Mobile phone footage from outside New Delhi is shocking Indians this week, following the release of a video showing a clash after the attempted assault of two young women aboard a crowded bus in Rohtak, about 70 kilometers (44 miles) from the Indian capital. Roughly a year since the much talked about gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman aboard a moving bus, this week's incident is encouraging as its victims, sisters Aatri and Pooja, managed to fend off their attackers.
In the video, Aatri and Pooja defend themselves, unassisted by any of the other passengers. In a crafty maneuver, one removes her belt and uses it to counterattack her assailants. The other woman resorts to her fists, hitting back at the men, as her sister whips them with the belt. Not captured in the video below, the attackers eventually removed the women from the bus, but later fled, after the women armed themselves with bricks.
Following the release of the video and the subsequent national outcry, Indian police have reportedly arrested three suspects in the case. The man driving the bus at the time of the assault has also been suspended for failing to act. According to police, the driver had the opportunity to pull the bus into a police station and turn the men over to the authorities.
The three men accused of the attack are 19-year-old undergraduates at Jat College in Rohtak. The men's parents say they are being “falsely implicated,” as the dispute, they say, was about seating, not sex.
For defending themselves so assertively, people across India have praised Rohtak and Pooja as shining examples of how women should have the strength and willpower to fight back against attackers.
I would like to congratulate the girls and ask the authorities to take appropriate action,” Lalitha Kumarmangalam, spokesman for the government’s National Commission for Women, said. “Few girls have the guts to take on the molesters. The government should take action. I would appeal to every Indian to come forward and help.”
The scuffle aboard the bus wasn't the sisters’ only brush with violence, it seems. Another short video, released by the Indian news channel NDTV this week but filmed a month ago, shows what looks to be Rohtak and Pooja attacking a different man in a park. According to the Times of India, “The girls set an example of how sexual predators need to be tackled even if there is no help coming.”
On Twitter, the hashtag #Rohtakbravehearts has been used to express gratitude and support for the sisters:
Love what girls in India are doing to molesters #RohtakBravehearts – The Next Revolution
— mpanj (@Shivgad) December 2, 2014
— Eloísa Ana (@EloPoeta) December 1, 2014
Others in India have been less focused on the sisters’ courage and more appalled by the bus passengers, who failed to take any action:
— अभय शंकर दुबे (@AbhaySDube) December 1, 2014
— Zero (@dabsandjabs) December 2, 2014
In a Facebook post, politician Naveen Jindal also faulted the passengers for showing a complete lack of empathy:
Salute to #RohtakBravehearts who stood against molestation and gave a fitting lesson to the three culprits. Shameful that no fellow passenger stood up for them. These girls deserve a pat on the back.
Others, such as Indian News Anchor Deepika Bhardwaj, worried that the mainstream media moved too quickly to persecute those aboard the bus who didn't act, perhaps failing to get the full story:
Crime committed by victims of #RohtakBravehearts is to argue with them on seat for an OLD LADY. Girls had camera n armoury ready as ALWAZ.
— Deepika Bhardwaj (@DeepikaBhardwaj) December 2, 2014
#RohtakBravehearts demselvs sayin conductor helped dem/proposed ny help they want. He's suspended. Media doesn't mind his family starving!!
— Deepika Bhardwaj (@DeepikaBhardwaj) December 1, 2014
Union Minister Uma Bharti, who was one of the first ministers to address the incident publicly, commended the sisters, saying “all the girls should do what these sisters did.”
Despite passengers’ disturbing silence, the scandal might help raise awareness about women's security issues, perhaps leading to new legislation. If the social media responses are any indication, it's safe to say Indian policymakers are following the story closely.