With Delhi police claiming a breakthrough yesterday in the gang rape case of a Mizo call centre employee and Gul Panag hitting headlines recently with her statement that she was groped at the half-marathon in Delhi, a look at violence against women in the national capital and in Mumbai
Tenzing (who did not give her last name) 24 has just shifted to Delhi from Himachal Pradesh. But she is already contemplating moving out of the city to locations she feels are 'safer.' "It is just too unsafe being a woman in Delhi. You feel threatened all the time," she says.
Not safe: Eve teasing is rampant in the national capital. Representative pic
And she has reasons to feel that too. Recently, a BPO employee was abducted and gang raped after being dropped near her home by her cab driver. Her colleague escaped.
According to a new survey, nearly 80 per cent of Delhi women fear for their safety in the city. The Delhi Government's Women and Child Development Department, NGO Jagori and international organisation Unifem conducted the survey. The survey is based on interviews of 5,010 people, including 3,816 women and 944 men. The rest are common witnesses like bus conductors, shopkeepers and auto drivers, who have probably witnessed acts of sexual harassment against women.
"Nearly three out of every five women reported facing sexual harassment not only after dark but also during the day. But, it is a good sign that 68 per cent of women deal with harassment in some way like confronting the perpetrator or seeking help from family and friends," said Delhi Health Minister Kiran Walia, who also looks after the Women and Child Development department.
Women's safety has been a perpetual concern in the Capital because, "Delhi is a megalopolis with a high migrant population. Anyone outside the domestic space is threatened. The honour culture and an overdeveloped machismo are to be blamed for this," says sociologist, Shiv Vishwanathan.
Dr Babli Moitra Saraf, Principal, Indraprastha College for Women (Delhi University), feels the situation is getting worse. "While growing up in the '70s and '80s I never felt so intimidated as I feel now stepping out in the dark," she says.
The reason, she feels, is the increasing visibility factor of women in public spaces and the subsequent underlying resentment men feel seeing the confidence of women. "Success, confidence and visibility invite resentment and violence. Men who are on the prowl have received no education and sensitisation about the right of women to be in the public space," she says.
Even city celebs feel the heat. Model and DJ Barkha Kaul feels that the streets are safe only till certain hours. "If you are partying or working late, driving back alone can get very unsafe. Men follow (your car), pass lewd remarks. But it is not possible to have male companions all the time," says Kaul. Forget women commuting in public transport, even celebs feel the brunt of what is being termed as the, 'North Indian Male Mentality.' Actress Gul Panag felt it recently when she was manhandled and groped while running a half marathon in the
Journalist Soumya Vishwanathan producer with television channel, Headlines Today, was shot at while driving back home at night. Incidents like these abound. Not too long ago, a woman was gang raped in a car, which was driven all across Connaught Place. The upcoming movie, No One Killed Jessica starring Rani Mukherjee and Vidya Balan is about the life of model Jessica Lal who was killed following an altercation while she enacted the role of a bartender in a city watering hole.
IT executive Jigisha Ghosh was also killed in upscale South Delhi. The Delhi police at that time came up with bizarre advice, suggesting women wear high heels to work, carry heavy bags, and use both to hit would-be assailants below the belt.
As a rude shock to people who thought affluence and education changes attitude towards women, it was revealed that Vasant Kunj, considered one of the poshest areas of Delhi, has a shockingly low sex ratio.
It is the general attitude towards women in Delhi that is depressingly derogatory. "It just shows extreme insensitivity in the society. Women are perceived as weaker creatures," says psychiatrist Dr Sanjay Chugh.
"Mumbai is controlled by the underworld and Shiv Sena. That's why people there are afraid to commit crimes against women, but in Delhi people are not afraid of anyone. They know they can get away with anything," he says.
Media planner Akansha Yadav agrees. "Men in north India take women for granted and make them a convenient target to vent general frustration, obviously because they feel they can get away with it. More then education, it is the lack of respect and sound reasoning on their part which is definitely a reflection of their upbringing and social intelligence," says Yadav.
Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the Delhi Metro. Even with a coach reserved for women, markings on the platform to mark out the women's compartment, and security guards, men find it impossible to leave the compartment to women. "We have started surprise checks and fines to ensure this doesn't happen," says a Delhi Metro spokesperson.
But attitudes do not change overnight. "Men will remain men. They tend to misbehave whenever they get a chance. And they haven't seen too many good-looking girls. So whenever they see one, they lose control," says Kaul, laughing. "In states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, the concept of women being the repository of male honour is repressive. So it is okay to have a girlfriend, but for marriage, men will go for chaste virgins," says Saraf.
The societal structure is repressive. Patriarchy rules in northern parts of India, the concept of machismo means that men have not grown out of their age-old mindset and see women as easy prey. It is encouraged by families, which treat their men as gods and females are suppressed. In some families, there is rampant discrimination. She is every moment reminded that she is inferior to her brother or other male members of the family and that the family honour resides with her. Also, she has to learn to 'compromise' and 'adjust' at every moment of her life.
Even some Delhi men feel the situation is not good for women. "Men take women for granted. This is the result of a lack of education. They think that no one will raise a voice and nothing will happen to them," says Sunil Naran, a Delhi resident. It is a strange paradox. While the city aspires to reach international standards and is steadily becoming a mega city at least in terms of infrastructure, Delhiites still can't get used to an increasing presence of women who are independent and are demanding their place under the sun. "We live in the 21st century but yet we need to carry pepper spray with us all the time," says communication professional Shivani Gupta.
"Their eyes show how much they respect women. Even men who are old enough to be your father don't feel ashamed to pass lewd comments or touch inappropriately. It is sad," says KPO employee Ruchika Gandotra. "In winters, going out even after 7 pm is not safe. The situation is worse in Gurgaon where there is no public transport. And it is not just the rural population but educated men too who do the same," says KPO employee Komudi Jaiswal who works in Gurgaon.
Walia says public transport; buses and roads with faulty streetlights are the spaces where women and girls face a high level of sexual harassment. But most women in the city are even afraid to turn to the police for help. "I had once asked a policeman for directions. He had deliberately misled me. They think women travelling alone are loose and try to take advantage," says Riya Malhotra, who works in a jewellery store.
Pepper spray, high heels or even a well-placed kick in the unmentionables are temporary measures. What is needed is a change in mindset and attitudes plus laws that would make offenders quake. As a last line, let us do away with the phrase eve teasing. It gives a flippant, light-hearted connotation to a very serious crime, no eve teasing, it is sexual molestation that needs to be tackled with the gravity it deserves.