BENGALURU: It’s not often that women come forward to file complaints in sexual harassment incidents, and here’s a case that explains why. A fortnight after a woman heading to work was harassed by a man in a car in the upscale HSR Layout, it looks like police are set to give a burial to the case despite being handed clues that could lead them to the harasser. Apparently tired of the delay and lack of progress in the investigation, the harassed woman now says she doesn’t want to pursue the case.
From day one, police’s tardy investigation had raised suspicion over any action being taken against the harasser, who allegedly waylaid the woman and tried to force her into his car. The incident, as reported by this paper, took place at around 5.45am on September 10, when an unidentified man, driving a red Toyota Qualis, stopped the car next to the woman and misbehaved with her. According to the woman’s complaint, he followed her, asked her to get into the car and then misbehaved with her. When the woman started screaming, people passing by came to her rescue and the harasser drove away.
Immediately after the shocking incident, an eyewitness informed a senior police officer about it and also provided the car’s registration number, though the traumatized woman lodged a complaint with the HSR Layout police station only two days later. “I was walking near JSS School to reach my workplace. An unidentified man, driving a red Qualis, followed me and stopped the car in front of me. He said ‘come with me’, and then misbehaved with me,” the woman said in her complaint.
Strangely, within a couple of hours after the incident, an influential resident of the area approached the police station with a complaint that his vehicle, a Qualis with the same registration number, has been stolen. Police claimed the harasser was the man who stole the vehicle.
But, they failed to explain why a vehicle thief would drive around in the stolen car in the same locality? Won’t he make an attempt to escape as soon as he can? Would he think of kidnapping someone along the way? There have been several flip-flops in the police investigation. Initially, they claimed they were searching for the man at Kudlu near Electronic City, but nothing came out of the search. An officer even tried to play down the incident, saying the person in the car was just asking for an address and the woman may have misunderstood him. When the complaint said the man misbehaved with her, how did the officer know he was only asking for directions? And, a vehicle thief asking for directions is a story that’s has to be taken with a pinch of salt. When confronted, the officer had no answers.
Despite having the vehicle registration number and other details, police have so far made no headway. “We are trying to trace the vehicle. We suspect the culprit is a habitual vehicle thief, and it takes time to unearth information. The investigation is on,” a senior police officer told The New Indian Express.
According to the vehicle theft complaint, the car was parked near the owner’s residence and it was found missing at 8.30am on September 10. The complaint was registered at 11 am the same day. It’s possible that the vehicle was indeed stolen, but the sequence of events and the slow investigation point to a cover-up.
Police’s investigation tactics seem to have already had an effect -- the harassed woman, when contacted late last week, said she was not interested in pursuing the case. Women’s rights activist K S Vimala said the system doesn’t encourage victims of harassment to fight for justice. “There might be pressure on the victim from the police or the locals. If she persists with the case, there will be never-ending enquiries and court appearances.” She said it becomes easier for the police to close a case if the victim is not willing to pursue it.
Asked whether the case would be closed, Madivala ACP Lakshminarayana said, “We will not do that in the harassment case, but we will do that in the vehicle theft case after a period of two months. Even after it is closed, if we find the accused, the case can be reopened.” Police have no information to offer when asked about their efforts to track the “stolen” vehicle.
What an eyewitness told us
On September 10, between 5:30 and 5:45 am, we heard a woman scream as we were driving out of HSR Layout. We saw a woman walking alone and a Toyota Qualis being driven extremely close to her on the wrong side. From where we were, we could see that there was an attempt to grab her and possibly put her in the vehicle.
We rushed there and the harasser soon drove past us leaving the visibly shaken woman behind. From her account, we understood that the car had been following her for some distance and then there was an attempt to force her into the car. She had the presence of mind to scream and simply fall on her knees. This in some way dissuaded the culprits from abducting her. We had a clear view of the registration number and as he drove past us, we saw the driver grinning while peering out of the window, trying to look back at the woman he just terrified.
(Name withheld as per request)