speaking, I won’t blame the police for saying so. The last I saw such numbers on a single road was of curious onlookers gathering on the road to see, after the Church Street blasts.”
(The job of the police – and the city’s brand new Commissioner and much-admired cop Praveen Sood who just took charge on New Year’s day – is getting no easier. When reports last came in while filing this piece, the department had apparently scanned 50 CCTV images and still pictures, but say that they have so far found no evidence of any molestation. The Home Minister, who has been rapped across the country and outside, for saying ‘these things happen’ and has blamed the creature called Western Culture for such incidents – has made an appeal to the public to come forward with any statement or footage that may help this investigation.)