Not long before visuals of the young girl attacked in Guwahati went viral last week and kept reappearing on our TV screens, there was a similar incident in the same city that was also filmed by a TV crew and posted online. In December 2010, a young, English-speaking Mizo girl dressed in western clothes had lost her way in the city after a late-night wedding and was accused of being drunk and almost lynched by three Assamese women, one of them a BJP Mahila Morcha vice-president. In a video that is still online, the girl’s hair is pulled at, her shins clobbered, her rear kicked and she is thrashed to the ground as locals stand by and stare. This goes on for nearly 20 minutes, before the cops arrive and take her away. It is highly unlikely that the Mizo girl, who thankfully remains unnamed, hasn’t seen the latest shocking visuals from Assam’s capital and, having done so, not relived her trauma.
Attacks like these are not just Assam’s bane; urban women who dare defy long-held but outmoded societal norms have increasingly come under attack from vigilante youth, often in apparent collaboration with “news-hungry” television channels. Before the July 10 incident in Guwahati, there was the infamous attack on girls at a pub in Mangalore in January 2009 by Sri Rama Sene, also filmed by a television crew (see accompanying list of other attacks across India). So the question is, are metrogirls safe? There’s a new life in the metros and big cities that appears to be hip and happening. But all this is in the midst of a deeply conservative society and, it may be added, an equally conservative police, with officers like ACP Vasant Dhoble of Mumbai leading the moral policing.
Being groped, leered at and manhandled is a common enough experience for most Indian women. Ask blogger and author Jhoomur Bose, whose breasts were grabbed in Calcutta’s busy New Market when she was 14. “By 19, because I fought back each time, I was dubbed as someone with a penchant for making scenes. There have been times when I have dragged men to the police for misbehaving with me and every time I have been told by policemen ‘Madam, after all, he’s saying sorry, jaane do, don’t create a tamasha.’”
Things haven’t got better, what with weak law enforcement and the large amount of money that has come into Assam, most of it dole-outs and anti-insurgency funds from the Centre, spent with little accountability. And while small towns have benefited from the new world, such as the boom in television channels, people have held on to their outmoded beliefs. For instance, Atanu Bhuyan, who resigned as the editor-in-chief of News Live (the channel mired in the latest controversy), had tweeted a day after the attack that “prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and nightclubs”.
Such mindsets have found new media a good way to record, name and shame young women. As some begin feeling threatened by the modern westernised woman, it’s almost as if her privacy has in some ways been declassified for their enjoyment. Says Delhi-based writer and social commentator Isha Singh Sawhney, “Walking towards a man whose cell phone is held higher than usual piques my suspicions, and if I am wearing anything that’s higher than mid-thigh, it also increases my paranoia. Faced with this type of Indian man, his depravities, his suppressed sexuality and unwarranted moral policing, I just can’t live the life I want to.” That the internet is a double-edged sword is something Delhi-based Mahima Kaul agrees with: “The internet has added to our woes. While we can share our lives and give each other cyber pats about how independent we’ve become, on the other hand, voyeurs are chasing us online constantly and trying to cheapen our space.”
Back in Assam, which according to the National Crime Record Bureau has the second-highest rate of crime against women, these assaults on women, many argue, is not unrelated to the insurgency that the state has had to grapple with for years. “When I was growing up during the height of the insurgency, we were always told to lower our gaze whenever an army truck passed by. We grew up fearing the man in uniform, internalising sexual assault as a weapon that the state could use against us,” says Uddipana Goswami, a journalist based in Guwahati. “So, if the state does it, people on the street obviously think they can too.”
The NCW comes out as a bunch of amateurs and/or women upholding retrograde values who just rush to investigate incidents such as the Guwahati case without a plan in mind and minus a thought in their heads. Alka Lamba, a member of the NCW inquiry committee, found herself in the eye of a storm when she brought up the victim’s name at a press conference. She told Outlook, “That may have been wrong but it doesn’t negate our report. What is the point in subjecting the girl to repeated questioning when she opened up to me with such a lot of effort.” Lamba is particularly pleased with herself for getting Salman Khan—her “favourite” actor—to speak with the victim. Too bad the hunk was not present in Guwahati to thrash the bad guys, as he often does, at least in his film roles.
For now, attacks on women are not perpetrated covertly but by mobs that are no longer content to just watch but also want to take part in these assaults. For a section of India’s urban population, these modern women represent everything they hate. They want to molest them, thrash them, humiliate them. Shefali Sewak, a Delhi-based lawyer, says, “This incident was not very different from a recent execution by the Taliban of a woman in Afghanistan. The images of both atrocities, which continue to haunt me, are disturbingly similar: a woman surrounded by men, rules of civilisation suspended, scales of power tilted, no other woman in sight, and men willingly becoming spectators.”
