The Long road to change
Then and now: The surge in cases of crime against women in the tricity has made the fairer sex jittery. However, women refuse to buckle down and take on their perpetrators with unceasing vigour. Women from across the tricity share their experiences of what has changed over the years.chandigarh Updated: Dec 11, 2013 01:14 IST
We deserve a safer world to live in goes without saying
Guest Column: Neel Kamal Puri
The statistics are vulnerable. You can twist their neck and they will say anything.
The surge in the number of cases of sexual harassment point towards four things — the law and order scenario is in disarray, men behave more badly, there are more women in the public sphere than before and women today are less afraid of the perpetrators of crime than before. Though fifty plus years and a sweep of white hair already disqualifies one from making observations about the present state of affairs since, fortunately, cat calls are a thing of the past, but one can bring to the table what used to be. And, I have to say that most women, not only from my generation but also from the previous ones, will be able to recall many instances of being harassed on the streets when they did go out. Some of them retaliated, others did not.
My mother, for instance, remembers throwing a fistful of dust into a leering man’s eyes. So, as they say, men will be men, or to get the tense right, were always so. But what has changed is the fact that women are no longer confined to what might be termed as safe spaces. However, it is also true that past the threshold, dangers multiply. And, of course, many more women go out to work today than they did yesterday, and they also go out to have fun and that is as it should be.
I would prefer to see the increase in the number of cases of sexual harassment as a reflection of the increased mobility of women.
Let not this positive inference mean that we can sit back satisfied. Women deserve a safer world to live in goes without saying. Nor are they afraid of demanding it for themselves. They used to be though.
I remember a bus journey when a surreptitious male hand made its way towards me, and the woman on the other side was advising me to keep quiet. “You will only bring shame on yourself if you make a noise,” she told me. Hopefully, with more women complaining of sexual harassment means a shift in the burden of guilt to the right quarters.
Will my grand-daughter walk when she wants to through city streets?
Guest Column: Nirupama Dutt
I was born in Chandigarh and have lived more than half my life here. With a rich experience in reporting, I used to go on my moped during my younger years at odd hours to report events. I know the city streets, lanes, by-lanes and back lanes like the back of my hand.
But, sadly, if I ask myself whether I’m safe in my city? The answer, even when strands of silver mark my black hair, is in the negative. Now, when am nearly 60 years of age, my concern is that I may be mugged for my bag. However, younger girls navigate their life through what is called the City Beautiful, worried for much more.
Reports of young women on how they ensure safety for themselves makes for a harrowing reading. In an age when girls should be venturing out to tackle the day with a song in their hearts, they arm themselves with pepper and perfume sprays, knives, chilli powder and women helpline numbers.
The past decade has seen women on two-wheelers virtually in hijab with their dupattas tied all over their countenance artfully to leave only a slit for the eyes. They have earned the rather sexist epithet of ‘daku hasinas.’ However, the truth is they feel more secure away from the prying eyes of men.
Rape, molestation and killings are an everyday affair for women even when they are children. But when the horrific Delhi gang-rape case shook the nation’s conscience, a dancer and performing artist did a moving piece on a woman’s right to walk, take a bus or lie down in a part, well past midnight.
Watching her ascertaining every woman’s right at the last Jaipur Literature Festival, streams of tears flowed down the cheeks of women not just from India, but also from abroad. This state of affairs led feminists to upload a protest poster on Facebook stating: “The problem is MAN hence men should not be allowed to go on out after 9 pm.”
Barbs and satire apart, I find myself hoping that I could not and neither my daughter, but grand-daughter, who is over 25-day-old, will grow up to walk through the city streets when she wants. Let my city do me proud. Amen!
Nip evil in the bud
Guest Column: Ritu Nanda
Thankfully, as per the statistics of the survey conducted by Hindustan Times and Institute for Development and Communication, India is not the rape capital of the world.
But the spurt in sexual harassment cases in the tricity is shocking. We need to nip the menace in the bud. For this, a few remedial measures can be initiated:
Special Buses: Residents of the tricity feel that special buses should ply for women, particularly at night. Further, there should be regular checking of such transport and steps taken to ensure that drivers of buses and shared autos bear good moral character. Heavy challans should be imposed on autos for overloading.
More police presence: More police personnel are required at busy markets, parks and gardens, and secluded spots. The presence of women cops will instill a greater sense of security among girls. The police should punish the offenders sternly.
Education: Education begins at home. It is the duty of parents to inculcate in their sons a sense of respect for women. A college degree is not required to teach respect for women. Children observe how their father treats their mother. This slogan was a hit on Facebook after the ‘Nirbhaya’ case — ‘Don’t tell your daughter not to go out. Tell your son to behave properly.’ TV shows such as Satyamev Jayate are welcome as they can reach out to all strata of society.
Self Protection: NGOs can come forward to form charitable trusts that provide a platform to women to address their grievances and fears. These trusts should impart martial arts training to women who move out alone at night. Such an initiative can also be taken up by call centre and IT companies. Change does not come overnight. But the seeds of change have been sowed. Now it is up to the residents to support this laudable initiative taken up by Hindustan Times.
