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Bengaluru New Year eve horror revives a 13-year-old harrowing experience

Not ONE thing has changed since that horrific night on 31 December, 2003

Police personnel try to manage crowds during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Bengaluru on 1 January, 2017. Photo: AFP.
Police personnel try to manage crowds during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Bengaluru on 1 January, 2017. Photo: AFP.

What happened last week at New Year’s eve in Bengaluru once again raised multiple questions about the safety of women in India. As a mute spectator to a harrowing experience that I went through with my then-girlfriend on 31 December, 2003, it’s appalling to me, that not ONE thing has changed since that night from 13 years ago.

Plaza, on MG Road in December 2003, was playing Love Actually.

Granted, Love Actually was a departure from the venerable English films that Plaza used to screen back in the day, but for a bunch of 20-somethings working in a call centre at Dell, it sounded like a perfect way to spend a New Year’s eve. There were four of us, two couples. One of them, was on the verge of getting married. The other, which included yours truly, was just happy spending time with Radhika (name changed), an effervescent girl with a crushing ponytail.

Back then, we were yet to discover films on, film trailers especially English weren’t ubiquitous and there was a romance in discovering songs while you were watching a film.

Christmas was all around, love was all around, Bill Nighy reminded the four of us with androgynous moves in a fluffy video (in our defence, I was 21. Radhika was 20) towards the climax. The plan after watching the film was to join a party with some good folks from the Army just across the road. They had a whole compound for the celebrations.

It should have taken less than 10 minutes for us to get there. Maybe even less than five. What if we just held hands and ran across the road, I asked Radhika. We had that bustling, heady, adrenaline that you can imagine young couples inherit on a New Year’s eve. We would easily get there before midnight. There would be a countdown.

Who knows, even a kiss, could be around the corner.

As we stepped out of Plaza, however, everything changed in an instant. We were jostled and pushed and banged into, by an unending swarm of people. It was hard to even look at any one person. Faceless and nameless but this crowd that was united in their intentions to wreak havoc. A drunk, unruly, and an infinitely insane bunch that kept pushing us like we were two sets of yo-yos for this bunch to play with. It was bad. But it wasn’t terrible, yet.

We figured this could take longer than five minutes. The two of us, engulfed the two women, trying to make a shield for these psychopaths to not get to them. It was a feeble attempt but it was all we could do. Swinging arms and legs wouldn’t have helped against this depraved army. We made some progress on foot but it kept getting worse physically.

These people, and God knows where they come from, started becoming more aggressive. Their hands reaching out for the women as if they owned them. I knew right then that it was going to be the most terrible day of my life. Worse, I lost track of the other couple.

Radhika lost hope and squatted down in middle of that pavement, hoping perhaps that it will mitigate whatever disaster was to come. I did the same and covered her head forming a circle with my hands. But I was less optimistic. I thought this would only delay the impending.

If there has been a time, I have prayed harder, I can’t remember it now. But right then, something happened. That single instance always reminds me, that prayers work.

We heard steps moving away from us. Two lady cops, out of nowhere came to our rescue, and swung their lathis like there was no tomorrow. We could sense the crowd dissipating. We looked up. The worst was possibly behind us.

These cops escorted us from where we were to an enclosure right alongside where the present-day Zodiac showroom is on Brigade Road. That enclosure, a small plain ground, an empty piece of land where a store would possibly commence work soon, caught us by surprise. We saw another 15–20 couples all huddled around coming to terms in their heads with what they had just gone through. We saw a couple of women, peeing in the corners. I asked Radhika that if she wanted to, I could provide cover. She said, she would hold for some more time.

Harrowed and harassed, none of the couples were even talking. Some held hands, some were in a state of embrace. There was a sense of collective shame and disgrace looming over all of us. Watching a film on New Year’s Eve and stepping out to walk across the road is the least bit of freedom, I expect my city to provide. It was well-past midnight. We looked around for the other couple and we found them. We didn’t speak a word. We stepped out of that enclosure, possibly an hour later. The dust had settled. The city had slept.

Did the depraved go home with a hint of celebration perhaps? Did they have a good time on New Year’s Eve ? We didn’t know, for we went home wondering what we did wrong.

When I saw the pictures of the recent events in Bangalore Mirror and Times of India on 2 January, 2017, I wasn’t surprised. I had been there. What sort of shook me was that in the last 13 years, it seems we are exactly where we were in 2003. In 13 years, this city’s law and order couldn’t fix THAT one damn celebration thing on MG Road ?

If I list the amount of change the world has seen during the time, it would make for a telling comparison. Women’s rights around the world have taken a leap. Women’s emancipation even in the Middle-East, while a constant struggle, has improved. We have ladies heading states in the UK, Germany and Brazil and here we are sitting in Bengaluru, exactly where we were on 31 December, 2003.

I never thought I would write about this incident ever. And the fact that I have actually now put this out there, does nothing to reach or educate those people who engineer such incidents. This will remain buried in the social media feeds of a few liberals and thinkers and will invoke nothing of importance. But I do think there’s only one thing that can make that difference. Education. Much before Law and Order needs to step in, much before Family Welfare and Cleanliness and f***** Demonetisation, if only somehow this country would focus on education.

I implore you, educate a child. I am doing that with a kid in Jayanagar. And I will support two more in 2017 as my New Year’s resolution. Adopt a child’s education today. Right now, after you have read this. This is the only way, you and I can make a difference.

It’s the best chance we would be giving ourselves of a different 31 December in 2030. On MG Road, in Bengaluru.

A marketer by profession, Issac M. John fiddles with new experiences in films, sports and travel.

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