In Striking Range
Women visiting or working in pubs are particularly preyed on...
January 24, 2009 Sri Rama Sene vigilantes attack girls at a pub in Mangalore
February 5, 2012 A woman is raped at gunpoint after leaving a pub on Park Street, Calcutta
March 1, 2012 Women assaulted at a Bangalore pub after one turns down a dance request
March 11, 2012 A woman employee of a pub at a mall in Gurgaon is gang-raped
July 9, 2012 The latest incident: A girl is assaulted outside a bar in Guwahati
Apropos your report on assaults on women (Break Her for the Goblet She Holds, July 30), can’t we have an Indian version of a metro lifestyle instead of aping the West?
Shereen, Abu Dhabi
India is a land of varied customs, cultures and lifestyles. We should not follow the Taliban style of repression. We need more flexibility, more understanding.
Thulasi Das, Chennai
Apropos the Guwahati molestation, it has been asked if the cameraman should have put down his camera and gone to the rescue of the girl. But if he had played the hero, we would possibly not have had the footage that nailed the culprits.
Meghana A., Newcastle-upon-Tyne
The infamous Guwahati footage reminded me of predators attacking their prey.
Ippili Santhosh Kumar, Hyderabad
In the west the situation is different.I live in USA and I can vouch for that.The laws and the enforcement too are consequently different.Who falls all over a girl in a bus or in a train.They are not as crowded as in India where women are squeezed.Feminists who bring in the laws of the west in to India must take note of these.
Women are weaker and nobody needs any brains to find this out except the femeinists.In the name of equality they want to pit women against men breaking marriages and families.How can two persons with equal egos can live together!The physical strength and the consequential values the soceity evolved is only for the protection of the women who are weaker in body in mentaly.
If women want protection given to them by the police it is not goin to happen as they are alos from the same soceity from which all of us have emerged.
Good try, Kunal! Thanks to your tribe, women are a pampered lot and expect preferential treatment - in the name of rights and other crap!
In the attempt to defend the writer and women, in general, you have totally suspended the faculty of logic. If someone is writing an influential or opinion piece in a national newsmagazine, he/she
better argue with empirical data and authentic information. If the writer is too emotional and yields to emotional rant, let him/her write in a blog or fb or twitter. It's not the onus of a reader to collect data, but he can absolutely question the claims of the writer. If at all he/she is speaking with data, he/she should be able to share it too. After all, these data are not classified information! Importantly, he/she should know how to interpret data.
Assuming your stand that the writer may indeed have these data, it's important in such writing that she mention the references to those sources. And I bet she doesn't have any. For, let me tell you
buddy, the data would show that males are subject to more humiliation and violence.
The writer has obviously given it an anti-male slant, a wont encouraged by 'feminist writing'. Women readers must be drooling over such pieces. Ten cases of murder of men, it just gets a casual
mention in media. One case of rape (even a purely alleged report) and everyone sits up and asks how safe the cities are! If a man commits suicide, it's because of work stress or an extra-marital
affair; if a woman commits suicide, it's implicitly due to the harassment by the husband and his family! I'm not sure how much you know about how police work; you rather don't know anything about it. Cite one instance and make generalizations and sweeping conclusions about all males! Did you notice how that blogger suggests men are perverts, sexually repressed, desperate idiots? Surprising that while you fervently challenge a reader's comment, you are quite tolerant to such prejudiced, sloppy remarks as her's!
16 D Kunal,
Nit picking does not make you a great arguer ( although I wonder if you just want to appear like one ), my friend!
Digging out fallacies in argument does nt seem to be your own forte when it comes to the hyserical male-bashing article like the one above!
1. Do YOU know she has these data then? Or where she got it?
2. The article reeks of insinuations against males anyway. So why do you think that insinuation stops at the boundary of 'male being gropers'?
3. Another argument by a 'statistically challenged' person. An article by a leading journal ought to have some truth. There is nt an iota of it in this.
4. Yes. Hysteria alone does not make up for facts.
And any feminist is prejudiced against the cheapening the value of sex. Prostitution is a form of sex too.
5. 'Modern westernised' does mean modern+western.
So the defenders of the 'female faith' particularly among the 'male worshippers' have made a poor appearance. Wonder where the Gods themselves are?
I am sorry to say it, but your objections are extremely hollow and your arguments, which are designed to sound scientific and data-driven, are actually very stupid. Here is how..
1. It is true that author did not provide concrete numbers to support her argument that attacks on women are increasing. But that does not mean she lacks this data. You, in your post, are assuming she doesn't have data, which "reeks of confirmation bias". You could have asked nicely if she had the data you were looking for.
