Boarding a bus with a prayer on her lips is something that every woman in the city does.
In fact, being out in public spaces for a woman — be it subways, markets, malls or even residential neighbourhoods — often necessitates giving out her location to trusted friends and family or being on the phone constantly just to make sure she is not sexually assaulted.
A survey conducted by Hindustan Times and C fore shows that a staggering 97% women have faced sexual harassment or assault in the city.
Buses, according to this survey, are the one place where they feel the most unsafe (67%), followed by markets (62%), roads (60%) and subways (41%).
After the city rose up against the December 16 gang rape two years ago, the government had promised a slew of reforms, especially in public transport and public spaces, that would have made Delhi safer.
Two years down the line, the situation on the ground is the same.
After the gang rape, the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) had promised that buses will have guards after 8 pm, CCTV cameras will be installed in all buses and every bus will have a panic button.
According to RS Minhas, DTC spokesperson, 96 night buses have guards till now. They work till 4 am. If a home guard is unavailable, DTC sends its guards. Installing CCTV cameras in buses, a project that was ordered by the union transport ministry in January 2013, took off only last month. So far, 200 buses of a fleet of 5,100 have cameras.
According to DTC officials, the Global Positioning System (GPS), which was installed in 3,775 buses, is in working condition in only 1000-odd buses.
“In the remaining buses, the device has either been stolen or removed or disabled,” an official said.
Plans to have a panic button in buses, which would send out an emergency message to the police, have also been unsuccessful.
“These buttons have been disabled because of little utility. The bus driver and the conductor are present in the bus to help women,” Minhas said.
Having infrastructure that helps in post-crime detection, in place, may not be the DTC’s priority but is very important to women. Women have pointed out crowded public transport and bus stops, lack of safe public toilets, lack of poor signage and lack of people in an area are all major concerns.
“We had done a similar study in the beginning of 2010 and most of the things that women seem to find threatening are the same now as they were then. Alcohol, lighting and police visibility were all mentioned by women then. Changing mindsets takes time but we shouldn’t wait for that to happen before putting in place infrastructure,” said Kalpana Viswanath, a women’s safety expert who works with women’s organisation Jagori.
Among the public spaces that women find the safest are the Metro, residential neighbourhoods and metro stations. The biggest success in the Metro, it seems, is the women’s compartment. “I think that the metro’s general compartment is safer than the bus at 9 pm. But I still prefer to travel in the women’s coach. I understand that segregation may not be the best way to tackle sexual harassment but I don’t want to be the one to take the risk of getting groped on the metro’s general coach,” said Madhuri Gupta, 27, a financial analyst. SO WHAT MAKES WOMEN FEEL SAFE IN PUBLIC? According to the survey, a change in the mindset, severe punishment to the harasser, a sensitive police force and selfdefence classes for women will go a long way in tackling the menace.
Besides behavioural training, women also point out how better lighting, help lines at auto and taxi stands, more security personnel and more people in public transport at night will go a long way in preventing sexual harassment. EXPERTS TEND TO AGREE “It is very important to design public spaces in a way that promotes openness and enhances visibility. We need to promote activity and vendors near bus stops. Even New York has started doing the same. In bus stops that are used by women more often, setting up a CCTV camera will be helpful. Another area of concern is the subways. The mouth of the subway must be wide and well-lit, just as the actual subway. A good example of this would be the subways at Connaught Place. But the idea of having subways is also to be questioned. Women feel safer in surface crossings and that is something that city planners need to look at,” said Sewa Ram, associate professor, School of Planning and Architecture.
According to Viswanath, a solution is also having more eyes on the street.
“While infrastructure is very important, it is not all. Having more people, especially women, on the streets at all times is a big boost to women’s perception of safety. Lutyens’ Delhi, for example, has the necessary infrastructure - good lighting, designated walkways - but a woman walking on a street there will not feel safe after 7 pm because there are no people on the road,” she said. TALKING HEADS “All types of harassment - particularly physical contact - are experienced inside the bus. More focus should be on preventive action. The number of passengers allowed in one bus should be restricted. There should also be segregated entry and exit and seating and standing spaces for women inside the bus. There should be adequate space for standing in a bus stop to prevent unwarranted pushing ,” said AK Bhatacharjee, former director UTTIPEC and advisor of Center for Science and Environment.
“DTC has done quite a bit to make buses safer for women. We have started gender sensitization programmes for our staff, focussing on what should be their line of action in case a woman complains of harassment. We are also trying to bring more women into the workforce. We already have women conductors,” said Debashree Mukherjee, CMD, DTC.