The coast isn’t clear- Clash of Cultures #Mangalore #Moralpolicing #VAW


 

VU George, 61, remembers the precise day he arrived in Mangalore from Kochi as a nervous teenager: June 6, 1970. “It was raining heavily,” says the publisher and editor of Mangalore Today, a 17-year-old local monthly magazine. His elder brother, an engineer working in Mangalore, didn’t turn up at the station as he’d promised.

The platform cleared out and George, who knew only Malayalam and some broken English, stood there alone. A woman in her mid-40s approached him and asked him where he wanted to go. He showed her a piece of paper with his brother’s address. Even though it was out of the way, she dropped him off. “I decided to stay in Mangalore forever,” says George. “It was like heaven.”

He emphasises the word ‘was’.

For years, Mangalore has enjoyed the reputation of being an idyllic student town, with a history of religious tolerance and a balance of Indian and European influences, the latter remnants of Portuguese colonisation between 1526 and 1640. An educational hub known for its engineering and medical institutions, it has a literacy rate of 94.03%, according to the 2011 census. The city’s colleges and IT companies, such as Infosys, attract youngsters from all over the country.

“Eight years ago, boys and girls could be seen sitting together in and around parked cars on New Year’s Eve till 3 am,” says Joy Lasrado, 27, a management graduate. “No one bothered us.” The city shuts down by 9 pm, but its thriving though small nightlife — mostly pubs playing rock and electronic music — goes on till midnight.

Over the past five years, roughly coinciding with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coming to power in Karnataka, this atmosphere has rapidly changed, say locals.

In 2009, activists of Sri Ram Sene, a right-wing Hindu group, attacked women in a pub. A week ago, activists claiming to represent a similar organisation, the Hindu Jagarana Vedike, attacked youngsters partying at a resort just outside the city.

This incident has inflamed the city, revealing a growing tension between right-wing Hindu groups and a multicultural Westernised youth. Pressured by public outrage, on Sunday, a day after the incident, the police filed an FIR against 28 people, including Naveen Soorinje, the journalist who shot the horrifying video, and have so far made 23 arrests. On Monday, the All College Students Union of Mangalore University called for a college bandh, protesting against the incident. On Wednesday, C Manjula, chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Women, blamed the police for inaction against illegal homestays running without proper licences, such as the one in which the incident took place. She also suggested that women obtain police permission before attending such parties.

The Vedike denies it planned the attack, but admits that some of its members were involved. “On the pretext of parties, girls are lured to homestays, where illegal activities take place,” says Satyajit Surathkal, convenor of Vedike in the south. “Eight boys and five girls, all between the ages of 18 and 22, partied with alcohol in a bungalow with three bedrooms. What do you think is going to happen? Do I need to spell it out?”

The police say they found no drugs on the premises and that all the youngsters were of the state’s legal drinking age, 18. Two of the victims, Gurudath Kamath, a 24-year-old event organiser, and Vijay Kumar, a 23-year-old DJ, have come forward and spoken about their ordeal, but the young women are unwilling to file any FI Rs.

They did not answer their mobile phones when HT called them. “We have been trying to get them to speak about the incident openly, but they’re too scared,” says Kamath. “We were doing nothing wrong or illegal. If they register complaints, we will have a stronger case.”

Clash of cultures
Since the BJP came into power in the state in 2008, Hindutva activists have been stirring up trouble in many ways, says Mangalore Today’s George.

“Mangalore is a hardcore RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) place,” he says. “Not a leaf flies in this town without its knowledge.”

Besides the attacks on youngsters, some celebrate the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, December 6, as Vijayotsava, on Car Street in the heart of the city by making inflammatory speeches, and the police don’t do anything, he says. “They impose a section 144 order (prohibiting public gatherings) across the city. Are these programmes not a violation of this?” he asks.

Subhas Chandra, assistant commissioner of police, denies that such events take place. “We clamp down on pujas and other events being held on December 6,” he said.

Students at St Agnes, a reputable girls’ college, say they are regularly stared at and even threatened by Hindutva activists, who regularly warn them against hanging out with boys of other faiths.

TR Jagannath, assistant commissioner of police, Mangalore (south), says extremist elements from both Hindu and Muslim communities cause problems. “This period, between Ramzan and Dussehra, tends to be very volatile,” he says.

But there appears to be a growing mistrust of the police. On Monday, when the students of St Agnes attempted to protest against Saturday’s incident, the police took videos of the girls who were protesting, said several students, who wished to remain anonymous. “A senior police official threatened to present the video in court as evidence of us flouting a curfew ,” said one student. Asked Sister Prem D’Souza, principal of St Agnes College: “Are we supposed to ask the police for protection or are we supposed to fear them?”

The police deny the students’ allegations. “The videos were being taken by the media,” said Subhas Chandra, assistant commissioner of police. “We were merely telling the students to stay within the college premises and to not come out, because we had imposed a curfew. They were within their rights to protest within the premises, not outside.”

