Enormous crowds gathered in Bangaluru's business district, freezing traffic in a mass of humanity. Women approached police officers, complaining that they had been groped by men in the mob. "When there was a slight let up in the crowd and when people could reach the police, I saw women complaining to the policewomen that they were molested. The police asked them to identify the men, but they couldn't. It was a mob frenzy… I could see a girl surrounded by several men and crying," Anantha Subramanyam, a Bangaluru Mirror photographer, told BBC Hindi. An eyewitness told local news that drunken men "groped" and made "attempts… to strip women."
G. Parameshwara, home minister of Karnataka State, in which Bangaluru is located, placed the blame for the incidents on the young women who suffered the abuses. "[They were] copying the Westerners, not only in their mindset, but even in their dressing," he said. "Some girls are harassed, these kind of things do happen."
The minister's comments have prompted strong criticism. Lalitha Kumaramangalam, who heads the National Commission for Women, said Parameshwara owes the women of India an apology and should immediately resign. "Such remarks from the Home Minister are unacceptable and regrettable. I want to ask this Minister that are Indian men so pathetic and weak that when they see a woman in western clothes on a day of revelry, they get out of control?" she said.
Kiren Rijiju, junior home minister of India's federal government, called Parameshwara's comments "irresponsible." He tweeted on Monday that "we can't allow the shameful act of #MassMolestation go unpunished. Bangaluru is a vibrant city & women safety is [a] must in a civilised society".
Ujjal Dosanjh, an Indian-Canadian who formerly served as Canada's Minister of Health, published an open letter in the Indian Express asking Karnataka's chief minister to fire his "imbecilic Home Minster." He called Parameshwara the "shame of India for mindlessly blaming the sexual assaults of hundreds of women upon the victims themselves."
Parameshwara was not the only one to politicize the molestations. BK Hariprasad, a left-wing MP in India's Parliament, blamed the incident on Hindu nationalism. Abu Azmi, a socialist member of the Marahashtra state Legislative Assembly, said that the incident could have been prevented if women made themselves "less available" to men. Like Parameshwara, he blamed the incidents on Westernization. "Partying late night in half attire, blindly following western culture, has never been our culture…women and their guardians must also take precautions and think that security starts at home."
Others criticized a sluggish response from the police. KS Vimala, of the All India Women's Democratic Association, said, "The police should have acted on the night when the incident happened. What is the point of asking women to come forward now." Subramanyam also noted that, "The crowds were three times more than what we have seen normally in this area… the police would clear the crowd near the junction of the two roads and they would again collect there." In addition, several police officials, including Bangaluru Police Commissioner Praveen Sood, took office on January 1, implying that they are not responsible for New Year security arrangements.
NS Megarikh, Bangaluru's police commissioner in 2015, claims that the entire city's police force was deployed that night. Commissioner Praveen Sood told BBC Hindi that authorities were analyzing security camera footage to identify the incidents and culprits so as to initiate criminal proceedings. Even with the city's 60 CCTV cameras, no arrests have been made in the three days following the incidents.
The topic of sexual assault has become particularly urgent in India in recent years, as experts believe most cases go unreported, as much as 90 percent, according to estimates. Fear of reprisal and social stigma prevent victims from reporting incidents to the police. India has the fourth-highest number of reported rape cases in the world.
Many regard Bangaluru, a hub of technology and industry, as one of India's safest and most modern cities.