Danger round the corner

Danger round the corner

For the city’s working women, the last-mile walk on the dimly lit, desolate roads couldn’t get riskier.

Dusk slowly enveloped the city. But caught in their commute hassles enroute home, the bizarre play of street and vehicular lights, most Bangaloreans missed it with casual disdain. Yet, Sulochana was deeply worried. As her bus inched closer to the stop far out of the city centre, she knew she had to walk through that poorly-lit last mile stretch yet again. One last look at the watch and it was time for her daily prayer: That she be safe, and yes, be lucky enough to escape those men once more!

For lakhs of working women in the city, the final, late evening stretch to their home from the main road couldn’t have turned riskier. On the city’s outskirts, where men in khaki are a rarity, they know they cannot take chances. But options they have none either. Negotiating those isolated stretches, they feel they cannot trust anyone. Never a stranger, not even the overcharging autorickshaw driver! 

So they walk. And, if they are lucky, they would spot a Hoysala mobile squad on a four-wheeler or a two-wheeler Cheetah squad. But they would rarely encounter the Abhaya patrol vehicles, launched with much fanfare in the City by former Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar’s wife, Shilpa Shettar in January this year. This dedicated fleet of patrol vehicles manned by women police officials were designed exclusively to cater to women’s grievances. The fleet of seven vehicles had a sense of urgency then. The nation had just been outraged by the brutal Delhi gangrape.

Eve-teasers and stalkers were high on the Abhaya hit list. To be manned by a woman police sub-inspector and two women constables round-the-clock in shifts, the vehicles were to be ready for action on call. Aggrieved women, facing a tricky trouble at a bus stop, college, or a deserted area, just to had call helplines 1091 and 10928 and await help in a jiffy! The Abhaya teams were to be trained in quick response, counselling and the required skill sets.

The plan looked good on paper. But the police had to guard against complacency. They had to ensure that it didn’t meet the same fate as the Vanitha Sahayavani (Women’s Helpline), now bogged down by frivolous complaints linked to marital discords.

As a top woman police official put it, the personnel manning this helpline are caught in a web of intractable personal issues, problems that shouldn’t have been taken up at all.  

Safety mechanism

Simply put, the official mechanism to make the city’s women feel safe and secure is still in its infancy. For proof, take the case of the two all-women police stations set up in Basavanagudi and Ulsoor Gate. Senior women police officers themselves admit the setup has been largely non-functional. On the condition of anonymity, an officer describes the personnel in such stations across the State as arrogant, insensitive and unhelpful to women’s concerns.

Ironically, the stations were established precisely to inject an element of sensitivity towards women. It was expected that victims of rape, eve-teasing and other harassment would walk in with a lot more confidence to lodge complaints.

But the promised escape from the tyranny of some male policemen driving vicarious pleasure from interrogating the complainants, never materialised. The loud thinking now is to completely do away with these all-women stations and instead, recruit a fair share of women in every police station. “At least 30 to 40 per cent of the staff could be women,” suggests an IPS cadre officer.

Faced with a severe staff crunch in many stations, the suggested alternative will obviously not happen in a hurry. So, as episodes of eve-teasing, chain-snatching, stalking, and outright robbery rise, the police would have to look for community initiatives, workable mechanisms with citizen’s participation. As motorcycle-borne criminals stealthily approach non-suspecting women, pluck their gold chains and make a quick getaway leaving her in utter shock, the neighbourhood would have to be prepared and rush to her defence.  

Involving community

Neighbourhood watch schemes of yesteryears had worked well against burglars in a few localities. Realising the power of a well-informed, well-trained citizenry to ensure their own safety, a unique civil defence initiative called the Area Suraksha Mitra (ASM) is now on in the city.

Launched by an NGO in association with the city police, ASM is about training citizens to actively create safer neighbourhoods and strong communities, and form an active bridge between the community and the police. While women’s safety naturally figures high on its agenda, ASM volunteers are also trained in first aid, emergency response and disaster management.

Formally kicked off by Home minister K J George in June, the ASM’s pilot covers seven city police stations that include Ashok Nagar, Banaswadi, Jnanabharathi, JP Nagar, Rajagopal Nagar, Madiwala and Yelahanka. The volunteers, called Area Suraksha Mitras, from each police station limits form part of the Jana Suraksha Samithi. This Samithi acts as the link between the police and the community.

Yet, this initiative too will take time to dig deeper roots in the city. But the city’s explosive growth and huge influx of workers from all parts of the country means the police, NGOs or citizens initiative’s cannot wait before throwing some sort of a safety net around the city’s vulnerable sections. For the record, the police are clear that migrant workers form a big chunk of the criminals now being caught for various attacks. They tellingly include even a few private security guards!

Lately, there has been a realisation that women, while being vulnerable to attacks even by known persons at home, confront the biggest challenges while commuting. The recent launch of an all-woman cab fleet, Angel City Cabs, is testimony to this threat perception. The service stands unique in its employment of a lady driver.

The rationale, as explained by its founders, is striking in its insight:  Even with GPS-enabled vehicle tracking systems, women are not too sure of their safety when driven by an absolute stranger and yes, a man. Better safe than sorry!

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