Changing of the Guard

Jan 13, 2013, 10:36 IST | Phorum Dalal

Post the Delhi gang rape, the urgency to take a fresh perspective towards gender issues has given rise to new initiatives. A website for women tracks the spot where they were harassed, new intervention programmes will help differently-abled women and city cops will get trained to handle rape and sexual harassment cases � this time it doesn't end at a candle march vigil. But is this enough?

On December 15, 2012 around 25 members from a, Delhi-based NGO, Nirantar, which works for women’s rights, met at Saket in South Delhi to spread awareness on sexual violence. To drive the point home, volunteers performed skits on sexual harassment, gender insensitivity and misogyny.

Elsa D’Silva and and Surya Bansal speak about Safecity (.in) to students outside Mithibai College in Juhu. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Half way through a skit, around 50 to 60 men invaded the peaceful protest. “They told us we had no right to protest and said ‘Agar ladki jalebi ki tarah dikhegi, to makhi to binbinayega (If a girl looks like a sweetmeat, she’s bound to attract flies)’,” says Rituparna Borah, a queer feminist activist, recalling
the incident.  The next day, on December 16, a 23 year-old physiotherapy intern was brutally beaten up and gang raped on a moving bus at Munirka in south Delhi.

“The horrendous incident was an eye-opener. And now, we don’t need reactions to the Delhi gang rape incident, but an ongoing strategy that will address the safety of women,” explains Borah, who has led meetings with ministers for reforming current laws and also took part in the Take Back the Night protest on December 31, when women marched to Munirka where the ordeal of the 23 year-old student began on the fateful night of December 16.

Students in Gurgaon take part in a candlelight procession

Almost a month after the gang rape victim died on December 29, India has not lost its momentum, as initiatives to combat gender bias and violence against women are being kickstarted by both, the citizens and the government.

Mapping harassment
Just five days after the Delhi gang rape, Delhi-based Saloni Malhotra started Safecity (.in), an open source tool that allows you to pin the spot where one was sexually harassed. She started the website with two other friends she met at an MBA program in Stockholm, 39 year-old Elsa D’Silva and 32 year-old Surya Bansal, and social media entrepreneur, 24 year-old Aditya Kapoor.

“We are inspired by HarassMap in Egypt, a similar mapping forum. The idea is to encourage women to report the spot where they were sexually harassed — a hotspot or unsafe area. Every day, so many women are sexually harassed, and their information will help recognise unsafe spots in the world,” says Malhotra, adding that police and citizens can use the multi-informing reporting system to take action.

Safecity also has information
on safety issues, counselling, and helps users get in touch with NGOs. “We are collaborating with content online and creating a library of sorts — how can women take precaution from untoward incidents, what can she do once someone has sexually harassed her, and decoding the legal system,” says Malhotra. The team has also given Safecity a street presence called Safecity Sunday, where, on one day of the week, like-minded people meet at a hotspot and brainstorm about changes they want to implement. “We can get in touch with the police, inform them about incidents and become the eyes and ears to the police and each other,” says Malhotra, who believes that each person’s expertise can be used to formulate a long-lasting solution.

Safety for differently-abled
Dr Sunita Dube, chairperson of Medscape, a health organisation, would agree. “After the Delhi gang rape, the association is going to tie up with Maharashtra Rajya Apangavit Vikas Mandal, a government organisation that works for the differently-abled. “We want to conduct intervention programmes to educate differently-abled women on issues of rape and sexual harassment. Ninety per cent of the rapes go unreported and as doctors, we all get patients who were raped or molested. As per law, doctors as are not supposed to report the crime and only treat the patient,” says Dube.

A handicapped person, says Dube, should always have someone to look after them. “We are going to request the government for a special attendance allowance. We will also conduct sensitisation training among handicapped women. Some individuals can be given pepper sprays, others can be taught to shout loudly if someone misbehaves with them,” says Dube.

The association will soon conduct a three-day rural health at Kiroli. “We will interact with women who work in the home or in paddy fields and sensitise them about rape and sexual harassment. They seldom report such crimes because they are often tortured, poked fun at or think it will prevent them from finding a spouse later,” concludes Dube.

Cops at work
Last week, Mumbai Police conducted an interaction with 3,000 college students at Shanmukhanda Hall, Matunga, where Himanshu Roy, Joint Commissioner of Police, (Crime), spoke on the recent Delhi gang rape and the measures being implemented in the city. “We are working on a new protocol for investigation of rape cases. A standard sensitisation training will be held for the entire police force this year wherein they will be taught to deal with cases of rape and sexual harassment,” says Roy.

The Goa Police have revamped their women’s helpline 1091 post the Delhi gang rape to ensure quicker justice to victims. “Calls to the helpline will first be connected to the Central Police Control Room. After receiving the complaint, it will be directed to the Police Control Room van and the concerned police station. We have women police stations in Panjim and Madgoan and we plan to increase the number soon. Every police station in the state will get an additional two to three constables and head constables. The posting is underway presently,” says Dr OP Mishra, DIG crime and intelligence, over the telephone.

Enough is not enough
According to activists, the past two years have seen more sensitisation towards rape and sexual harassment of women. But this is just the beginning, says Nandita Shah, co-director of Akshara, an organisation that works towards gender issues in Mumbai. “What everybody is saying right now is a knee-jerk reaction to the Delhi gang rape. We need a comprehensive response plan. We conducted a strategy meeting with organisations, scientists and Dalit organisations to articulate the road ahead. We need to reconsider our laws. What will happen to the policeman who refuses to attend to a complaint? We need an entirely new perspective to dealing with the situation of sexual violence,” says Shah.

She adds that people need to start taking action against lewd comments men pass at women, “the ma-behen abuses they hurl”. “Parents sometimes don’t support their daughters when she complains of sexual harassment. Asking her to change the route she takes daily is not a solution. The curriculum in schools needs to be revised. But all this will take time. People are in a hurry, but those who truly want a change, will have to aim for long-term solutions,” says Shah.

And, there is nobody out there to fix the problem, says Malhotra of Safecity. “There is no ‘they’ who will fix the problem. We are all experts and we have to tie all our efforts together and be the change,” she says.

Handy smartphone apps
Mahindra Group’s Fight Back app which was created for women employees of the company, is now available to the public on smartphones. The application tracks a user’s location, which then sends SOS messages to those select contacts during emergency crises. This App, which is available on the company’s website and is free of charge, allows users to press a panic button during crises. Another app, I Am Safe, created by Bangalore-based compnay Mobiwhiz a year ago reports your location to a chosen contact that will receive SMSes with your current location retrieved automatically. It is available on app stores and free of cost. 

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