India outrage after minister blames 'Western dress' for groping

A weeping woman seeks help from a policewoman Image copyright BANGALORE MIRROR
Image caption A weeping woman seeks help from a policewoman in Bangalore

An Indian minister who said groping at New Year celebrations in Bangalore was caused by women dressing "like Westerners" has caused outrage.

Reports have emerged on local and social media of women being molested during festivities on Saturday night.

A Bangalore newspaper published photos of women crying and complaining that they had been groped by crowds of men.

Police say they have received no complaints but are scanning security footage for evidence of molestation.

As local media published images of distraught women seeking police help, Karnataka State Home Minister G Parameshwara blamed young people for "copying the Westerners, not only in their mindset, but even in their dressing".

"These kind of things do happen," he said.

The minister's comments have caused anger. National Commission for Women chief Lalitha Kumaramangalam said he should apologise to the women of the country and resign.

The federal government's junior home minister, Kiren Rijiju, described the minister's remarks as "irresponsible".

"We can't allow the shameful act of #MassMolestation go unpunished," he said on Twitter, adding that women's safety was a "must in a civilised society".

Image copyright BANGALORE MIRROR
Image caption Reports said 1,500 policemen and women were deployed in the area, but they were outnumbered by the revellers

Saturday night's events took place in the central business district. Crowds of around 10,000-12,000 gathered in the Mahatma Gandhi Road and Brigade Road area to celebrate the new year, BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi reports from Bangalore.

Reports said 1,500 policemen and women were deployed.

"The crowds were three times more than what we have seen normally in this area," Anantha Subramanyam, Bangalore Mirror photographer, told BBC Hindi.

His pictures have raised questions about the city's men and their behaviour.

"From about 2345 to 0030, people just could not move in the area. The police would clear the crowd near the junction of the two roads and they would again collect there," he said.

"When there was a slight let up in the crowd and when people could reach the police, I saw women complaining to the policewomen that they were molested. The police asked them to identify the men, but they couldn't. It was a mob frenzy.

"I could see a girl surrounded by several men and crying," he added.

Women in India are often reluctant to report sexual assault because of fear of reprisal or social stigma, but since Saturday night several women have come forward to talk about their ordeal.

Image copyright BANGALORE MIRROR
Image caption Police have appealed to the public to send in images of incidents

Chaitali Wasnick, a photographer, posted on Facebook that a man tried to grope her as she was returning from work.

"With so much ease he did [it], as if he thought I'll not utter a word," she said, adding that the police did not intervene, even as she fought off the man.

One woman who was in the area that night was Eashita (not her full name). She confirmed that "a couple of women were touched when a group of 20-30 men suddenly started running on the road".

"I was there with my parents and brother and we were in a group of 12-15 so we were protected," she said, adding that there were lots of policemen there who "escorted us to the nearby Metro station and ensured that we were not harassed".

Bangalore Police Commissioner Praveen Sood told BBC Hindi that security camera footage from the area was being analysed.

"We continue to search for evidence of molestation in the footage and pictures. The minute we get evidence we will not waste a single minute in initiating criminal action," he said.

Mr Sood has also appealed to journalists and members of the public for footage or photographs of any incidents.

"We will go to the victims and get their complaints," he added.

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