On the sidelines of a press conference of the Bangalore Bus Prayaanikara Vedike (commuters’ forum), a survivor of sexual harassment narrated her recent experience on the city’s Metro. She’d complained to the police, who hauled in the perpetrators – white collar employees of a prestigious global brand.
She got them to the police station with some difficulty. A staff member of the Metro had resented having to help her by locating the CCTV tapes and so on.
The now chastened young men pleaded with her, saying one of them had to head back to his job in the Middle East and his visa status would be affected in case he faced criminal charges.
She decided not to file a formal complaint, even though a police constable urged her to do so, saying, “people such as these need to be taught a lesson”.
That the young men had spent a few hours in the cooler and had received beatings from the cops was good enough for her. (Police beatings and torture are routine and it is taken for granted that they happen – and even should happen – never mind constitutional provisions and the heck with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.)
“I’m sure they’ll never do it again,” she said, defending her decision to let the perpetrators go scot free. (How can she be so sure?)
She admitted that in most instances police would not have cooperated with women approaching them with complaints of sexual harassment. They normally have little time for ordinary citizens. But in her line of work she and her colleagues deal with the cops day in and day out.
It was a rare instance of the police showing far greater alacrity than the survivor of sexual harassment to book an offender.
A couple of weeks ago, the driver of a public bus in Bangalore verbally abused and slapped a 16-year-old. He had asked her to move back in the bus, using abusive language. She’d said: “uncle, I will, but there’s no space”. The bus was crowded. He got up from his seat, asked her, “how dare you talk back to me?” and slapped her.
Unbeknown to him then, he’d picked on the daughter of a trade unionist. Madina Taj of the Garment and Textile Workers Union complained to the police and to his employers, the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC).
Ms Taj (her name is being used here with her concurrence) says she has faced great pressures since then to drop the complaint. BMTC officials, the police, the head of the school where her daughter studies, the office of a Member of the Legislative Assembly … they have all been leaning on her.
“Why are you making such a big issue of it? … He made a mistake… He’s sorry … Bus drivers too are under a lot of pressure … Think of his family … You’re a trade unionist… He too is a worker… Think of his future…”
Hello, a young person was traumatised, she was unfairly subjected to verbal and physical violence, her family was traumatised… Will someone please think about her, her mother – who has handled numerous cases of harassment of all sorts as a trade unionist – and the rest of her family?
Strange is this society in which survivors of sexual harassment, assault, violence and worse are expected to – and some even feel they need to – show consideration, understanding, concern, compassion and the rest of it for the perpetrators!
Either that or blood lust – otherwise sensible men and women get screaming: “Hang the rapists!”