When posts on social media platforms are taken more seriously than crimes against women, it's obvious that the police have a problem
An FIR was filed against comedy group AIB for allegedly insulting the PM. File pic
A man masturbated in front of two young women at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) a few days ago. They tried asking the police for help, but were treated with the kind of nonchalance reserved for those who visit a police station to complain about a missing pen. This was a violation of their personal space, because they were entitled to make that journey without having to witness some man pleasuring himself. The police swung into action only after one of the women tweeted about it, tagged the Ministry of Railways and the Government of India, then put up the video on Facebook. Until that point, no one thought it important enough to take what the women were saying seriously.
Earlier this week, a biker allegedly harassed three women in broad daylight at Hiranandani Gardens in Powai, by choosing to masturbate in front of them. He reportedly had the nerve to ask them how they felt too. This time around, the police say they intend to go through footage collected from CCTV cameras in the area and nab him. While I don't want to comment on why men choose to do this - we have long been a nation of sexually repressed folk, after all — I was compelled to think about both incidents after the police filed two complains for radically different reasons soon after they happened.
In the first instance, a young man was booked for allegedly posting an objectionable comment about a deceased political leader on Facebook. In the second instance, an FIR was filed against a group of stand-up comics for allegedly insulting the Prime Minister by putting up a picture of him with a Snapchat filter. These things happened fairly quickly. Someone turned up at the police station and insisted on the former young man's arrest, while someone else simply tagged the Bombay Police on Twitter for them to swing into action.
What sort of society do we live in where it takes the police minutes to book someone for saying something objectionable and days to take the safety of women seriously? The young woman who approached the police for help at CST was questioned about what she was doing at that hour, even though it was late evening. The solution offered to her was to "sit somewhere else".
A 22-year-old student was abused by a man on a local train a few weeks ago. He grinned at her while masturbating. When she called what is referred to as the Women's Helpline, narrated the incident and gave the man at the other end all the information he required, all she heard was laughter. The man harassing her stepped off at the next station, threatened to rape her, and was only prevented from entering the ladies' compartment by other women present nearby.
One would assume that someone would help the police learn something from mistakes made earlier. Three years ago, a 27-year-old woman who had been molested a few hours before had to spend four hours at a police station in Bandra, trying to convince the officers on duty to register an FIR against the man who had assaulted her. To add insult to injury, they reportedly did their best to dissuade her, pointing out that filing an FIR would only make her life miserable. That same year saw media reports about a 17-year old girl in Nalasopara who tried filing a complaint against a man who had repeatedly raped her, only to be discouraged and questioned like a criminal. Apparently, a male officer even asked the girl if she had sexual intercourse with any other man. A report was filed hours later, only after an NGO stepped in.
It is stories like these that make it hard to imagine what women who don't have access to a platform go through. Who do they talk to? How do they find justice when no one knows they exist? How can there be outrage when thousands of these victims are presumably forced to forget about all crimes committed against them simply because they don't have access to support?
If there is any hope for women in this city, it lies with the women themselves. I struggle to imagine the enormous amount of courage they call upon and deploy time and again, while dealing with some astonishingly sick people. They name and shame these men, fight back and, in the process, inspire thousands of others to stop taking these daily humiliations and outright crimes lying down. The police would do well to learn a few things from them.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to email@example.com
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