The mass molestation and groping of women in the streets of Bengaluru on the New Year’s Eve has pricked the nation’s conscience. The ugly spectacle of drunken men going berserk and sexually assaulting revellers comes as a grim reminder of a deep-rooted malaise that is often glossed over in a patriarchal society like ours. The horrific incident is a shame not just on the city that is regarded as India’s Silicon Valley but is a matter of disgrace for the entire country too. What followed the shocking incident were depressingly familiar pattern of administrative response and a spate of statements dishing out moral sermons to women. Karnataka Home Minister G Parameshwara’s remarks, blaming “western dressing” of women for the incident, hold mirror to the sick mindset of people, who are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring safety and protection to women. Senior Samajwadi Party leader Abu Azmi went a step further, saying provocative dressing by women would attract men like “ants to heaps of sugar.” It is a sign of a sickening culture, popularised by Indian movies that treats stalking women as a fun activity. Eve-teasing is largely seen as innocuous banter, while it should be treated as an act of crime.
Clearly, the root cause of such sexual perversion lies in the patriarchal upbringing where gender bias is ingrained in the culture. It is high time to put an end to the tendency to blame the victim and impose restrictions on her choice and her freedom of movement and instead inculcate values of gender equality among boys. Compulsory inclusion of gender equality in school curriculum will go a long way in correcting the deep-rooted biases that have unfortunately become part of our cultural narrative. Unless gender equality becomes the acceptable norm at all levels and fear of law is firmly restored, no amount of symbolic campaigns for women empowerment would be effective. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, passed after national outrage over the Nirbhaya case, had sought to simplify procedures for reporting offences against women. They should be implemented in true spirit. According to a Indian National Bar Association survey on reports of molestation, Delhi topped the shame list followed by Mumbai and Bengaluru. Compared with other major cities, Hyderabad has reported less number of such cases. However, there should be no room for complacency. All efforts should be made to preserve the Hyderabadi culture of respecting women. The SHE teams, launched in Hyderabad in October 2014, are doing a commendable job of providing safety and security to women. Spread across the city, about 100 SHE teams are engaged not only in enforcing the law but also conducting awareness programmes to check the menace of eve-teasing.