When it comes to the safety of women, Bengaluru is no better than Delhi, and Saturday night was its final confirmation. Anarchy prevailed on the streets after 11 pm as revellers gathered in the heart of the city – MG Road and Brigade Road – to welcome the New Year. But despite "elaborate” security arrangements, women were molested, and children scared out of their wits, while male friends and relatives had a tough time protecting them from unruly men. And all this happened despite the 1,500 policemen deployed in the area.
Thousands of people, on bikes, cars and on foot, converged here for revellery. Though police had initially claimed to take all precautions to ensure an ‘incident-free’ New Year, it seemed they underestimated the nature of the mob.
All hell broke loose close to midnight as hooligans in the garb of revellers started pawing, molesting and passing lewd remarks on women on the streets, forcing some of them to literally take off their stilettoes and run for help.
BM lensmen out on MG Road and Brigade Road on Saturday night became first-hand witnesses to this brazen, mass molestation of women, out in the open and in police presence.
COPS HAD TO PICK AND CHOOSE
Former city police commissioner NS Megharikh (in charge of New Year’s Eve security in the city) had claimed that the entire city police force, in addition to men from reserve battalions, was to be deployed on the city streets to maintain law and order during New Year celebrations.
However, none of these arrangements were of any help to the women who became easy targets for drunk hooligans. Badly outnumbered on the streets in the middle of thousands of revellers, the cops had no option but to take a backseat and intervene intermittently depending on the ‘gravity’ of the situation.
"I personally went and asked one of the cops deployed on the streets to go to the aid of two women being accosted by a group of youth on MG Road. He went and chased them but they were back to the spot in a couple of minutes.
There was nothing much that they could do as the group was back and the women were also in the same crowd,” said a working professional who was walking down MG Road to join his wife and head home on Saturday night.
NO CASES FILED
Despite photographic evidence and eye-witness accounts, city police officially claimed that they have not registered a single case of molestation or harassment.
Ironically, Sandeep Patil former deputy commissioner (central) of the city, under whose limits Brigade Road and MG Road fall, told BM that a number of women did approach the cops seeking help as they got separated from their family members and friends.
"So we used our public address systems to locate and our men ensured they faced no hardship. No case of molestation has been registered so far,” he added.
Similar statements were made by Nagendra Kumar, deputy commissioner of police, Command Centre, Bengaluru, as he told BM that even the city control room did not receive any such distress calls and most of the calls received during New Year celebrations on Saturday night were either regular enquiry calls or for traffic assistance.
"We got around 450 calls at the city control room when on Saturday night, especially after 10 pm till wee hours in the morning, and not even one was about women being assaulted or molested,” he said.
However, some of the police personnel deployed on the streets had a different story to narrate to BM. A woman police officer deployed on Church Street had to chase away a couple of men trying to molest and strip an inebriated woman. There were at least 1,500 policemen on duty on MG Road and Brigade Road areas, according to the police department. However, the number of revellers ran into several thousands, and they clearly had the upper hand.
"It is very disturbing to see women caught in such helpless situation,” she added.
Sources in the police department deployed on duty pointed out that the decision to extend the deadline for New Year Celebrations till 2 am also was a major cause of concern for the cops on duty. A senior police official also told BM that the city police announced for the deadline extension due to pressure from some of the commercial establishments, especially the drinking joints in the central division.
LESSONS FROM THE PAST
According to retired senior police officers, the New Year revellers of the city are always an unruly mob and it was the duty of the police to anticipate it and deploy proper security measures.
"It has been the case since the 70s. Handling the New Year crowd in Bengaluru is very difficult, but that means the police department should have a clear plan and be well-prepared to ensure there are no major incidents,” said Ajai Kumar Singh, retired director-general of police.
TRAFFIC PLANS FLOPPED
The traffic police booked only 461 cases of drunken driving in the city during on New Year’s Eve. Interestingly, on the previous night, 292 cases were booked in the East subdivision alone. On Saturday night though, riders could be seen openly accosting women on the street. The traffic police had also announced that it would barricade all major flyovers from 9 pm on Saturday night but they were open till about 10.30 pm. Traffic regulations were also in place and vehicular movement was restricted at strategic points on MG Road ahead of the celebrations, but too did not work as expected.
The 108 ambulance service attended as many as 471 emergency calls from Bengaluru city alone, out of which 130 were trauma cases.