Tuesday, August 22, 2017

90% Girls Facing Harassment In The Twin Cities Have Never Sought Police Help!

“There was this stranger at the exhibition that I had once visited. He kept following me to all the stalls I went, while touching and feeling my body all the while I was there. I tried running away but he kept stalking me determinedly. I was very young and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do,” says Anwesha, a first year student of Regional Institute of Education, Bhubaneswar.


Be it the recent cases of eve- teasing incident of two girls by three men on the Nandan Kanan road or of a private tuition teacher allegedly misbehaving with an MBA girl student of Utkal University and making an indecent proposal to her, cases of sexual harassments keep surfacing every now and then, way too frequently.


The major reason behind this behaviour is its prevalence in every aspect of the society, irrespective of how hyped or under reported it may be in the media. The twin cities of Odisha still do not have a public space where women can feel safe.  Though the situation may not be as grave as that in the metros or other cities in the country, Bhubaneswar poised at becoming a smart city and Cuttack being the oldest city in the state have been recording incidents of misbehaviour against women in public places, even in broad daylight.


My City Links recently conducted a survey among young women from the schools, colleges and offices across Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, and asked them to share their thoughts on the issue, and how they keep themselves safe from the menace of eve-teasing and sexual harassment. With more than 33% of women saying that they feel unsafe once they step out of their homes, the ugly truth about how women are treated in our cities has come out.

As high as 59.8 % of women said they have at some point experienced harassment or been a victim of eve teasing, or were present with somebody who was a victim for such behaviour. This definitely points towards a dire need of a reality check.


Ankita Ananyaa of Ravenshaw University in Cuttack says, “Once we were travelling in the bus, when my friend who was sitting at the aisle seat was being continuously pestered by a man who was standing next to her seat. Even as we shouted at him, he was stubborn enough not to mend his mannerism.”


As chilling as it may seem, young women complain that they face such harassment on an everyday basis. Sivayeeka Sivani from Cuttack says, “It doesn’t matter what you are wearing, vulgar comments or even men staring at you, will make you uncomfortable every time you are in public. Some years ago, my friend was touched inappropriately in the college campus by a man who ran away after the act.”

When confronted with such a situation, most of them did not know how to react in self-defence against the attacker except a few who said they carry a bottle of pepper spray or chilli flakes in their bags all the time.


As per the survey, many girls said that they find many pockets in the cities as ‘risk zones’. Naraj and CDA being the most vulnerable areas in Cuttack, Khandagiri, Baramunda, Gatikia, Patia and other isolated outskirts areas of Bhubaneswar ranked high among places in the cities which are completely unsafe for women. A number of women also said they found busy market places and neighbourhoods, besides the uncrowded places, unsafe.


As safety for women is being increasingly deemed an issue worthy of attention and concern, particularly in twin cities, the government and security enforcement agencies’ response to promote precautionary policies for women has been well-meaning. It has, however, only reinforced the prevalent social preference to put the onus of women’s safety on women themselves. Attempts to address the deep-seated issues that make women feel unsafe, in the first place, have been limited and slack.


Assurances from the police or making of new laws for protection of women have done little to make the streets of our twin cities safer for our women, especially when they are using public transport or are in the public. Nearly 90 per cent of the respondents who admitted to have experienced eve teasing or harassment say they never considered lodging a complaint with the police in the first place while 69 % of them did not deem it necessary or were scared of bringing the matter to the notice of their families. At least 52 % of them felt that they did not report cases because of a basic lack of trust in the policing system and the law and order situation in the city, which they find is weak.


As the situation is turning grave each day with more incidents coming into limelight, women are also seen raising their voices. The state government and the police have also incorporated technology into their agenda of women’s safety with installation of CCTVs, provision of safety apps like Mo Sathi app and emergency help lines; but without the consorted public campaigns, these provisions can never enhance the already limited scope of public safety of women.


Close to 69% of the women in the survey said they were not aware of the existence of the Mo Sathi app, while 50% of the surveyed women said they are completely unaware of any kind of help lines at their disposal if ever faced with a vulnerable situation. It wasn’t surprising that 91% of the ladies who found themselves in the situation have never used any such app.


Manisha Samal of XIMB says “To really eradicate or reduce crimes against women in our society, we need to start focusing on its prevention. We need to teach our boys about acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour, and they must respect women in all contexts. Awareness campaigns must target people in offices, schools, as well as in public spaces.”


A young lady who did not want to be named told us how a male friend of hers once tried showing her what it meant to be “broad minded”. “He touched me most inappropriately. I objected and tried freeing myself but he held my hands tightly.”


This incident is a reminder that it is not only the public areas where women find themselves unsafe; women are equally unsafe in the private sphere. More than 41% of the women felt the reason behind the rising number of cases is because of the mindset prevalent in our society. “Values that men in our society are brought up with tend to make them consider women as commodities of their pleasure. Changing mindsets and dismantling systems which consider women as inferior will go a long way in ensuring overall safety of women,” says Soumika Dey, an HR executive working in Bhubaneswar.


It Has To Be A Combined Effort: Mahila Police

When MCL caught up with Inspector In-charge of Mahila Police Station, Bhubaneswar, with the survey results, she however had a different story to share. “I firmly believe that Bhubaneswar as a city at least has become much safer for women today. The Commissionerate Police has taken many steps, including PCR services, pink auto service, help line numbers and self defense programmes in different colleges and institutions to reduce eve-teasing and molestation cases in the city. However, it is not always possible for police to come to the immediate rescue of girls in distress. So, they should be conscious all the time, particularly when they are going on a date with their male friends. Many a times, even the girls are to be blamed for landing in trouble. So, it is important for families to counsel them from time to time. The responsibility lies not just with the police but also the girls, their family and society in general.”