Why it was easy to believe the Elphinstone stampede victim was molested

As cops investigate if the viral video showed sexual assault, we as a society need to ask ourselves some questions.

 |  3-minute read |   03-10-2017
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Days after a video of the Elphinstone Road stampede, in which a man can be seen purportedly molesting a woman, triggered massive outrage, there have been claims that the bystander was not molesting, but actually trying to help the woman.

The Mumbai Police is investigating the incident, and the Government Railway Police commissioner has also been quoted as saying that he would launch a probe into the matter.

There have been claims that the bystander was helping the woman.There have been claims that the bystander was helping the woman.

Mid-Day quoted the deputy commissioner of police, zone 5, Rajiv Jain, saying: “As of now, we have taken the statements of over 35 people in the stampede case. We are also investigating the truth of the viral video in which a person is seen allegedly taking advantage of a trapped woman. We are looking for the guy seen in the video. We have several other videos; once the person is identified, we will know the truth.”

The video that was circulated is just 8-seconds long, and unclear. That people readily accepted it to be showing molestation throws up a lot of questions about the Indian society. We live in a world where misogyny is so deep-seated and prevalent that the video of a dying woman being violated generated outrage, not disbelief.

We are used to regular reports of gruesome gang-rapes, girls as young as four or five years of age being sexually assaulted, fathers preying on daughters. Every new report scares us, disgusts us, but also leaves us a little more numbed, a little more ready to believe any depths of human depravity.

Crowded places are especially dangerous for women. Cases of women being assaulted at religious processions, at political rallies, in crowded trains, are all too common.

Thus, when a video footage of a stampede showed a man brushing against a woman, the first horrified, but credible interpretation was that he was taking advantage of her.

Ironically, when social media started discussing if the video indeed showed molestation, misogyny was very much on display. On Twitter, a lot of comments used the row as an example why women “do not deserve to be helped”, and blamed feminism for “spreading lies”.

The controversy also raises questions on news organisations, which, in the haste to steal a march over rivals, did not stop to verify facts. DailyO too published an article on how the incident reflected a new low for Indian society. Some reports, apart from accusing the bystander of molestation, also concluded that the “woman breathed her last”, again something the video did not conclusively show.

At a time where we are constantly fed information through various media, it is difficult to stop, process and question the information. Opinions are made quickly, based on whatever is apparent on the surface.

However, a society where violence against women is so normalised that the molestation of a dying woman is easily believable, needs to ask itself more uncomfortable questions.

Also read: Vijay Mallya’s second arrest in 2017 (and quick bail) shows his extradition is still a long shot

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