New Year’s Eve in Bengaluru turned out more nightmarish than celebratory when multiple women were reportedly molested, harassed, and forced to flee the streets in fear, in different parts of the city. Mobs of unruly men allegedly took to areas like MG Road, Brigade Road and Churchgate and manhandled women, while the police were unable to disperse the ensuing chaos, and convict any of the perpetrators.
As scary as it sounds, this isn’t a novel occurrence. Delhi streets continue to be unsafe for women after dark – and the city has even been statistically proven our ‘rape capital’ due to the amount of recorded sexual violence cases – but other Indian cities, both big and small, aren’t far behind. However, what’s most horrifying is that in a lot of these cases, it’s party-going women who often become the targets.
In February 2012, Suzette Jordan, after leaving a nightclub in Kolkata’s Park Street, was raped by two men; and in the same year, a 17-year old girl was brutally attacked, molested, and then filmed in front of a crowd at a Guwahati nightclub. Since then, cases such as these have constantly recurred, Bengaluru’s being just the latest one.What is it about women who ‘party’ that has Indian society so insecure?
Our popular culture unfairly stigmatises women who drink, and such a habit is almost always equated with questionable moral character. This is indeed bizarre, because recent studies have found that women drink as much as men do, so to stigmatise the former and normalise the latter is a skewed equation indeed.Indian patriarchy constantly tries to slot women into regressive modes of ‘good behaviour’, and the stereotypes associated with the ‘party girl’ – that she wears western clothes, has male friends, stays out late at night, is sexually active – do not conform to the same. These stereotypes itself are regressive and stem from a need to control women’s bodies and choices, and that is precisely the reason why going to nightclubs or inhabiting public spaces after dark become almost a subversive act for women, as it stems from this refusal to conform, and threatens the patriarchal status quo.
“People always stare judgmentally whenever I’m leaving the house to go clubbing at night,” says Shraddha, a 20-year-old law student from Bengaluru who is a frequent club-goer, “as if I have offended them in some way just by wearing a dress that shows off my legs. It used to make me feel self-conscious at first, but now I’m just annoyed. I party for myself, why should they care what I wear or do?”
But it is this subversiveness, this defiance of patriarchal norms, this refusal to care, is what makes women vulnerable to violence. Even taking a cab at night can prove dangerous, because numerous cases of rape and assault have emerged not just in public transport, but also private cabs like Uber. And then you have cases like that of Park Street, Guwahati, and Bengaluru, where the nightclubs itself cease to be safe spaces.
Though feminist movements like Pinjra Tod are trying to reclaim public spaces for women after dark, and are emphasising the need for greater mobility for women at night to achieve the same, cases like that of Bengaluru are still somehow a reality. There have already been multiple social media posts comparing the city to that of Delhi in terms of sexual violence, but the truth is that regardless of which Indian city you are in, women continue to have a hard time – especially when they step out to party at night.
Neither has the police been able to navigate the situation and adequately help the women in Bengaluru, nor has the government promised any further action other than examining CCTV footage, and so far, things continue to look bleak. It seems as if Bengaluru is set to become yet another example of the ever-growing number of harassment cases in India which remain just that – an example – rather than being any actual cause for action or protest. How many more cases will it take for Indian society to finally realise that the problem lies within itself, and the regressive norms it imposes upon Indian women? How many more cases will it take for us to finally hold the perpetrators accountable, rather than tell women to take precautions and not go out at night?