There are two ways of dispassionately commenting on the horror and the shame that took place outside the JW Marriott Hotel in Mumbai on January 1. One, that such a mob — whether inflamed by intoxicants, aggression or by the sheer knowledge that it had the power of numbers — believed that it could get away with anything. Two, it was allowed to get away ‘with anything’. But to be dispassionate about two women being violently molested by a crowd of 70-odd men in uptown Mumbai is difficult, if not impossible.
The images captured by our photographers (they can be viewed on our website) show us the extent of the depravity unleashed. What, however, takes one’s breath away is what hasn’t been caught on camera: the reaction of the police to the shameful — and criminal — incident. The fact that policemen on duty showed little concern about a large group of men groping and tearing clothes off two women for some quarter of an hour on a December 31-January 1 night outside a five-star hotel is bad enough. What is downright pathetic is that when our photographers did bring the matter to their notice, the police simply disbursed the mob without registering a case against the assailants. In fact, Mumbai Additional Commissioner of Police Archana Tyagi’s astounding reaction was that there was no formal complaint, little action could have been taken. It is this appalling ‘shrug-our-shoulders’ approach that forced HT to file a complaint that has led to the police waking up a full 36 hours after the incident. All this makes us wonder whether there is any fundamental difference between the lascivious mob that descended on the women and the police who didn’t want to make a ‘big deal’ of the episode. Let us remind the police Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code: “... whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine or both”.
And this isn’t rocket science. In a similar incident in Kochi, a Swedish woman among other tourists were molested on the same night. Despite the outraged tourists not filing a case, the police have registered a suo motu case, showing that the law still exists for them. Whether it is the case of Dalit women being humiliated in small towns or revellers in megalopolises like Mumbai, no one deserves to go through what the two people in Juhu had to go through. And before sociologists start commenting about ‘degradation of values in society’ or some such thing, let the police of this country do their basic job, never mind their duty.