Lindsay Pereira: We owe all women an apology

Jun 02, 2018, 05:41 IST | Lindsay Pereira

Women travelling in Mumbai repeatedly complain about not feeling safe on public transport. Why isn't this shaming us into behaving better?

Thirty-seven per cent of women interviewed for a survey conducted by the Western Railway want ladies-only services to be introduced at night. Representation pic
Thirty-seven per cent of women interviewed for a survey conducted by the Western Railway want ladies-only services to be introduced at night. Representation pic

Lindsay PereiraHere's an interesting statistic to chew upon. Thirty-seven per cent of women interviewed for a survey conducted by the Western Railway want ladies-only services to be introduced at night. Assuming this survey has been conducted with the same efficiency that the Railways keep their stations clean, the number must be a lot higher because few women may know about the survey's existence in the first place. If this is meant to convince the rest of us that the remaining 63 per cent feel safe enough to take a train after sunset, the survey needs to involve a lot more women.

This isn't the first time the Railways have promised to do something about women's safety, of course. They've been trying for as long as I can remember, with everything from more security guards at stations to women constables, police and railway police personnel in ladies compartments and patrolling on empty stretches to dissuade some of our fellow citizens from throwing stones at women commuters.

A significant number of women still demand round-the-clock security on all locals, and aren't happy about reserved coaches reverting into general ones during late hours. At the same time, large numbers of men continue to be unhappy about trains reserved for ladies, because misogyny is an intrinsic part of our culture. Interestingly, May 5 this year marked the 26th anniversary of the first suburban train service for women between Churchgate and Borivli. That's over a quarter of a century for the rest of Mumbai to accept and acknowledge that a problem exists.

The Railways' official response involves a feasibility study and the intention to 'work on a plan' to increase the number of security personnel in women's coaches. It also wants to develop an app to help staff members on patrolling duty log details about unsafe or unpatrolled spots. The fact that an app will be required to do what a conversation with a small group of women can accomplish within minutes is telling, because it shows how cavalier official responses can be in the face of repeated complaints.

It's not as if the city outside railway stations is any safer. The Mumbai Police intend to roll out a safe city project for women that will cost over R200 crore and involve everything from drones for aerial surveys to the mapping of crime hotspots and panic buttons at select locations. The panic buttons will supposedly set off an alarm at the police control room, triggering a quick response from the nearest positioned patrol and response vehicles. There will also be CCTV cover with panoramic cameras, facial recognition software and more technology to transmit information in real time. For women being harassed online, plans are afoot to launch another application and QR Code (why?) for cyber forensics and big data analytics. There will also be a significant number of crores spent on the training and sensitisation of police officers, awareness and outreach programmes, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles as well as response vehicles with mounted cameras.

Foreigners visiting our city after being swayed by those misleading Incredible India ads may find it strange that so much has to be spent on educating men how to treat women with respect, but these plans were all initiated six years ago, after the brutal gang-rape of a young woman in Delhi. The government promised to do something at the time, probably because people outside India were horrified by the level of violence against women that most of us have long grown used to. That it has taken six years for plans to be announced is an indication of how long women may actually have to wait to see all of these fancy gadgets and security on the streets, but that's probably a whole other story.

It sometimes feels like a war zone — the idea of panic buttons, dash-cams, aerial drones, round-the-clock security, ladies-only compartments and Geographic Information System mapping all being put into action by task forces trying to take on an evil of epic proportions. And yet, all of this technology and manpower has to be deployed simply because the men of Mumbai can't seem to do anything much to let the women of their city feel safer. Shame on us all. And so much for supposedly respecting a woman called Bharat Mata.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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