As millions of women – and men – gathered in Washington, D.C., and around the world Saturday to demand equal rights under the new Trump administration, women across India held their own protests for a very specific demand: safety for women in public spaces.
Hundreds of women marched in more than 30 towns and cities – including New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai – to “occupy the night streets” after multiple reports came out on New Year’s Eve that women in Bangalore had been molested en masse during public celebrations. The incident spurred the organizers of the #IWillGoOut movement to finally act.
“As Indian women, we have had to deal with the constant reminder that we do not have control over our own bodies in this country, and that it is our responsibility as women to protect ourselves from sexual assault and harassment,” the #IWillGoOut website reads. “When men leer at us or grope us, we are blamed for allowing this to happen, and not the men who perpetrate these crimes. What happened to women in Bangalore on New Year’s Eve was absolute horror.”
According to news reports, the crowd, which included men, chanted “Day or night, I will go out. Dress or sari, I will go out” while holding signs that read, “Take back the night. Break the silence. End the violence,” and “Nobody asks what my molester was wearing.”
“Since the age of 12, I have never felt comfortable or safe on the streets – day or night, but first time I have ever attended a march like this,” Anuradha Sinha, 37, told Reuters.
Violence against women takes many forms in Indian society and has been the subject of much attention in recent year from domestic violence to trafficking to acid attacks. But the events of New Year’s Eve shocked many because of its magnitude, and especially because it happened in Bangalore – a city most people considered safer than New Delhi with its well-educated professional population.
“I believed Bangalore was a safe city until then,” one woman, who asked to identified only as Pooja, told the BBC. “People were pushing and shoving, touching, grabbing, groping and everything was happening on that street. It was not only to me. It was happening to other girls, too. They were all scared.”
While police encouraged victims to come forward with complaints, officials seemed to dismiss the incidents, repeatedly saying, “these things kinds of things do happen” at events like New Year’s Eve and young peoples’ western dress was to blame.
“They tried to copy the westerners, not only in their mindset but even in their dressing,” G Parmeshwara, home minister for Karnataka state, told ANI. “So some disturbance, some girls are harassed, these kinds of things do happen.”
The federal government’s junior home minister, Kiren Rijiju, has since called Parmeshwara’s comments “irresponsible.”
The organizers of #IWillGoOut told DNA that they did not intentionally plan for their protest to coincide with the global Women’s March on Saturday. But, like the organizers in Washington, D.C., they believe this is just the start of a larger movement to tackle violence against women in India.
“These movements. These protests. These hashtags,” the website reads, “Just another brick in the wall? Sure. Why not? Let’s keep adding these bricks, we say. Until we have the whole wall.”