2. Most women being groped doesn't mean most men are gropers! There could be a small percentage of men doing these heinous things repeatedly to multiple women. Did your scientific mind think of this possibility?
3. The author has highlighted the case of one blogger to demonstrate the point. She could not include the story of every woman blogger who was manhandled in a one-two page magazine article, could she? To your 10 unscathed bloggers, I am sure someone else can name 11 bloggers who were violated. What will that prove, really?
4. This one was your lowest performance! Did you ask Atanu Bhuyan to provide data to substantiate his argument?
5. She said "modern westernized", that means "modern & westernized", not "modern because westernized".
....and I could go on and on. But I am sure you, and everyone else who read your post got my point by now.
Your story reeks of confirmation bias!
1. "...urban women who dare defy long-held but outmoded societal norms have increasingly come under attack..."
'Increasingly' is a comparative. Do you have the data to support that such women have indeed increasingly come under attack?
How many such incidents have happened in the past one or two years? For every such act of violence against a woman, I can cite ten against men!
2. "Being groped, leered at and manhandled is a common enough experience for most Indian women"
'Common enough' experience? 'Most' Indian women? By men, you meant, obviously? If that is so, then you imply that 'most' Indian men are guilty of groping and manhandling women. Most - dad, brothers, friends! Really?
The usual "men are bastards; women are angels" line of logic! And you pretend to dismiss a 'deeply conservative' society!
3. "Ask blogger and author Jhoomur Bose..."
Ah, you could pick one blogger, after all!
I can have you check with ten women bloggers who made it through adulthood unscathed. And then there's this male friend (blogger and author, if that counts) who was jeered at, teased and ragged by college girls at a bus-bay while he was just waiting for a bus. In a metro, let me stress.
4. Atanu Bhuyan's remark - "prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and nightclubs"
Do you have the data to prove they don't form a major chunk?
Ironically, your very reference to this remark makes obvious your prejudice about prostitutes (who are also women, let me stress), but it probably missed you completely, courtesy the societal stigma!
5. "As some begin feeling threatened by the modern westernised woman..."
Is 'westernised' the criterion for 'modern'? An Indian trying to become westernised - it suggests a feeble, diffident mentality. And you call this strength?
Feeling threatened? Yes, the three Assamese women you referred to in the first paragraph surely did. Women, let me stress!
6. Delhi-based writer and social commentator Isha Singh Sawhney's quote!
It's so ridiculous it's amusing! Maybe she never heard the pretty young things uttering oohs and aahs on watching one of the Khans taking his shirt off on the big screen!
7. Uddipana Goswami: “So, if the state does it, people on the street obviously think they can too.”
She doesn't know anything about the state. Or she doesn't know anything about people. Or maybe she knows too little about either.
8. "Women have begun speaking up boldly..."
Yes, it takes some boldness to pat on the back for taking part in silly campaigns.
Let me ask a question - can they speak up equally boldly against their corporate dress code? When stakes are less, anyone can make noise. If that is boldness, then what should one say about, say, Anna Politkovskaya?
9. "attacks on women are not perpetrated covertly but by mobs..."
Are attacks on men perpetrated covertly? For every such attack on a woman, I can refer ten attacks on men. On roads. In daylight.
9. Shefali Sewak's quote
What is the frequency of such incidents?
Men willingly become spectators? People watch as passively even when it's a murder. We live in times when war is aired live on television, Madam!
10. Well, the only good point in the story is this - "National Commission for Women (NCW), Mamata Sharma, had reportedly warned that women should dress “carefully” to avoid such attacks..."
...and you have a problem with this advice? Then why don't you object, yell and lecture about your 'rights' when parents advise, "drive carefully to avoid accidents"? Why not protest the state when they say, "smoking is injurious to health"? Why not kick the boss when he hands over the dress code on the first day at the workplace?
Why do we keep out houses locked when we step out? Why not flash the money in wallet instead of keeping it 'safe' in a bank? Why not sue the forest authorities for suggesting, "follow the rules and avoid attacks in the wild"?
Crime is undesirable, regardless of the gender of the victim. We live in a world where violence is a fact. Both men and women are responsible for this. It's insensible to not acknowledge this. I expect mature and objective reporting in a national newsmagazine. Your argument is too sloppy and prejudiced for this. I do empathise with the victim, and I condemn such incidents of violence, but I don't appreciate yielding to emotion while writing to a wider readership. And let us not even talk about empirical data - for, then, you will see that men are subject to more humiliation and violence in this world. Heard of Guantanamo, for example? Our own prisons? Check the yearly human rights reports?
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