Monday, January 9, 2017

Janaki Nair - Why Bengaluru isn’t so cool

As “post truths” go, the purported “safeness” of Bengaluru for women must follow close on the heels of the well-disguised “benefits” of demonetisation as among the most chanted myths in recent times. In addition to the “nationalisation” of outrage over the incidents, in which the monotonous TV loop has played no small part, there were several worthy citizens who were haunted by the memory of better days. The politicians stoked the raging fires with their statements. It is as if each new display of misogyny, harassment, molestation or attack erases public memory in order to allow fresh paroxysms of anger.

The idea that Bengaluru enjoys the reputation of being safe for women is among those well-nourished urban myths that rank alongside the city’s alleged “cosmopolitanism”. That overused term has only meant that millions (of particularly middle-class migrants) have felt no obligation to learn the local language, Kannada. The concept was given a sobering knock when thousands of Indians from the north east fled in terror following racist rumours and attacks in August, 2012. Tamils (1991), Muslims (1994) and the poor (all the time) generally have been targets of non-cosmopolitan violence.

In fact, this is a good time to remind those nostalgic for a non-existent past of Bengaluru’s long acquaintance with ever newer forms of violence that accompanied each successive move that women made into the public sphere. Its well-shaped misogyny may have been more genteel in the time before democracy, but has adapted to all kinds of emerging social and political developments.

Which female child growing up in the car-free streets of Bengaluru in the 1960s does not recall the cycle-borne flashers and stalkers from whom she took to her heels? How many college-goers in the 1970s will remember the “warnings” to women to be not only dressed in “Indian” clothes but sit, as if they were among those who brought dishonour and impurity to the classroom, on separate benches? And then, for female students to suffer loud comments from the podium on the size and shape of their brains: All this, by men in three-piece suits who built their reputations around such attitudes.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, women in Bengaluru were offered a new form of freedom and mobility with the influx of the small two-wheelers. Getting to work or college in a city poorly served by public transport was suddenly made easier by Lunas, Suvegas, Silverpluses. But also much more dangerous: Hot rod Romeos, equally empowered by the two-wheeler revolution, took to hitting women on their backs from behind to make them lose their balance and fall off their mopeds. In the time before feminism and legal literacy, women usually put up with torn kurtas, bruises and a brush with death.

One could go on, but we are ill-served by that other favourite word — “mindset” — to explain away the sheer inventiveness and harshness of Indian misogyny. Women, who form at least 30 per cent of the IT and ITeS economy and 90 per cent of the garment economy, have to be on high alert while going to and returning from work on a daily basis. Their economic independence has not translated into social and civic freedom in the least.. read more: