Women in India's commercial capital are being encouraged to fight against gender violence and demand police assistance to secure their rights by a group of social crusaders who came together through a social networking site.
In a novel move, Fight-Back, a Facebook community of people fighting against gender atrocities, distributed wallet cards to women in Mumbai that have phone numbers of police help lines set up to tackle gender crimes, with the help of the Rotaract Club, a voluntary organisation engaged in service to the society.
The commuters, mostly students and working women, are often subjected to lewd advances and sexual abuses by men in crowded local trains and at railway stations.
On Monday, a team of 15 Fight-Back and Rotaract Samaritans took to the streets of Mumbai to distribute the cards to women commuters outside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Churchgate railway stations.
According to official estimates, nearly six million people in Mumbai travel on local trains every day, of which nearly 40 percent are women. Safety is a major concern for the women commuters who are vulnerable to molestation, eve teasing and groping in crowded railway stations and inside the trains after sundown. Local thugs also stalk them at times.
"The most common form of crime in crowded railway stations is groping. And the culprits usually get away with it," said Prashant Chari, president of the Rotaract Club, Churchgate, who took part in the drive.
"The idea behind the exercise was to make sure that victims reported incidents of gender crimes to their nearest police stations. More complaints will ensure greater impact and it will be easier for the police to identify the culprits," Chari told IANS from Mumbai.
The beneficiaries of the campaign are relieved that the phone numbers work.
"Police helplines in our country are mostly non-functional. But we have tested the telephone numbers listed on the wallet cards and they work," said Aarthi Gunnupuri, who has been given a Fight-Back card.
Aarthi, who works in a television production house, travels from Santa Cruz to Lower Parel everyday.
Her friends Purva Taneja and Rima Naronha, both working women who travel on local trains, are also happy that the police has responded to their "demo calls".
"I have been feeling a little scared about moving around alone in Mumbai ever since the New Year's Eve molestation of two women in Juhu," Taneja said.
Fight-Back has also distributed 800 posters raising awareness about gender violence and ways to fight it in Bangladesh and Nepal through the Rotaract Club.
The community, set up in January this year after a newly-wed woman was harassed by goons outside the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Mumbai's posh Juhu area, is trying to teach women to report gender crimes to the police and protect themselves in the process by seeking police help.
Fight-Back reaches out to women on the Internet with information about police help lines across the country, gender laws, safety tips, expert comments and individual experiences.
It is also mobilising the star power of Bollywood actors to rally against gender violence.
Fight-Back has tied up with multinational food chains McDonalds and Café Coffee Day to spread gender awareness through their direct advertising in public places.