For the last week, people in the southern Indian city of Bangalore have been gripped by an ATM-phobia, following a brutally unprecedented attack on a woman-banker inside an ATM kiosk in the heart of the city.
ATMs have been a favourite target of thieves in this city, popularly called India’s Silicon Valley for its huge software industry.
There have been several instances of thieves breaking into ATM kiosks, using welding equipment to unhinge the machines and then lug them into waiting vans to open them at leisure. But the daring attack on a customer was the first of its kind.
The attacker, as yet untraced, kept a watch on the ATM cabin on the morning of November 19 around 7:30am. Jyothi Uday, the woman who was employed in a bank nearby, decided to withdraw money to celebrate her daughter’s birthday.
Unsuspecting, she walked into the ATM. The assailant quickly followed, pulled down the shutter and the next few minutes were a nightmare for Jyothi, akin to the famous scene of the woman in the bathtub in Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Psycho”.
Jyothi Uday’s ordeal was captured by the ATM’s closed-circuit television camera. The attacker first pulled out what looked like a pistol and demanded that she withdraw money for him. The woman, unfazed and unsure, refused. The angry assailant then took out a machete and proceeded to hit her with it until she collapsed. The man then snatched her mobile and debit card, opened the shutter, walked out and pulled the shutter down again.
This all occured even as people moved about and traffic was on as usual, on the road just outside the ATM.
Three hours later, a couple of school students saw blood trickling out from under the shutter and informed the police. The victim suffered near paralysis and had to undergo brain surgery to repair the wound caused by the attack. Reports quoting her doctors say she will recover in six months.
The footage was leaked to television channels, enabling the entire city and country to watch the action in horror. Newspapers carried the sequential pictures the next morning, triggering an uproar. The ubiquitous ATM had become something of a place to be feared.
The mother of a young lawyer told Al Jazeera that her daughter planned to withdraw money from an ATM one evening after the attack. She paused before entering the ATM, looked around and decided against it, instead deciding to ask her father to go. ATMs decidedly look menacing.
The police have meanwhile clamped down on ATMs, which have no security guards. Of the 4000 ATMs in the city, nearly 1150 have been shut on grounds of security. Banks have sought time to recruit security guards for all ATMs.
A senior police officer said it would make sense to have ATMs embedded along the pavement instead of in an enclosed space, as is the case abroad. Other suggestions include having a group of ATMs in one complex with high security. But until the makeover, there is no doubt that ATMs are never going to be same again, at least in this city.