Crowd is no deterrent. In fact, sexual harassment is the most pronounced at public places, as per the HT-IDC survey carried out across the tricity. Be it the heart of the city like Sector 17, at the Apni Mandis and, no surprises here, student sites like the much-loved Stu-C on Panjab University campus and outside the gates of colleges and even schools.
Most people that HT talked to said Apni Mandis in particular see a lot of footfall of women, and also see a flux of different strata of society. While vendors cannot be completely absolved, the labourers and other sundry men leave no chance to rub their shoulders with a woman.
A visit to the Sector-26 main vegetable shows the same. Baljinder Kaur, a government school teacher, says the Chandigarh administration should come up with some arrangements for safety of women at these mandis.
“Police should be deployed wherever these mandis are set up. It is not only the fear of being harassed but also snatching of chains and bags that remains, specifically in the post-dusk hours,” Kaur tells HT.
Even in rehri markets, like the ones in Sectors 15, 19 and 22, remain a hotbed of shameful activity. Nandita Sharma, a housewife, says, “I often visit the rehri markets as things are much more affordable there. But at times it becomes almost impossible to move, as one has to jostle.” That’s when the perverts strike.
Even education or its proximity does not help. The PU campus, Sectors 10 and 11, and routes leading from Sectors 15 and 17 have a high number of youngsters. As it turns out, girls tell HT that campuses are the worst, as boys routinely stalk a girl they find attractive, even pass lewd remarks without fear.
Mehak Mahajan, who is pursuing her masters in psychology at PU, shares, “Whenever we visit the campus, comments by boys are a practice. They also leave behind chits after writing down their phone numbers on it, asking us to call back. Even outside colleges, it is unsafe, with boys zipping around to ‘check out’ the girls.”
Adds Shashi Kiran, student at DAV College, Sector 10, “It is generally safe around our college as we are familiar with the crowd. But the road leading to MCM DAV College in Sector 36 is quite dreadful. Boys keep following you and even reach up to your house. When the classes get off a little late in afternoon, it is worse in the isolated streets.”
A girl at Sector 17 tells HT, “Boys tend to comment if you are wearing a ‘modern’ dress. Also, the parking lots get deserted around 7.30 pm, and with little lighting and thin police presence, it becomes unsafe.”
tomorrow: public transport
FIRST PERSON: Geri’ and the crowd
Dr Rainuka Dagar
The established thoroughfare for mimicking the Adam-Eve fascination is the Chandigarh Geri Route — only that the boys and girls are random, changing at every corner. Boys in cars will follow girls on foot or in cars, an all-male occupancy will taken turns to or synchronise to stare at a girl, whistle, croon, play loud suggestive songs, only to transfer their attention at the crossing. The girls even ‘enjoy’ it – a ‘standard level’ of flirting.
Schoolboys on seeing an attractive working girl break into the latest Bollywood hit, and follow it up with comments like, ‘Hansi to phasi’ (If she laughs, she’s roped). The volley seems harmless and gets shrugged off. As long as it is not physical, 24% girls in the tricity are not even in favour of putting a stop to such improprieties.
But, for others it is not so easy to draw a line from the verbal to the physical. ‘Come to my room’, ‘I know girls like you will enjoy it’, and other such lines re-enact the horror of the Nirbhaya case from Delhi and other brutal rapes.
What is also alarming is that there are no longer any bounds of protective spaces. Girls out with mothers are harassed, women over 45 are groped, boys from the locality are being derogatory, indecent exposure is increasing in broad daylight, and places under watch, such as colleges and markets, remain hotspots of harassment as reported by over 50% girls across the tricity. Harassment, thus, continues in spite of protective measures.
Repulsive behaviour by ‘uncles’, comments by rickshaw-pullers and persistent behaviour are the most threatening and offensive to girls. However, if popular conception of males or females singles out the female body for attention, or as a resource, a woman’s worth gets equated with her appearance, she becomes limited to being an ‘item’, a ‘piece’ for both wanted and unwarranted attention.
Policing, chilli sprays and brothers will remain inadequate when female beauty is the trading stock, ‘to manage things’ — physical beauty makes people more responsive (28%), boosts confidence (25%) and even helps in marriage (5%) and employment (3%). Growing obsession with the ‘body beautiful’ cannot be delinked from the gaze as a ‘targeted tactic of power’ that devalues the female as a physical object of male desire. Are we ready to redeem ourselves, and value the being rather than the body?
(The writer is director, of research, gender studies, Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh)
Voxpop: Public places most unsafe for women. Why?
Deploy more police
The need of the hour is to have proper police presence at the Apni Mandis. These places not only make you feel unsafe in terms of teasing but also snatching. Snatching of gold chains and purses is not unknown at the mandis. Cops, including women, need to be deployed.
Baljinder Kaur, government school teacher, Chandigarh
Safety of women these days is top priority everywhere across the tricity. Be it educational institutes, shopping arcades or vegetable markets, proper arrangements need to be made for providing safe environment to women. The issue is also taken up with the authorities for proper arrangements.
Dinesh Mahajan, chairman, market committee, Chandigarh
Issue is important
The issue of safety at Apni Mandis keeps coming up at MC meetings. Steps are being taken at all levels and by all sections. Measures need to be taken at all city markets and mandis, where people from all walks of life come and shop.
Pardeep Chhabra, ex-mayor, Chandigarh
I believe that girls should always move in groups to avoid any kind of harassment. It is also better to ignore the lewd comments in busy markets, to avoid confrontation. More police visibility is needed in busy markets to tackle the problem.
Rajni Pathak, studying in pvt institute in SAS Nagar
What when cops stare?
We should not be scared of men, and must face them in a tough manner. There is a lot of security near our (GGDSD) College. But, what when the cops stare at you so badly markets that it becomes tough to move about?
Ronica Bedi, student, GGDSD College-32
Men leave no chance
Girls are certainly not safe in crowded markets. Police presence need to be increased. Men do not leave any chance to comment on girls even in Sector 17. We prefer to go with friends than going alone in the markets, including the rehri markets.
Seema, employed at a firm in Sec 22, Chandigarh.