Bangalore’s New Year’s Eve Attacks And Why Rape Culture Is A Global Problem

Victim blaming in the West is bad for women everywhere.

Bangalore’s New Years’ Eve Attacks And Why Rape Culture Is A Global Problem

by Pravina Rudra |
Published on

The dawn of a New Year is symbolic. It’s full of hope and promise of progress to be made, particularly in Indian culture where it is an auspicious time for millions of women and men.

But this year, New Year’s Eve served as a vicious reminder that even though female goddesses are revered across India, a female human’s life is not always valued. Mass sexual assault was reported in Bangalore, India’s third-largest city (or rather Bengaluru as it’s known locally), as scores of women were attacked while New Year celebrations took place on the city’s famous MG road.

Unlike India’s ‘rape capital’, Delhi, Bangalore is seen as one of the country’s safer cities for women. This is part of the reason why the attacks sent shockwaves around the country. Chaitali Wasnick has been hailed as a ‘heroine’ by Indian women after fighting off her attacker that night. She told The Debrief her story: ‘I was on my way home and saw two guys coming towards me, one looked a bit suspicious. I moved aside and he took the chance to grope me. Once I came to my senses I punched and hit him. I wanted to take them to the police station, but 10 or 15 other men started pulling me back and the guy ran off.’


However, not everyone was able to defend themselves. Photographer Praveen Raj told us that ‘everywhere there were guys making passing comments, obscene gestures at women.’ An important reminder that this ‘night of shame’ was just a drop in the ocean in Mother India, where a woman is subjected to rape every 15 minutes.

Until I went to India last summer, such a statistic would have shocked me. My mother went to university in India 30 years ago, but until I visited the country myself I was relatively clueless about the extent of India’s rape problem. My only reference points for treatment of women in India were a) Bollywood movies and b) Hinduism, the religion of 80% of Indians. In the movies, the archetypal, belly-bearing female protragonist shimmies through the streets, twirling men away with her sari skirt alone. From the lore of my Hindu mother, I knew India spawned the only global religion with a female god. Men bow down to warrior goddess Durga, make offerings to Lakshmi, goddess of Good Fortune. So, I decided, I was going to be just fine.

But as I stepped out of the air conditioned confines of New Delhi Airport, I started to understand why my mother’s experiences of living and studying in India had left such a mark on her, as well as that constant unsettlement many Indian women speak of. I came to know what it is to always be looking behind your back. I draped myself in traditional dress of salwar kameez but I was still groped and followed on more than one occasion. Neha Kapoor, a young Indian activist, testifies that this happens every day: 'Your life can be a sequence of these experiences here. On a school trip the bus conductor put his hand up my skirt and felt me up.' Neha has been encouraging Indian women to share accounts of sexual assault on Twitter, so far she has collected over 100 testimonies. 'The stories I’m gathering show it can happen anywhere – in the park, on the train, in your class' she tells The Debrief.

In many ways, the most shocking thing about the attacks in Bangalore was not that they happened, it was the aftermath. In spite of multiple accounts of assault, police claimed they couldn’t find evidence from video footage on the night, and initially denied the evidence outright. Then the Bangalore commissioner of police so kindly spoke on behalf of Bangalore’s women: 'Not a single lady was molested'. This suggests either that women were reluctant to come forward about their experiences or that authorities cover up instances of rape – neither of which is wholly surprising to Chaitali: 'When I spoke out lots of people put me down. If a woman is raped, she is either disbelieved, put down by others or viewed as ruined because of our culture’s conservative views regarding sex. So not many women come forward.' Indeed, 2 out of 3 rapes in India go unreported. So if we went by reported rapes, India has one of the lowest rates of rape worldwide.

And let’s not forget the response from India’s home minister, who not only shrugged it off ('these kind of things do happen'), but proceeded to victim-blame: He claimed mass-molestation could be attributed to how Indian women try to 'copy the Westerners, not only in their mindset but even in their dressing,' (a woman in a burqa was molested exactly one week later in Bangalore).

This sort of victim blaming is not as shocking as it should be. It would be easy to dismiss this as a far-away problem, located only in the part of the world that my mother grew up in. However, it is echoed in so many of the statements I’ve heard repeatedly growing up in the UK. The statement 'dressing like Westerners' translates colloquially as a male peer’s comment when I studied at Oxford: 'She’s wearing "fuck-me-heels" – she’s clearly asking for it'. (I don’t know what fuck-me heels are, but who knew shoes could ever be confused with an open invite for coitus?). And the police of Bangalore, the Indian politicians who deny evidence of mass molestation, are not a world away from university authorities who discouraged a friend’s accusations of rape, for fear of the college incurring bad publicity.

Indeed, in addition to the infamous ruling in favour of Brock Turner last year (the Stanford student accused of rape), the most recent survey by the Office for National Statistics suggested over a quarter of Britons think drunk victims of rape are partly responsible for their attacker’s behaviour.

In India, Praveen thinks the key to for his fellow men is to 'learn to respect women from an early age. Until we change from within the house, we cannot change what happens outside it.' Once again, it seems wherever you are in the world consent is key.

From a young age women internalise the routine of constantly looking backwards, to see who might be behind us as we tug our skirts down and double, triple, quadruple-check the lock. Feminist theorists argue we live our lives by a 'rape schedule', restricting and altering various bits of our daily routine to lessen the risk of being sexually assaulted. No doubt this is a necessary safety measure, but how often do we remind our sons to treat women as their equals, and think carefully about consent? Estimates suggest up to 90% of rape in the UK is committed by someone known to the victim.

I first learnt this when I was 19 and my college men’s rugby team organised a mixed social. I was flattered by the invitation - until I discovered team members had been commanded to slip 'a substance of their choice' into the girls’ drinks beforehand (on an email chain helpfully labelled “Free Pussy”). But I was reminded of this lesson a few months ago, when, just weeks after the revelation that a wealthy businessman believed his fame allowed him to grab women ‘by the pussy’, he was validated by 50% of voting Americans, and elected leader of the free world.

Neha was similarly shocked, she thinks the ripple effect of Trump’s election has been far wider than I first imagined: ‘Trump becoming President has given leverage to misogynistic thinking in India. If he can assault women and pass it off as “locker room talk”, then men here think it’s okay to do the same.’ Chaitali agrees. ‘I read a lot about women being molested in the UK and US too – it’s sad because we’re supposed to view these societies as progressive.’

And that is why it’s so important that we change our attitudes to rape at home, as well as showing our support for women elsewhere. We live in a global society where Stanford swimming scholars can be exonerated after raping, Oxford students can suggest spiking drinks, and the President of the USA can boast about how his higher social status allows him to assault women. And so long as the most educated and esteemed can get away with rape, men anywhere will think they can do the same.

This Saturday, women across India are planning a protest march to coincide with the Women’s March on Washington, planned to follow the day of Trump’s inauguration (like the Women’s March on London). Neha is leading the charge in Mumbai, and pretty excited: 'We will reclaim our public spaces, and show that women can go out, and wear what they want. The onus is not on us to change our behaviour'. Brave women like Neha and Chaitali can’t change the events of New Year’s Eve, but they could well change the year ahead for Indian women.

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Follow Pravina on Twitter @PravinaOfficial

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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