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Rare shutdown as Bangalore protests rapes

Bangalore, July 31: Much of Bangalore shut down today against the recent spate of rapes and the government’s failure to check the spurt, the IT city’s first shutdown in recent memory to protest crimes against women.

The 12-hour (6am to 6pm) bandh was called by Kannada Okootta (Kannada Federation), an umbrella body of social organisations, and came days after delays and flip-flops in the probe into the alleged rape of a six-year-old in school.

Most private establishments, particularly the IT companies, functioned normally but several government offices saw thin to poor attendance. That included the state secretariat, Vidhana Soudha, PTI said.

Educational institutions were shut, having already declared a holiday, as were malls, restaurants and shops whose owners probably feared violence by bandh enforcers. Buses were on the roads, as were cabs, but they ran with fewer people on near-empty streets.

A march by the federation ended with its leaders meeting chief minister P.C. Siddaramiah at his residence and submitting a memorandum seeking stronger measures for the protection of women.

One of the demands was to book rape suspects under the stringent Goonda Act, which is usually used against gangsters and has stiff rules for grant of bail. The act was recently amended to include first-time sexual offenders.

“The bandh has been more successful than we expected. This indicates the view of the average Bangalorean for strong laws and their implementation in rape cases,” federation chairman Vatal Nagaraj said after meeting the chief minister.

The Siddaramiah-headed Congress government had beefed up security, deploying three times more police personnel than usual, but the authorities did not try to thwart the federation’s protests. Other key parties such as the BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular), were neutral, not opposing the bandh nor backing it openly.

The trigger for the bandh was the alleged sexual assault on the six-year-old at the upscale Vibgyor High School earlier this month. The slow pace of investigations cost then city police commissioner Raghavendra Auradkar his job.

Two days ago, the new chief, M.N. Reddi, said a school skating instructor arrested earlier was “not directly involved” and instead announced two gym instructors had been held as key suspects. The shifting line fuelled public anger at the investigation.

But that wasn’t the only case. A college student was kidnapped and allegedly raped in a car by the son of a local politician and his friends. They have been arrested. A 16-year-old training to be a nun was assaulted by intruders who barged into her seminary. Both incidents occurred within weeks of the rape at Vibgyor.

Earlier this week, a seven-year-old girl was raped by her nanny’s son.