Fear of strangers is something women in the city never get rid of.
These random strangers leave women terrified and sometimes scarred for life by groping, chasing and even feeling them up in public spaces. Unhindered, they often switch to bigger crimes forcing women to stay holed up indoors if the sun is down or there’s no trustworthy male accomplice.
“I have to carry a fork in my bag all the time. It’s a habit. Whenever I see a man looking at me too much, my hand slips into my bag,” said 25-year-old Heena Kohli (name changed), who works in Noida. She recalled how she was walking down from ITO with a friend once when a boy, who looked like a school-goer, suddenly came running under the Tilak Bridge and groped her so hard that she almost fell. “I was so ashamed of what had just happened. My friend, who was walking with me, didn’t even realise I had just been assaulted. It was that quick and unexpected. He ran away and people walking towards the Metro station stopped to ask me if that guy stole my wallet. I sneaked away too,” she said.
According to HT-C fore survey of 2,557 women conducted between December 3 and 11, 88% women said they did not know the person who harassed them. For 43% women, it was just a random stranger. More than 50% women said the harasser was not older than 30 years. Though they could be as young as 17 years old in some cases, they said.
“This mainly happens in the northern belt of our country where boys grow up with a macho mentality. Men here are valued more. So they think they are supreme and enjoy a right to harass women. Also, they get away with it and go on to do serious crimes. That’s how the Uber driver accused of rape started. He used to allegedly pull dupattas and eve-tease,” said Kanika K Ahuja, associate professor of psychology at Lady Shri Ram College.
Often women have to alter their lifestyles because of such incidents. They don’t mention it to their family for fear of getting their movement restricted. But many times they can’t handle such situations on their own either.
“There are many incidents in which girls going to buy vegetables or walking to the tuition centre face harassment. They often have to compromise on the course they study as their parents refuse to send them to a faraway college. Women also complain of extreme stress because of such crimes committed for fun,” said Taruna Kataria, who counsels victims of sexual assault on behalf of NGO Sampurna.
Delhi Police officers suggest women should not ignore such harassment and inform them as soon as possible if it has to be done secretly. Be alert of surroundings and take out time to learn self-defence, they say.
“If you see a stranger making you uncomfortable, step back into a safe zone and call on 100. Give them your exact location so that a PCR reaches you straight in five minutes. The woman doesn’t have to make it evident to the harasser that she has taken an action. The police will deal with him on their own,” said Rakesh Pal, secretary, Delhi Police Karate/Self Defence Academy, which was set up last year.