An alleged “mass molestation” on the streets of one of India’s biggest cities on New Year’s Eve was the result of young people trying to “copy” western mindsets and clothing, an Indian state minister has claimed, reported the Guardian.
Thousands of people gathered on two central streets in Bangalore on Saturday night to celebrate the new year. Local newspaper reports and witnesses said the crowd became unruly and began to subject women to sexual assault and harassment, the Guardian said.
The Bangalore Mirror said its photojournalists were “first-hand witnesses to the brazen, mass molestation of women” on the city’s streets, publishing pictures of one woman pressed in by a crowd of men and another appearing to cower on the shoulder of a female police officer.
One witness told the Guardian: “I saw women being molested in the crowd and people trying to find places where they could hide themselves and not be attacked.”
“There were inhuman acts,” said Sammy, who asked for his surname to be withheld. “People were acting like they were helping the women, but actually they were molesting them, insulting them, just provoking them.
“Any girl who was passing through those streets was at least being monitored with [the men’s] eyes. That was the minimum,” he said.
“The maximum was that even if she was suffocated and someone was trying to pick her up, there would be lots of people trying to grab her. I couldn’t stand it; I felt helpless,” the witness was quoted by the Guardian as saying.
Chaitali Wasnick, a photographer, wrote on Facebook that a man had tried to grope her on Saturday night as she was coming back from work. “With so much ease he did [it], as if he thought I’ll not utter a word,” she said.
No police officers intervened, even as she fought the man off, she said.
Police in the city said they were badly outnumbered by the crowd in the area but received no official complaints of sexual assault, considered a massively underreported crime in India, the report added.
“We had deployed 1,600 police personnel in the area for new year’s celebrations and around 60,000 people had come there that night,” said Nagaraj, the inspector at the Cubbon Park police station, who like many Indians uses only one name.
“But we had the situation under control. However, if such incidents did take place that night, we urge people to come forward and file complaints.”
G Parmeshwara, the home minister for Karnataka state, appeared to brush aside the incident on Monday in comments to the news agency ANI.
“[On] events like new year’s … there are women who are harassed or treated badly,” he said. “These kinds of things do happen.”
He said the problem was that the young people who had gathered in the city’s streets “were almost like westerners”.
“They tried to copy the westerners, not only in their mindset but even in their dressing,” he said. “So some disturbance, some girls are harassed, these kinds of things do happen.”
He added that he could not “force people to dress like Kannadigas” – people belonging to the Kannada cultural group that dominates the state.
Bangalore, a hub for India’s tech industry, is safer than the Indian capital, Delhi, but still records the third-highest number of attacks intended “to outrage the modesty” of women, according to the country’s crime statistics bureau, the English media observed.
Surveys cited by Amnesty International have shown that only 1 per cent of Indian women who experience sexual violence report it to the police, the report mentioned.
Parameswara said police in Bangalore would hold discussions to “see if there are any alternatives to this kind of events so that women and children are safe”.
Last year, police reportedly sent pre-New Year’s Eve text messages to hundreds of thousands of men who had been charged with sex offences, warning them to behave during festivities on the night and that they and their phones were “still under observation”.