The images of Bengaluru police wantonly caning hundreds of women garment workers while they were staging sit-ins during the protests on Tuesday, even as the vandals who indulged in arson and violence got away, will not fade away quickly from public memory. When police begin to act like the mob, citizens begin to ask questions. Neither the police top brass nor their political masters can walk away from these questions. What was the provocation to beat up the already harassed women? Worse, with the the State Human Rights Commission headless, there is no one to fight for these women.
It’s an industry dominated by women workers. And so when the employees of the many garment factories in Bengaluru exploded in anger recently over the government’s attempts to restrict their right to withdraw from their provident fund, a large number who took to the streets in protest were women, many of them young, raising slogans and demanding justice.
But as thousands of garment workers held up traffic on the roads, things inevitably got out of hand. Traffic was held up for hours and mobs went on the rampage , setting vehicles on fire and destroying property. In the process, the women were caned by an outnumbered police force, trying to restore order.
But the spectre of helpless women being lathicharged and beaten has got the law men into trouble and far from winning them any brownie points for trying to curb the rioting, has earned them widespread displeasure instead.
“The women were not the troublemakers, they didn’t set any vehicles ablaze as the videos clearly show. They were just raising slogans and were badly beaten up for it,” say protesting women activists, pointing out that the Karnataka Police Act clearly lays down police officer must exercise “reasonable gentleness” and act with decency when dealing with women and children.
Also women officers are supposed to be deployed to deal with women agitators, or when women are to be arrested or detained, they note. “But the policemen lathicharged the women protestors throwing all rules to the wind. The events of Monday and Tuesday are shameful. Let’s assume that the police were not prepared the first day of the protest. But what about the second day? It is clear that the police failed to gauge the situation and mobilise more women staff,” says Ms Vimala K. S of Janawadi Mahila Sanghatane.
“Everybody knows that garment factories employ more women. This was clear on Monday , but still the police did nothing. Now, they are saying the women were violent as well. But when hit by lathis, is it any wonder that they tried to resist? It is high-time the police learnt to behave appropriately in such situations. It must recruit more women,” the activist insists.