What is it about our country’s police that make them more embarrassed than the criminals who commit the crime? The reason for us asking this question is that we cannot fathom why the Colaba police in Mumbai have gone out of their way to state that the New Year’s Eve louts who molested a woman at the Gateway of India were actually trying to steal her mobile phone. In fact, three of the five detained were arrested under Section 379 and Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code — for theft and for participating in an act of crime with common intention respectively — and not under Section 354 (assaulting or using criminal force on any woman, intending to outrage her modesty) or Section 509 (using a word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).
One can spin as many ‘subjective’ points of view — the crowd of youngsters accidentally bumped into the woman; or they happened to lose their balance at the same time and fell on her; or they were planning to show her a better vantage point from which to usher in the new year — but documentary evidence as published in the form of a photograph in a Mumbai daily simply doesn’t allow imagination to run riot.
Instead, it has been clearly established in the photographs that the crowd had swarmed around the lady and was guilty of molesting her. The police, however, seem to be wondering whether there really was something so terrible that happened that evening. After all, if the lady and her friend haven’t come forward to complain, it must all be a terrible misunderstanding. And images of one ripped skirt and a struggling couple do not convincingly prove that an assault of a sexual nature had taken place in a public place right under the nose of the nearby police, do they?
The problem with our custodians of law and order seem to be a curious mix of a ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ mentality and ‘these things happen’ attitude. Bring a woman into the picture — that too a foreigner who is too terrified and shocked to linger in this country after such an event — and the reaction of our men in khaki becomes even more understandable. Short of stating that the woman had no business to spend the evening of December 31, 2006, at a place like the Gateway of India, the police insist that the molestors were petty thieves. They would, as they rather focus on cracking down on couples committing crime by canoodling along Marine Drive.