Bengaluru: It’s more than 10 days since the New Year dawned and these 10 days have been about how Bengaluru saw instances of mass molestation in the MG Road-Brigade Road area, the city’s central business district.
Yet, only three FIRs have been lodged till Wednesday — suo motu FIRs taken up based on people who have spoken out to the media about being groped in MG Road area. Another has been taken up in the adjacent Ashok Nagar area.
We can always prove something happened, based on images, circumstantial evidence, interviews. But how does one prove something didn’t happen? That’s the dilemma the Bengaluru Police have been faced with this past week.
When does a casual hug end and molestation begin? If everyone in a pub is swaying to the same music, was that stranger’s touched an accident or deliberate? Can a constable stop a couple from stealing a hug or a quick kiss on the streets if he or she thought the girl was being coerced into it? Would the policeman then be asked to mind his own business? Be labelled the ‘moral police’?
“It’s all very well to say: here are the CCTV images, take action. Who do we act against? I can see girls crying and being comforted by police women. I can see police escorting one girl and her friends away from crowds. But nobody has said she was crying because she was molested or groped. Many came to police on duty because they had lost their friends or family in the crowd. We helped them reconnect. Should I have lodged a complaint based on your assumption,” a senior police official asks.
That line between the right to privacy and violation of privacy is pretty thin, in a crowd of over 10,000. Not only is the fact that it is virtually impossible to recognise faces in that kind of crowd, it’s a bigger challenge if no victim is willing to come out and file a complaint. Do we know molestation happened? No. Do we know it did not happen? No, again.
No one is justifying molestation. If it happened, that’s terrible. But can it be proven in a court of law, if you file FIRs based on CCTV footage from the area?
DCP (Central) Chandragupta says of the four FIRs taken up in the central zone, not a single victim has come forward to give statements till date.
New Year’s Eve 2017, nevertheless, painted Bengaluru as a bad, bad city – a tag that has left many of its citizens discomfited.
For over 72-hours in fact, the city police had been scouring through videos of over 45 CCTV or surveillance cameras — understand, this is Brigade Road, our busiest, hippest business area. Every shop has four cameras of its own, besides the police cameras spying from the skies.
“I monitored camera images till 2.30 am that night. I did not see anything objectionable,” says Suhail Yusuf, president of the Brigade Road Shops’ Association. “There were not just our cameras, there were over 10,000 cameras, since almost all the people who came that night to celebrate were doing their own videos, photos, selfies. There were 12 outdoor broadcast vans till 2 am. If there was mass sexual abuse, would they have kept quiet? I think all this is blown out of proportion and it has done huge damage internationally to Bengaluru’s image,” says Yusuf.
Photos and videos tell contradictory stories, and these can never be validated unless the actual participants in the story — the victims — speak out. “A pat on a cheek could look like a friendly pat on a cheek. Or it could look like some kind of petting in a single still photograph. How do you know the difference?” Yusuf asks.
Another senior officer has this to say: “No one says molestation didn’t happen. We know from experience that in such a crowded area, it is possible molestation happened. But how do I zero in on any culprit unless a victim comes out and speaks, and then identify culprit and take him to court?”
The fact that CCTV footage and the hype it leads to could boomerang on all of us, is best exemplified by the case of the 25-year-old woman who was allegedly molested by a stalker on January 6 at 6.30 am – or that’s the story that unfolded if you went by footage from a shop near KG Halli in east Bengaluru.
Nearly 24 hours later, police say that was a ‘molestation’ that was stage-managed by the victim’s brother-in-law to ensure that the hype led to public outcry, the girl’s reputation damaged so that no man would be willing to marry her again, so that he could marry her. He is already married to her elder sister.
Take that, you breaking news freaks, the camera seemed to tell us.