Bengaluru is shamed, scream headlines. The disturbing report on girls molested on the posh MG Road and Brigade Road area during the New Year celebrations has given more fodder to the never-ending debate on women’s safety. A statement by the Karnataka home minister that “such things happen”, proclaiming his lackadaisical attitude towards work more than a regressive mentality, further heated it up.
Reports cried ‘Bengaluru going the Delhi way’! But was Bengaluru ever safe for women?
Forget Bengaluru, which place in India would be safe for women when a deadly cocktail of men, liquor and darkness continues to pour onto its streets? Searching for an answer would be a highly ambitious project. Recently in Delhi, at the Sansad Marg roundabout, I was jolted when a man – probably a junkie – came charging towards me while I was walking to Press Club around 8 pm. I consider myself lucky that his intention was only to scare me! That was the first time I had stepped out on an unfamiliar stretch after 7 pm in the national capital.
I lived in Bengaluru for seven years, till June 2015. More than the security personnel on the road or well-lit streets at night, it’s a sense of emotional security that makes a woman feel comfortable in a city. India’s Silicon City miserably failed to instill that in me.
My women colleagues were physically assaulted by autorickshaw drivers. I was verbally abused by one of them for trying to be “smart despite being an outsider” simply because I asked him to turn on the meter. I was confronted by a bus conductor for demanding a ticket after making the payment, and not speaking in Kannada. I also faced the most horrifying experience (so far) of a man, probably in his fifties, proudly exposing his erection in a public transport bus I was travelling in. All this happened in broad daylight. I wasn’t on my way to a party, or “dressed improperly” – as the people’s representatives would say. I was on my way to work.
I would never feel like stepping out after dark in Bengaluru unless work demanded it, or I had to buy bare essentials. Year after year, we would watch the New Year celebrations on MG Road from our office – never summoning up the courage to venture outside. The crowds were always unruly, heavily outnumbering the police personnel on duty.
Chennai, where I lived prior to my Bengaluru stint, was a comparatively safer metro for women. Still, in the three years I stayed there (from 2004 to 2007), I did have my share of troubles. Once, I was out for a walk with two of my women friends when a man started stalking us. We approached a traffic policeman for help, but he just shrugged: “You are three, and he is just one person. You could have easily pulled him by his collar and dragged him to me. I would have taken action then.”
In Thiruvananthapuram, where I was born and raised, I was never allowed to step out alone after dark. If I was coming home late from tuition or college, there would always be a family member waiting at the bus stop. In crowded public transport buses, a woman’s biggest priority would be to use bags or files to shield herself from men eager to grope or rub against her every time the vehicle braked or turned.
Even with no security or stringent laws in place, women can be safe if men decide to mend their ways. If they understand that a woman doesn’t dress up to invite them, but to feel good about herself. If ministers stop acting like mere men, and start behaving like responsible lawmakers. If Google avoids throwing up options like ‘girl’ or ‘woman’ when you enter ‘characterless’ (It shows ‘man’ when you enter ‘sterling’). If boys are not taught that violating a girl is the best way to ‘teach her a lesson’. If movies stop showing women falling in love with stalkers. If the judiciary stops believing that marrying off a girl to her rapist is the most amiable solution around.
However, the Indian male has a long way to go before he becomes the perfect gentleman. Till such a time comes, the debate on women’s safety will go on with a proportional increase in the number of those in distress.