How Bangalore Women Taking Back Their Streets After Mass Sexual Assault

by Samantha Mercado

New Year’s Eve can be a rowdy occasion all over the world, but in Bangalore, India it was downright dangerous. At the heart of the city, where the New Year’s Eve celebrations commenced between Mahatma Gandhi Road and Brigade Road, a massive crowd formed and molestations and assaults ran through the crowd. Women who were out celebrating were met by men who groped them, leaving many feeling unsafe and helpless. Even though there was a police presence in the area, eyewitnesses told the city’s local paper, Bangalore Mirror, that the police were heavily outnumbered by the crowd. According to eyewitnesses, women who couldn’t run out of the crowd tried to form groups with friends to fend off attackers — some women using shoes to beat away men. With up to 300 men pressing in on the women in the crowd, the scene sounds like something out of a horror movie.

India is no stranger to mass sexual assault — four years ago, there was the infamous New Delhi gang-rape in which the victim was so brutally violated that she died of her injuries. In the year following that, there was plenty of talk about change in the way India views and handles sexual assault, but this New Year’s Eve was a painful reminder for the women of India that progress has not been made.

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To make matters worse, home minister G. Parameshwara of Karnataka, the state in which Bangalore is capital, made this statement in reaction to the mass molestations: “Youngsters…try to copy the Westerners not only in the mindset but even the dressing. So some disturbance, some girls are harassed, these kinds of things do happen.”

Parameshwara’s comments, coupled with the police’s flip-flopping on whether or not to side with the victims of the attacks, made women in Bangalore and across India rightfully infuriated. Advocacy groups in India have been vocal about the need to change India’s culture around women and sexual assault. Trisha Shetty, a lawyer and co-founder of SheSay — a women’s rights advocacy group — told NPR, “We reject this sense of entitlement men have over women’s bodies, sexuality and spaces.” Several other advocates for women’s rights, including the coordinators of India’s #IWillGoOut solidarity march which is coming up on Janurary 21, have said that the Bangalore molestations are not isolated incidents, but a part of a larger “systemic inequality.” The organizers explained to NPR that the prevailing attitude in Indian culture seems to be that it’s better to keep the women locked away than change the behavior of the men.

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The march on January 21 will take place in seven different cities around India: Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata. The march’s organizers say they hope that their message will reach girls and women in areas that are more closed from ‘”Western media” and ideas. The women hope to reclaim the streets and curb the idea that men are entitled to their bodies. 

Top photo via flickr/darsan sivanantharajah. Bottom two photos via twittter: @CPBlr & @povmumbai, respectively.

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