Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Who is to blame, Bangalore?

"Bangalore is not what it used to be anymore."

I have been seeing this statement over and over again on my news feed over the past few days. Everyone is expressing outrage over the horrors of the New Year's Eve incident at MG Road. Several women were molested, harassed, and groped by an unruly mob, that could not be controlled, despite 1,500 police personnel patrolling the road that night.

Just when the city was recovering from this grotesque incident, another equally disturbing one came to light. Following the ghastly New Year's Eve debacle at MG Road, a woman was molested and assaulted by two men on a scooter just few hours into the new year. As she resisted and fought back, a group of bystanders witnessed this incident in silence until the perpetrators threw her on the road and left.

Image Courtesy: Newscrunch

I have somehow immersed myself in reading dozens of the news articles around these incidents (clickbait, did you say?) - because, yes, it does outrage me; but mostly, it befuddles me.

There are three main perspectives of the several online keyboard warriors out there. Many of these are also shared by everyday people in my life:

1. "She was out late at night. WHAT was she expecting?"
Ah, classic victim blaming; always takes the number one spot. The opinion that the women were responsible for what happened to them is the most popular one on social media. Their clothing, their drinking, the fact that they were out late at night, their audacity to be on the roads on new year's eve with all the men seems all worthy of molestation. Strengthening this opinion is the endorsement of our ministers like Abu Azmi and G. Parameshwara who have conveniently blamed "women in western clothing" for the mob molestation.

2. "It's not ALL men. It's SOME men."
It astounds me on how many men have hijacked this colossal issue on harassment and made it about themselves. Every time any woman has even tried to talk about this issue, there is always a man who has swooped in and announced how HE hasn't raped/harassed a woman, so they should not all be branded as molesters. It flummoxes me how male ego and fragile masculinity has been prioritized over cases of actual sexual harassment and assault. How the argument by these educated, aware, and articulate men online has been over a case of semantics than calling out their gender on disrespecting women.
I guess we're supposed to be handing out awards to those men who don't harass a woman now. What an achievement. Woot!

3. "Bangalore is filled with outsiders now. Real Kannadigas will never do this."
Are you a real Bangalorean? Because apparently, real Bangaloreans don't harass women. Only outsiders do. I genuinely don't know what either of those terms mean but akin to our #NotAllMen scenario, this has also hijacked the issue to make it about the goddamn place where the molesters are from, because you see, that is of utmost importance.

Most of the top comments on the articles and opinions shared by people have revolved around these three perspectives. It's incredible how people have completely missed the real issue: that a mob of men have molested several women and gotten away with it successfully despite evidence and eye witness accounts. That these men didn't care about how they attacked a woman. That these men felt entitled to touch a woman's body without her consent. That these men took advantage of a woman in a crowd. That these men were fearless and molested women in the presence of police personnel.

How is it that these concerns have taken a backseat while petty issues like where the molester is from is a topic of discussion? Why is there no shame to be taken in these men having committed such a horrendous crime but shame in our women being out late at night?

The conversations need to change. 

I read Rega Jha's article on Buzzfeed about how we aren't raising our sons right and are endangering our women in the process. That piece struck a chord with me.

A child in India grows up watching Bollywood movies that romanticizes stalking women. They grow up watching shows and movies where women in revealing outfits are considered to be immoral and of 'loose' character. They grow up watching a taxi rape news report on TV and listening to their parents chide the woman for being out late. They grow up watching ministers and people in positions of power blaming women under the influence of western culture and alcohol for being molested. They grow up being told that they shouldn't 'involve' themselves if they witness a case of sexual harassment in public. They grow up in a toxic culture that chastises women for exercising the same liberty that men do.

When they grow up consuming all of this, they tend to align their thoughts similarly. Sure, they might not actually be rapists or molesters, but being raised in a patriarchal environment instils a lack of empathy and sensitivity towards gender issues - more importantly, it conditions them to view sexual harassment and assault as something that women primarily need to be responsible for.

We are all products of our environment. We tend to imbibe what we see and absorb it without questioning when we are younger. Which is why it's imperative that we have these conversations with our children.

All hope isn't lost though. There have been several men and women calling out the ministers and the trolls online to place the blame where it belongs - on the perpetrators. Some men have asked me how they can be allies. Some men have told me how articles on harassment and reading accounts of women have enlightened them and sensitized them to what they're facing.

Things are changing, for the best. Not at the pace I would want it to, truly, but they are. We need to fight this battle together.

Just pick your side wisely.

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