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The Guwahati shame

 | July 20, 2012

While a young woman was being roughed up, pinched, fondled and her clothes were being torn, a huge crowd watched in voyeuristic pleasure

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Kolkata revered its women. Called them “ma” or mother. The city’s most important festival was Durga Puja, and there in the metropolis, men and even boys made sure no harm befell a woman. In fact, each locality was very possessive of its own women-folk.

Kolkata was where I grew up, and this is the culture I knew and respected.

But the picture has now been marred beyond belief.

Some years ago, college girls in Karnataka’s Manipal were chased out of a pub and molested by Hindu radicals. They are said to have been part of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The molesters said women had no business to be drinking. This was against Indian ethos and culture.

So, someone asked the men whether beating up defenceless girls and tearing off their clothes were part of the country’s 5,000-year-old heritage. The men of course had no answer.

A few days ago, a young girl (she was 17 or 20) was brutalised by a mob of 20 men as she came out of a pub in Guwahati in the north-eastern state of Assam.

While she was being roughed up, pinched, fondled and her clothes were being torn, a huge crowd watched in voyeuristic pleasure. Some say, they were also jeering and egging the molesters to go harder at the girl.

Filming this horrendous incident was a television channel, Newslive, whose reporter was even heard telling the dirty mob to get the girl closer to the camera so that her face could be seen clearly!

The whole show rolled on for 30 minutes. Till the police arrived on the scene and rescued the girl.

The editor-in-chief of Newslive justified his reporter’s action by saying that the coverage helped the police to nab the culprits. Twelve of them have been arrested, though the kingpin of the crime is still absconding.

There are disturbing questions here.

Was it not the duty of the reporter to have called in the police rather than get his cameraman on the scene and have the sordid episode filmed for 30 minutes? The reporter said he eventually telephoned the police.

Which means, the reporter made sure he got his footage to titillate his viewers and up his TRP rating before he got down to “helping” the tortured girl.

(Years ago, there was a massive public outcry when it was found that a television cameraman was busy shooting the dying Princess Diana instead of rushing her to hospital as she lay bleeding in a Paris underpass. If I am right, the cameraman faced legal charges.)

Also, what I do not understand about the Guwahati molestation is the passivity of the large number of people who had gathered there. They could have easily thrashed the molesters and driven them off or handed them over to the police. Instead, they chose to watch what they felt was fun.

Is India a country of onlookers? Quite likely, but it is certainly a place of gutless guys.

Remember the Jessica Lal murder in New Delhi a long time ago. There were 300 men and women from the capital’s elite brigade in the bar, and nobody was willing to testify against Manu Sharma, a rich politician’s son who shot the girl because she refused him a drink.

I would presume that Indian men are chauvinists whose ego is bruised the moment a woman displays even a streak of independent thinking. When Lal said no to Sharma, he felt insulted and could not stomach that. How could she have the audacity to turn him down? At play here were economic superiority and male pride. Lal trampled on both and lost her young life.

In Guwahati and in Manipal, men saw liquor not as a harmless intoxicant, but as a weapon that helped women towards greater assertiveness, thereby towards greater ability to free themselves from the male clutch.

So, I would suppose that at the bottom of it all is this fear among men that women would rise above them. A simple refusal or a drink in a pub is enough to provoke men into a mad frenzy. Which will continue unless there a collective community effort to stop it.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.


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