Bangalore is traditionally thought of as one of India's safer cities for women. The southern megacity—sometimes known as the Silicon Valley of India—is the epicenter of India's technological revolution. Young, educated professionals from all over India and surrounding countries have moved to Bangalore to work in the rapidly growing IT industry, causing the city to double its population in the last 15 years. As a result, the women of the city have long enjoyed a degree of freedom not afforded to their sisters in northern cities like Delhi, which has been called the "rape capital of India" for its high prevalence of sexual assault.
All this makes the events of New Year's Eve more shocking. Women out celebrating on a main street at the heart of the city's festivities, MG Road, as well as in other parts of the city, have reported being groped and sexually assaulted by groups of men. The so-called "mass molestation," as it's been reported by the Indian press, has focused national and international attention on a part of India traditionally believed to be relatively safe for women.
Local newspaper the Bangalore Mirror was among the first to report on the sex attacks. It says that events began to unfold at around midnight, as groups of men "started pawing, molesting and passing lewd remarks on women on the streets, forcing some of them to literally take off their stilettoes and run for help." Photographs show visibly distressed women being comforted by female police officers; in another, a group of men is seen surrounding a frightened woman.
Bangalore's police have come under heavy criticism for their inaction in preventing the sexual assaults. Although 1,500 police officers were deployed on the streets that night, the sheer number of revelers meant they were overwhelmed. And despite photographic evidence and testimony of women who came forward to report abuse, police initially said that they had received no complaints and denied that anything had taken place.
Later, a government minister took part in some particularly egregious victim blaming.
"These kind of things do happen," said Karnataka State Home Minister G Parameshwara, before blaming young people for "copying the Westerners, not only in their mindset, but even in their dressing." Given that clothing doesn't cause sexual assault any more than burning toast contributes to air pollution—the only thing ever responsible for a sexual assault is the assailant themselves—Parameshwara's comments provoked outrage from women in India.
Lalitha Kumaramangalam of India's National Commission for Women described his comments as "unacceptable and regrettable," before calling on the minister to apologize and resign from his post. Bangalore authorities have now committed to investigating the assaults, but their initial delay has done much to dampen the faith of women across the city that they take sexual violence seriously.
Women across Bangalore were sexually assaulted that night, and not just those on MG Road, the epicenter of the attacks. In one disturbing CCTV video published by the Times of India, a woman is seen walking down a residential street near a main road in east Bangalore. Two men jump from a scooter and sexually assault her in a sustained and brutal attack. Eventually they fling her to the floor and drive away. The last seconds of the video show her standing up and staggering away. After the video was made public, police began an investigation.
24-year-old photographer Chaitali Wasnik was one of the many women sexually assaulted that night. She says that she was attacked in the Bangalore neighborhood of Indiranagar. "I was coming back from work and two guys were walking towards me," she tells Broadly on the phone. "I moved aside to let them pass and one of them groped me."
Afterwards, she says, "Everything went blank. I started hitting him, and a group of men pulled me off him. They were like, 'Leave it, don't hit him.' I tried to look for police but there was no one around. There was nobody I could turn to. Suddenly the guy ran away and there was nothing I could do."
"I've never, ever felt unsafe [in Bangalore] before this week," Wasnik adds, saying that the growing, cosmopolitan city is one of the best places to be a woman in India. "People in Bangalore are more educated about women's rights. There's been so much expansion here in the last five years, and people's mindsets are also expanding here so fast. This shouldn't have happened in Bangalore. I felt awful, I felt ashamed of it."
She reserves particular fury not just for her molester, but for the institutional apathy that allowed the attacks to take place and then blamed the women themselves. "It's disgraceful. When people like [Minister] Parameshwara makes these statements, people listen to them and think, 'Maybe this is right.' If our leaders teach this is OK, then future generations will have the same problems because this mindset will never change."
Ultimately, Wasnik expects justice. "I want the police to find all of the molesters—not just mine—and I want them all behind bars. That's what I expect right now."