A TV grab of the altercation on the bus (photo: PTI)
The confrontation on a bus in Rohtak on November 28, between two sisters, three men and a belt, continues to reverberate across the media, with some doubts being raised whether the women were victims of ‘eve teasing’ or are actually bullies with a penchant for confronting men.
Like the script of Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon, what really happened on the bus is not clear, with conflicting accounts from witnesses, along with a bus and conductor who did not see the events that led to the altercation.
What both sides can agree on is that two sisters – Aarti and Pooja Kumar – confronted three men from a nearby village – Kuldeep, Deepak and Mohit – on the bus and manhandled them. Beyond that is anyone’s guess.
The girls claim that the men molested them – allegedly touching them inappropriately and passing lewd comments – so they were forced to retaliate in self-defence. According to them, the men were also harassing a pregnant women, who then took a video clip of the altercation on her mobile phone.
This video later went viral on YouTube, and shows a male passenger repeatedly trying to separate one of the men from the women, while most other passengers look the other way. With growing concern in India about sexual violence against women, the video generated a wave of support for the sisters.
The men were slapped with sexual harassment charges, their job applications to the military rejected, and the state administration planned to reward the women on Republic Day for their bravery.
But since then troubling questions have been raised. Firstly, police have not been able to locate the pregnant woman who reportedly filmed the video. Secondly, at least five witnesses have come forward to claim that the there was no ‘eve teasing’ – the men had merely asked the sisters to change seats, to which the sisters reacted violently.
According to the Hindustan Times, a resident of Sonepat district, Bimla, submitted an affidavit that she had asked two of the boys to get seats for her and another woman who was unwell. When the boys requested the two sisters to vacate the seat allotted to the ailing woman, they refused. The sisters then kicked, punched and belted the boys after a heated exchange of words. Bimla said that a third girl accompanying them had captured the incident on her mobile camera. To save themselves, the two boys then jumped off the bus.
Three women passengers from the sisters’ own village, Thana Khurd, have also given similar statements to the police.
The incident has got even more murkier with the appearance of a second video clip that shows the sisters attacking a boy in a Rohtak park one month earlier.
The sisters claim that this was also in self-defence. But according to two witnesses in the park – Virender Dhankar and Yogeshwer – the girls allegedly abused the boy and tore his clothes off after he asked them why they were wasting their time in the park instead of attending college. Another girl accompanying them had filmed the incident, the police were told.
A female NDTV journalist tweeted: "V v odd, another video emerges of Rohtak girls beating up boys in a park from a month ago. Again no evidence of boys molesting them on camera".
The sisters have not explained who filmed this video, but they dismiss suggestions that it casts doubt on their story.
"Let them (families of the men) say what they want to say. They have got used to beating girls. Now they are coming up with weird allegations," Aarti told BBC News.
The reporter Rupa Jha found the two sisters to be spirited young women, with the support of their family in a largely patriarchal village.
"We will hit back again if men misbehave with us. We will not take it lying down," the girls told Jha.
Meanwhile, the three men on the bus live a few kilometres away, in a village called Aasan.
"The allegations are all fabricated," the sister of one of the men told Jha. "These women have a habit of alleging harassment by men and then demanding money [from them]. I know my brother is innocent. We demand a proper investigation into the incident," she said.