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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

Women fire fighters fight not just fire but sexual harassment too

Five years on, instead of fighting fire and saving lives with every call, these woman are fighting harassment in the garb of fake emergency and derogatory remarks.

jaipur Updated: Sep 28, 2019 12:12 IST
Nikita Bishnoi
Nikita Bishnoi
Hindustan Times, Jaipur
A woman firefighter at work in Jaipur.
A woman firefighter at work in Jaipur. (HT Photo )

Upon receiving a panicked call from a man who claimed that his house is on fire and wanted immediate help, Seema Sharma (name changed) rushed to Barkat Nagar, along with two other firemen of her team in May earlier this year. The man’s voice conveyed emergency and need to be rescued immediately.

Sharma, without any delay, reached the reported address under seven minutes of the call to douse a house on fire. What the team saw on spot was contrary to the crisis they were expecting as the fire fighters did not find any fire or smoke outbreak at the spot. Confused, Sharma — the senior most in the team — rang the doorbell of the house.

“A middle aged man stepped out of the house. I checked with him about the phone call we received at the 22 Godam fire station because our team of firefighters was not able to locate it. To this the man said “Madam, mujhe lagi hai aag. Bujha do!” (Madam I am on fire, please douse my fire!),” Sharma says, recalling the incident.

Sharma, immediately reported the lewd remark to her senior officials, who then asked her to report the incident to the police and register an FIR.

Sharma is among the 155 women firefighters in the state and six in Jaipur were recruited in 2014 to break the glass ceiling of what is commonly perceived as a male-dominated profession. Aiming for a “over and above ordinary career”, these women became an icon for women’s empowerment. She is also from the first batch of women who joined the state brigade in 2014 and have won several awards for firefighting. A mother of two, she joined the profession hoping for an ‘empowering and dynamic job’.

Five years on, instead of fighting fire and saving lives with every call, these woman are fighting harassment in the garb of fake emergency and derogatory remarks.

“From abuses to sexual remarks to nonsensical calls, we get all kinds of calls on emergency numbers and landline numbers as well. “If a male fireman picks up the call, the person on the other end requests to be put in touch with a woman. ‘Vo madam se baat karao na, aapne kyu utha liya phone’ (let me talk to the woman, why did you pick the call),” said Monika (name changed), another female firefighter who receives emergency calls at 101 contact number.

In another incident, Monika had to sit inside a fire tender and cover her face with a scarf. The people in the locality first called the fire tender in their area and then misbehaved with her. In another such request, a caller wanted to meet Monika outside the fire station.

Monika belongs to the second batch of fire fighters and travels daily from Bagru to Jaipur to come to the fire office. “I was excited by the idea of independence and doing good work for the society when I joined the profession. I don’t understand why people have to pass lewd and derogatory comments at us,” said Monika.

While the requests are laced with innuendos for fire, the most common remarks demand the female firefighters to ‘douse a man’s fire’ and ‘to meet them’.

“Lo music suno madam” (hear the music madam), “Aapka kaam meri aag bujhana hai, bujhati kyu nahi ho” (your work is to extinguish my fire, why don’t you do so), “Madam aapse milna chahta hu” (madam I want to meet you) are the remarks these firefighter have been confronted with.

“Some callers ask for my name, my address, what am I doing right now and so on. Many say that they want to meet me. When I respond by requesting them to talk business, they abuse and respond with sexually explicit remarks. This is an everyday affair now,” said another fire fighter at Ghatgate, who did not wish to be named.

In some instances, the callers trace personal details of the women firefighters and address them by their names, officials said.

So far, two FIRs have been filed against the callers along with several verbal complaints, says Jagdish Phulwari, chief fire officer at Jaipur Municipal Corporation (JMC) but to no avail. The formal complaints have not deterred the callers.

“Female firefighters are dealing with the problems of fake and derogatory calls, which clearly qualifies as harassment. In the field, as well as while attending calls in offices, often the callers do not behave well with them. They have to deal with derogatory remarks while they’re on the job. We have lodged several FIRs and verbal complaints with the police but nothing has come out of it,” said Phulwari.

At present, there are no women’s grievance cell or women’s committee for female employees in the firefighting wing of the Jaipur Municipal Corporation which can nip this in the bud.

First Published: Sep 28, 2019 12:12 IST

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