The news about the Bangalore mass molestation on New Year's Eve elicited a number of disturbing reactions—politicians came forward to blame the women for their clothing, to blame them for being out late at night, to blame them for being "unguarded" by a male family member. They blamed the "western culture" youngsters are adopting. They blamed alcohol. And to top it all, a defensive movement called #NotAllMen followed on Twitter.
These men chose a comfortable position that shouts misogyny: "Applaud me, I am not one of them!"
While there are daily occurrences of sexist and misogynistic incidents, and a real threat of rape and molestation looming over every woman walking out to work and even inside the household, instead of standing together against patriarchy, a few "educated" and "elite men" thought the best response was to take a #NotAllMen stance on a virtual platform. Distancing themselves from an age-old societal problem that is deep-rooted in the Indian mindset. One that gets reproduced in their daily interactions, when they expect their mothers, wives and sisters to cook and clean, or with friends and colleagues in casual jokes and sexist remarks. Instead of feeling ashamed, agitated and angered that women have to face humiliation and violation of their most fundamental rights even today, these men chose a comfortable position that shouts misogyny: "Applaud me, I am not one of them!" Instead of reflecting on their male privilege and their own patriarchal practices, yet again they choose a stance that says: "I don't give a damn about what happened to those hundreds of women. I wasn't the one molesting them".
The more I read about the molestation in the media, the more bewildered I am. I have a problem with the whole narrative of "Bangalore's economic prosperity", that assumes that in a new age- tech culture, something like this is unimaginable. The narrative hastily establishes a swiping generalisation that in a city that has "progressed so much", gender-based violence (GBV) is unthinkable.
Expecting social conscientisation and a progressive mindset to be a direct product of capitalist economic growth and identifying malls and hipster café as signs of a developed egalitarian society is in my opinion very problematic. Economic prosperity does not directly bring social change. It is true that with economic development women have been able to come out of the household and access the spaces they didn't have entitlement to. However the societal mindset hasn't changed and this is because there is no active investment in the education system to create social awareness. Society at large accepts GBV as a norm. No message says it clear enough: "Legally as well as societally GBV cannot be tolerated."
[#NotAllMen pushes] the problem onto the scapegoats of society, while not scrutinising the patriarchal culture that is so ingrained in all of us.
On the news channels, young men who encountered the Bangalore incident were interviewed. Most of these men blamed women for wearing short dresses, saying that such attire is not part of our culture. They conveniently forgot to question whether groping women and making lewd comments is part of our culture or not. There was also a whole array of young educated men blaming "drunken low-lifers". Some suggested the men were under the influence of alcohol and did not know what they were doing. As if being under the influence of alcohol can justify molestation. They are implying that on New Year's Eve it is expected that men will drink and take over public places and therefore women should know better and stay inside the house for their own safety.
Some blamed this abusive behavior of those who are "cheap" and have "no class", connoting lower class men—it was suggested their lack of education and unemployment are to be blamed for the behaviour. The assumption is that rape and molestation only happens in rural areas and slums. Now that it happened so openly in affluent urban spaces, the immediate argument was that the "educated, upper class" men did not commit such heinous act. That #NotAllMen are molesters. Anything to divert the attention from the real culprit. Pushing the problem onto the scapegoats of society, while not scrutinising the patriarchal culture that is so ingrained in all of us.
In our society it is not recognised that women really are in a disadvantaged position. Therefore, #NotAllMen is really a futile effort. It is in fact no effort at all.
Others said that Bangalore was a safer city in years past, romanticising the good old days. The explanation here was that it is the new age that is attracting outside "migrants" to pollute the city's safety. As if the rape and molestations are problems brought in from outside. On the contrary, GBV and patriarchy is very much homegrown. Therefore, instead of rushing to distance oneself from it, taking responsibility would be a big step forward.
Do any of the justifications and explanations given after the events solve the problem of women's safety? Be it in city spaces or in rural areas, inside or outside of the household, during the day or in late night hours. The problem is that our society does not recognise women's rights as human rights. In our society it is not recognised that women really are in a disadvantaged position. Therefore, #NotAllMen is really a futile effort. It is in fact no effort at all. It is only when men in our society will recognise the patriarchal manifestations in their day to day interactions, when they will come forward and say, "We stand for women's equal rights,"—such as the right to reclaim public place at any hour of the day and night—only then will the real change begin. This is not something you can do with a simple hashtag.