The reports of molestation which took place in Bengaluru on New Year's Eve are not what you wish to hear at the beginning of 2017. But as most Indian women will attest, gender-based violence is widely prevalent across the country and it's hardly the first time or the last time that we'll hear of such an incident.
In 2012, for instance, a young woman in Guwahati who was coming out of a pub was assaulted by a mob for nearly 30 minutes. The prime accused, Amarjyoti Kalita, who was later convicted, remained defiant about his actions (which were filmed by a reporter), claiming that the girl was drunk and had therefore "asked for it".
Around 1000 police personnel were supposedly present at the scene in Bengaluru, according to reports, but the molestation took place nevertheless.
No case has been registered yet because there was a sea of men at these places and it's hard to distinguish a face from the leery crowd.
Considering how rampant street sexual harassment is in India, the Bengaluru incident shouldn't come as a surprise. Traveling by public transport during peak hours, for example, involves resigning your mind to being touched inappropriately at least once by the time you get out of the bus or local train. Going shopping in a crowded area means you will have strangers brush past you casually and as a matter of right - this is why women carry handbags even if they have pockets in their clothes, you never know when you might need a body shield.
Walking in a crowd with drunken men is a nightmare for most women in India.
The worst part is that in most cases, you don't even see the face of the man who has violated you. It happens so quickly and by the time you gather your wits to react or respond, he has disappeared into the faceless crowd that expects you to go on as if nothing has happened. The memory of the touch and the scar that it leaves behind in your psyche, however, stays on for much longer, leaving you feeling "dirty", "used" and even guilty.
Victim blaming routinely happens when it comes to sexual crimes and this is true of all patriarchal societies. The Brock Turner case in the "civilized" United States is a useful reminder that these incidents are not restricted to the "backward" countries of the world.
Keeping in line with this globally respected tradition, G Parameshwara, Karnataka's home minister, too has blamed the women and their clothes for the despicable events of the night in Bengaluru.
In Bengaluru, no victims have come forward, and some have questioned if the media outrage was based on any concrete evidence.
The New Year's Eve horror in Bengaluru may finally turn out to be true or false, but just like victim blaming, mob molestation too is not unique to India.
Mob molestation happens because there's sanction for it to happen as a society: in the ways we judge men and women, in the discriminatory moral yardsticks we have for each gender, the shame that we continue to heap on the victim rather than the perpetrator, and the ease with which the system lets the harassers get away. Mob molestation happens because we allow it to happen by not questioning any of these in our everyday lives and making excuses instead for the boys who will always be boys.
Have we forgotten the Tahrir Square horror when women were stripped and even raped while people were supposedly celebrating a political revolution? And what about similar incidents in Europe which have been used to whip up xenophobia?
One should be outraged and saddened by what's happened in Bengaluru...but surprised? Not unless you've been living in a rock on a planet that's in this galaxy.