NEW DELHI — In an extraordinary move, the police in India’s financial capital of Mumbai sought to shut down the city’s pubs and restaurants early Wednesday in order to keep women safe from drunken New Year’s revelers.
The order reflected the change in attitudes about assaults on women in India since the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old female just more than a year ago.
But the police mandate sparked outrage among partygoers and women who protested that it was the duty of security forces to protect citizens — not confine them. On Tuesday, responding to a petition by clubs and hotels in the city, the Mumbai high court struck down the order to close by 1:30 a.m., and allowed them to continue their celebrations until 5 a.m.
“This is like saying women will be safe only if everybody stays indoors; has anything changed at all in the last year?” asked Elaisha Asher, 23, a data analyst in Mumbai, after the court ruling.
She said she still intended to stay out late with her friends. “The new year begins at midnight, that’s when the party begins and it will go on at least till 2 or 3 a.m.,” she said. “How are they making me more safe by asking me to stay at home? What is the police’s responsibility?”
Police have come under enormous pressure from activists and the media to ensure women’s safety since the gang-rape in December 2012 brought unprecedented attention to the issue. While some police departments have become more sensitive, and Parliament has passed stricter laws on rape and sexual harassment, a number of police officers, politicians and community leaders have suggested that women should protect themselves by changing the way they dress and not going out after dark.
Judge Gautam Patel dismissed the police justification for closing restaurants and pubs early during New Year’s celebrations.
“It is traditionally a night that people spend with friends and family till morning,” he said in court. “There is no valid reason to clamp down on what little is left of the city’s night life."
The judge then sarcastically asked the police department’s attorney if the recent gang rape of a Mumbai photojournalist had occurred on New Year’s eve.
Mumbai’s residents herald the new year by thronging the waterfront at midnight; going to friends’ parties; and attending parties at clubs and restaurants, some featuring performances by minor Bollywood stars and singers. Others stay home to watch special programs on television.
The police chief in Mumbai, Satyapal Singh, had said on Monday that residents of the city of 11 million people were especially vulnerable on Dec. 31, and “we want to avoid incidents of eve-teasing and molestation.” The expression “eve-teasing” refers to sexual harrassment.
He told reporters that the police were already “understaffed and overworked.”
A police officer in a Mumbai suburb, K.P. Raghuvanshi, told reporters on Monday that the “vulnerability of women increases with inebriated crowds.”
After the court order on Tuesday, the home minister of Maharashtra, the state in which Mumbai is located, told reporters that 50,000 police officers would be guarding the city on Tuesday night.
“We will deploy [a] special team of plainclothes policemen to crack down on incidents of harassment of women,” said the minister, R.R. Patil. He said that pubs, hotels and restaurants would be responsible for the safety of their guests.
In the court, the police also cited the possibility of terror attacks as a reason for their directive. But Patil said that authorities were not aware of any specific terror threat for New Year’s eve.