Bad gesture, touch are offences. So is attitude...
First person: Sukhdeep Kaur
Born a woman, you live like one. Has my world changed as I wield the mighty pen to write against the powerful? No job or status can insulate a woman from sexually offensive gesture, stare, words or touch. She encounters such predators on the road, at a public place, public transport, place of work and inside her home among relatives and friends.
As so-called empowered women breaking into male bastions, reporters are treated as “equals”.
So we are and pushed and shoved during messy public rallies and press briefings. Like our male counterparts, we travel with unknown drivers on highways late at night covering outstation stories.
Reporting on a rape survivor at a far-flung village, we too fear the unknown while facing prying eyes.
While driving down secluded roads after meeting late deadlines, we too encounter revolting gestures or a chase. Some also consider our profession bold enough to make insinuations. Being in the business of reporting, do we report it? I am glad someone did.
The first advice is always from another woman — a sister, mother or a friend. “Ignore, forgive and forget the unsavoury experience. All women go through it. God meant it this way!” While some invoke your and the family’s honour — still the victim is more vulnerable of losing honour than the perpetrator — some thoughtful employers or colleagues will see it just as a job hazard. After all, it is a different thing to give headlines on sexual offences and quite another to become the headline.
Mercifully, such incidents do not happen daily. We also learn to ward them off by experience. But what about attitudes we encounter almost everyday?
When our good stories are attributed to our feminine charms or our family connections. And as it with all jobs, we better be damn better than our male colleagues to justify that salary hike or jump in designation. The debate on new laws on women safety is stirring the same debate within me, a reporter of such offences. Born a woman, we can choose not to live with it.
Need to change mindset
First person: Monica Sharma
“Delhi jaisa ek incident Chandigarh mein bhi ho jaye toh char paanch din nikal jayenge,” these shocking words from a crime reporter still echo in my ears when I hear about any case of rape or sexual harassment in any form.
I don’t know whether he realised what he had said or actually meant that, but his words froze me last December after television channels started airing details of the horrific gang-rape and assault of a physiotherapy intern in a moving bus in south Delhi.
Like cops, crime reporters, they say, begin to lose their sensitivity after being on the “beat” for a few years. But to wish for a horrendous crime to get a few days’ work is cruel, unthinkable, and outright disgusting. And, it is also perhaps a sign of the deranged mindsets in our society.
Worse, the gory incident, which shook the entire country, and numerous other incidents of rape of girls as young as 5-6 years of age, has failed to sensitise some people. The national capital and other parts of the country saw protests for five days. Angry youngsters took to the streets to express their solidarity with the victim and demand stringent punishment for the rapists. Who can forget the candle marches, spontaneous protests and black dots on BBM and What’sApp statuses? Public protests were led by young girls and boys who braved the Delhi winter. But, unfortunately, rapes and other crimes against women have not stopped. While awareness among women has risen, the need of the hour is to change the mindsets. I interact with a cross-section of men as part of my daily work and I find many of them insensitive on the subject.
A few are even critical of the amendments in the law against sexual harassment. At the same time, one gets to hear stories of ‘tough guys’ who shed tears after hearing the ruthlessness with which the young woman was assaulted, raped and killed. This can happen to anyone travelling on the road. The answer lies in educating everyone, especially young children, about respecting women.
While interacting with students, young women, professionals and housewives, during the Hindustan Times campaign on women safety, I realised they all demanded a city where they could enjoy their space without being stalked, stared or commented upon on their attitude, dressing sense and so forth.
‘I became courageous’
First person: Jyotsna Jalali
It is not that I’ve never been harassed by roadside romeos, or been touched and brushed in a local bus. But one episode, which took place earlier this year, shook me to the hilt. Before you draw any conclusions, let me clarify, that the incident made me more courageous and of course, cautious.
Last year, when I was driving towards Panchkula and reached the Sectors 4-5 dividing road — towards Sector 8 from the lake side — the driver of a car moving ahead of me suddenly, took out his hand and brandished his middle finger. Confused and angry, I decided to confront him and slowed down my car. However, the man halted his vehicle and made the same gesture again.
Though passers-by witnessed the incident, nobody intervened. Before I could react, the driver started banging at my car’s window, challenging me to alight from the vehicle. I froze in my seat and found it extremely hard to press the accelerator. However, I mustered courage and moved my car to see that the driver was following me. I drove at high speed, negotiating many turns as I could in Sector 8, but the man kept following my car and making the same gestures.
In the process, I managed to note down his car’s registration number and called the police control room number 100, who assured help. Being a journalist, the police took less than half an hour to trace the man. It was found that he belonged to a well-heeled family of the city. Later, he tendered an apology and the issue was resolved.
Share your story
It’s a matter often discussed in drawing rooms, but seldom does it lead to introspection. HT invites readers — male and female — to write in with their experiences, personal and witnessed, of sexual harassment. You can choose to keep your identity hidden, and try to write in not over 250 words. Keep in mind, each story will add to the collective consciousness of a society that needs cleansing. Play your part. Talk to us at firstname.lastname@example.org