The police had imposed a curfew in certain parts of the city on Sunday, which they lifted only on Thursday evening.

For their part, Mangalore’s youngsters are fed up with rising moral policing. After the latest incident, the youth, particularly the women, say they feel uneasy about having a social life. “I was supposed to go for a friend’s farewell party this week, but we’ve cancelled it,” says Liane Noronha, a 21-year-old college student.

Sister D’Souza says that, over the past week, she has been receiving several calls from worried parents when their daughters don’t return home within an hour of classes ending.

“It used to be a lovely place for young people,” says George. “I will continue to stay here, but I don’t blame today’s youth for wanting to leave.”

 

Yesterday, Guwahati. Today, Mangalore. Tomorrow, where else? And again… And again… #VAW


 

And again… And again…

BY KALPANA SHARMA

 
When we need more than just strong laws... Photo: Mohammed Yousuf
The HinduWhen we need more than just strong laws… Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

Yesterday, Guwahati. Today, Mangalore. Tomorrow, where else?

The outrage over the Guwahati incident has done nothing to stem the flow of similar incidents being reported from across the country. The naming and shaming of the perpetrators of the crime, the fact that the police managed to catch them and arrest them appears to have made little difference. On the contrary, it is almost as if the repeated footage from Guwahati played on television channels has encouraged others to do the same.

We must not forget that while the media went into over-drive on the Guwahati case, in another part of Assam, a young girl who went out to collect firewood was “molested” by Army jawans. She was saved when villagers heard her cries for help. How many more such cases take place each day in other parts of the troubled Northeast?

In action again

Almost matching Guwahati was what happened in Mangalore. We should not be surprised. In 2009, the self-appointed guardians of morality, the Sri Ram Sene, set about dragging women out of a pub, pulling their hair, hitting them — and all of this in full view of television cameras. On July 28, a mob belonging to the Hindu Jagaran Vedike decided that a group of boys and girls enjoying a birthday party were attending a “rave” event. Do they know what is a “rave”? Certainly not. But definitions do not matter because these upholders of public morality decided that what was happening was “immoral”.

Armed with cameras from local television channels, the men barged into the venue of the party, dragged, hit and molested the women, punched and hit the men, including the birthday boy, and made sure every minute was captured on film. There is a pathetic shot of several girls cowering on a bed, trying to cover their faces and bodies with pillows while the cameras continue to film. Even after the police intervened, the cameras did not switch off and kept trying to literally “uncover” the women as they left.

Still in the South, at Bhoovanapadu beach, a popular tourist spot in Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh, a gang of five young men pounced on a couple seeking a private moment. The man was beaten up while the woman, a 20-year-old college girl had her clothes ripped off. According to the police, the men had pinned her to the ground, had taken off her gold ornaments and were getting ready to record what would follow on their mobile phones when the police arrived.

In all these cases, the victims are deemed “immoral” while the attackers believe they are the torchbearers of decency and morality. We keep hearing this repeatedly, even from those who should know the law, given that they are the lawmakers. Yet recently, when a man at a Kolkata railway station attacked a girl returning from tuition classes, the Trinamool MP Chiranjit Chakroborty had this to say about the crime: “Eve-teasing is a very old thing. It has been going on for ages. One of the reasons behind the increase in incidents of eve-teasing is short dresses and short skirts worn by women. This in turn instigates men.” Really? “Eve-teasing?” Has no one informed the honourable MP that there is no such word?

The horror stories do not end. In Mandya, Karnataka, a 19-year-old garment worker was thrown out of a moving train when she tried to resist a gang of men who were harassing her. She is now in a hospital with multiple injuries, having fallen 25 feet from the train onto a rocky riverbed. She said none of the other women in the compartment intervened even though they saw the men harassing her, offering her money for sex.

Not enough

Even as these attacks on women were being reported from different parts of the country, the cabinet has approved the Criminal Law Amendment Bill that suggests changes in a whole range of laws that have a direct impact on women. Space does not permit a detailed discussion on the changes contemplated. But suffice it to say that while the law must be strengthened, it will not work as a deterrent unless the law-enforcing machinery actually enforces the law.

At the same time, the law-enforcers cannot become a moral police, literally giving a license to any other group that chooses to follow suit. The example of some in the Mumbai police is a particularly bad one in this regard and the outgoing Inspector General of Police in Mumbai has rightly emphasised that “enforcement of law is meant to uphold human rights.”

A new and stronger law will also fail so long as we allow and encourage a culture of impunity, where one group of people decides that it will enforce its own version of morality. In the long term, it is the Taliban-like actions of groups like the Hindu Jagaran Vedike, and the example they set, as well as the oxygen of publicity that the media appears to be granting them, that is cause for serious concern for the future.

Email: sharma.kalpana@yahoo.com

 

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