A video of two sisters beating up three men who allegedly attempted to sexually assault them on a bus in India has gone viral on social media, drawing applause at a time of public outrage over the country's high levels of violence against women.
The two girls beat their would-be molesters with their belts during the incident that took place Friday on a bus in the northern state of Haryana. Another female passenger filmed the incident on her cellphone.
The girls, students named as Aarti, 22, and Pooja, 19, were on their way home in the Rohtak district when the men allegedly began to try to touch them. As the rest of the passengers looked on passively, the two sisters fought back. The men eventually pushed them off the bus and tried to attack the girls again; the sisters said they then threw a brick at them, forcing them to flee.
Pooja told BBC Hindi that the three young men "threatened us and abused us."
"The men started to abuse me and touch me. I told them 'if you touch me again, you'll get beaten up.' They called a friend on the phone and told him to 'come over because we have to beat up some girls,'" she explained.
The pair had been forced to defend themselves because no one else had come to their aid, Pooja said.
"No one came forward in the bus to help us. So we took out our belts in self-defense. If only the other passengers had helped us, we would not have needed to retaliate in this way," she said.
Police said the girls had called them on Friday afternoon to report the incident, and the three men were arrested on Sunday.
The emergence of the footage comes at a time of increased public focus on attitudes towards women in Indian culture. So-called "Eve-teasing" — public sexual harassment of women ranging from suggestive comments to groping — is a deeply ingrained practice that has been long-regarded by many as an unavoidable social annoyance. But an uptick in cases of sexual violence — and particularly, the gang rape and murder of a female student on a Delhi bus in December 2012 — has brought about a pushback against such crimes, and signs are showing that the public's tolerance has begun to crack.
The girls, who have been nicknamed the Rohtak Bravehearts, have received a huge outpouring of support for their actions on social media, with many saying the so-called "Eve-tease fightback" marks an end to the silence of India's women in the face of such aggressions.
But many Twitter users also raised concerns over how the case would be handled by authorities. Deepika Bhardwaj, a well-known Indian journalist, called on the state's Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to ensure that police acted properly on the complaint — a reflection of public distrust in security forces frequently accused of ignoring such crimes against women, or even defending the perpetrators.
The father of the two girls reportedly complained that the family had already been pressured by their local council to retract their report.
State authorities announced on Monday that the bus driver and conductor had been suspended and that the transport and police departments had been ordered to review security on Haryana's buses.
S Anand, a senior police official, told The Hindu newspaper that the bus workers could face action over their failure to protect the girls.
"The driver was supposed to take the bus to the nearest police station. But he did not do so. The conductor also did not intervene. We are considering legal action against them," he said.
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