5th January 2017
Bengaluru’s night of horror
It is being called a “mass molestation”. With all the creepiness and collective menace that the phrase conveys, the sketchy facts of the events of New Year’s-eve in downtown Bengaluru once again hold a mirror up to Indian society. Thousands of revellers had gathered in and around Mahatma Gandhi Road and Brigade Road to ring in 2017, as is something of a tradition in the city. But, according to reports that subsequently emerged, a large number of women were sexually assaulted around midnight. While no complaint had been filed, Bengaluru police have taken up an investigation based on the reports of women being groped and physically attacked. Another incident, reportedly also of the early hours of January 1, has come graphically into the public domain, with CCTV footage showing a woman being grabbed as she makes her way home in a residential street before she pulls herself free and escapes. This is unconnected to the so-called “mass molestation”, but reinforces the horror of the night in Bengaluru. In an aftermath that has echoed with Karnataka Home Minister G. Parameshwara’s effort to blame the violence on “western culture”, it is easy to understand why no women came forth, at least initially, to register an offence. All too depressingly and predictably, the Minister has closed the loop to show how state and society fail to ensure the safety of women.
Mr. Parameshwara’s insinuation that for women to wear “western” dress and be out and about having a good time is to invite sexual harassment, ironically, explains the reluctance of women to register offences. For, to do so is to very often court an accusatory glare, and be made to answer why they were out in a lonely street, after dark, in a place teeming with “boys” — or put simply, why they did not know better. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, passed after national outrage over the Delhi gang rape of December 16, 2012, had sought to bring clarity to the continuum of sexual offences and to simplify procedures for women to bring them to the attention of the police. To truly convince women that the state is on the same page, every crime against a woman must be regarded as a horror. But without an administrative ethos that does not flip an accusation on a woman and instead asserts a woman’s right to bodily integrity no matter where she is and what she is doing, no amount of law-making can significantly change things. This is the challenge before the Bengaluru police as they look for women to come forward and assist in the investigation.
Stalin at the helm
The elevation of M.K. Stalin as the working president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam achieves two objectives. It fills the power vacuum at the top following the prolonged illness of party president M. Karunanidhi. It also provides an opportunity for the DMK to take advantage of the fluid political situation in Tamil Nadu after the death of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and the prevailing confusion within the ruling AIADMK on whether O. Panneerselvam should make way for V.K. Sasikala as Chief Minister. For a long time now, Mr. Stalin has been the unofficially designated successor to his father, Mr. Karunanidhi. He was made Deputy Chief Minister in 2009 during the DMK’s previous term in office, though he continued to be ranked behind both Mr. Karunanidhi and party general secretary K. Anbazhagan in the Cabinet and the party organisation. But so far, despite his failing health, Mr. Karunanidhi has been reluctant to step down from the post of party president. Even during the run-up to the Assembly election in early 2016, he refused to declare Mr. Stalin the chief ministerial candidate. While it is not very clear whether the DMK patriarch wholeheartedly endorses his son’s elevation now, there is little doubt that the second line of the party believes this has been long overdue.
As working president, Mr. Stalin enjoys the same powers as the party president, and in a situation where Mr. Karunanidhi is unable to function actively, he should have little difficulty in giving the party the necessary direction in a fast-changing political scenario. The AIADMK without Jayalalithaa faces a stern test. It helped that the party was in power when she died; otherwise, the district-level leaders might have begun pulling in different directions whether or not Ms. Sasikala became the general secretary. Mr. Stalin can afford to bide his time to see how the AIADMK holds in the post-Jayalalithaa phase and if the visible signs of cadre disenchantment with Ms. Sasikala become accentuated. The DMK is currently in a politically advantageous situation; it had lost the Assembly election narrowly, and its main rival now is in some disarray. As the main Opposition party, it has a responsible role to play when the government is in danger of being directionless. And with Mr. Stalin at the helm, it can play that role a lot more effectively. After close to three decades of seemingly never-ending political rivalry between Mr. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu is witness to a new phase of political contestation. The people can only hope that the emerging political rivalry will not see political decency in short supply, as was the case with the previous generation of leadership.