Guwahati’s night life is now the city’s underbelly. For women out to visit a bar in this Gateway to the Northeast, touted a metro in the making, it’s hell: thrashed by a mob (July 9) on GS Road, by police personnel, including women personnel, inside Dispur police station (May this year), by a political activist, also, incidentally, a woman (in 2010). The situation simply screams one thing: that Guwahati is unsafe for women, that for all its talk of being a modern city, Guwahati lives in the dark ages, and that Guwahati’s law enforcement agencies have completely failed in carrying out its responsibilities — that of protecting its citizens.
How does this happen? Do you feel safe going out in Guwahati? Would you, for example, go out with your husband for a party?
Akashitora, actor and TV show hostess: This happens for various reasons: hypocrisy, gender bias — there is a section of men which gets a sadistic kick out of assaulting women. These are boys who have no morals. Add to this the puritanical who will say it is bad for women to drink. And, finally, there is a section of the media that will stand and shoot visuals of women getting bashed. It’s a TRP thing for them. This section of the media does not stop to ponder whether this also ignites the viciousness of a section of people for whom a woman getting beaten up like this is a tamasha to watch. As for myself, I am not scared of anybody but truth is I won’t go out to a club with my husband — I don’t feel safe.
Since they make their money from their customers, should not bar owners also be concerned about the safety of their customers?
Want to be a metro? Want to be international? So, should bar owners here at least employ enough security guards to help get their customers safely to a cab or an auto?
But try this from bar owners in the city, this one coming from the owner of a bar on GS Road, close to where the July 9 molestation occurred: what happens on the road after a person gets out of bar is the person’s personal problem. We have nothing to do with it. Period. But will they come on quote? No. Pictures? No. Do they care? No, of course not.
Are all bars run by mindless businessmen who simply do not care about people?
Again no quote, no photo because put someone on record with a picture and you are asking for trouble from the administration. But here is what one bar owner, who “guarantees” safety of its customers given a “sensitive administration” had to say: The administration has a one-point agenda: ban the bars and destroy Guwahati’s nightlife; they will use these incidents to justify their point. Do road accidents call for a ban on driving? Why does the administration shy away from making regulations? Guwahati has 16 “late licence bars”, which can operate till 1.30am. They have been prevented from doing so by the administration, which, however, will not think twice before giving out licences mindlessly to mindless people. The idea is to regulate that process and have rules. How about a stipulation that says bars will be responsible for getting their customers home safe? Make it a charged service and I guarantee you I will make it happen in my bar. There are many others who will do this.
Is the State Commission for Women doing its job?
Meera Barooah, president of the commission: We took suo moto cognisance of the incident in which a young girl was attacked and beaten up by some youths on GS Road on Monday. Police have already been asked to investigate the matter. We will decide on the action to be taken based on the police report. If stern action is not taken against the accused, we will take action. No one has the right to attack a woman and hurt her dignity for her personal choices. While no one points a finger at men who drink, who has given these youths the right to attack a young lady just because she has had a drink?
What are women’s organisations in Guwahati doing?
“No one has the right to attack a woman when she has not done anything to cause harm to others,” says Sumitra Hazarika, an activist. “We stand by this young girl whose dignity has been hurt. In the past, too, we had raised our voice against women who have been harassed in this manner and will continue to do so in the future,” said Hazarika, who leads an organisation called the Nirjatan Birodhi Akya Mancha. “We want the administration to take stern action against the culprits. The police department has failed to do so.”
Is Guwahati’s legal fraternity with victims or part of the moral police, or worse, police turned moral police? Do we need fast-track courts do deal with violence against women?
Anil Hazarika, advocate of Gauhati High Court: Every person has a right to personal freedom. The manner in which the victim was physically assaulted by a mob is condemnable. A woman has every right to have a drink and no one can question her until she creates a situation where anyone is harmed. The legal system is definitely equipped to protect the right to freedom of a woman. She can seek women cells and fast-track courts for justice. Though there is a definite legal procedure to go about the process, the time taken to dispose of a case in fast-track courts is less compared to that in other courts of law.
What ‘s the take of our politicians on this? Do our legislators think we need a new law to deal with what happened on GS Road on July 9?
Pramila Rani Brahma, former agriculture minister and sitting MLA of Kokrajhar East constituency: I condemn the recent incident on GS Road. Crimes against women in different forms like dowry deaths, rape, witch-hunting, domestic violence and assault are rising and the present laws are not always very effective in providing justice to the victim. Hence, a special legislation to deal with crimes on women is required. The new law should have provisions whereby the guilty can be immediately punished and justice brought to the victim.
Unlike many who will sit back and watch, there are those who will sit up and take action. Amtron, the state electronics department, suspended one of its employees after staff members recognised him on the television clip of the July 9 GS Road incident.
M.K. Yadava, managing director, Amtron: Such behaviour on the part of the youth who had attacked a young girl is highly unacceptable. We have sacked our employee who was also involved in assault after some of our other employees recognised him in the television footage and we took action based on the recommendation of our staff.
Take a bow, AMTRON.