On a hot Saturday afternoon, some 70 to 80 bloggers including me, sat closeted in a room in the Times of India building on M.G. Road.We chatted animatedly as the stage was thrown open to a topic dominating everyone’s mind. How safe did a woman feel in Bangalore ?
I moved to Bangalore in 2000 after working in Mumbai for almost a year and a half. While eve teasing and sexual innuendos had been an everyday occurrence during my growing up years in Madhya Pradhesh in central India, Mumbai back in ’99 was like a breath of fresh air. For the first time in my life, I had felt liberated,without feeling the need to look over my shoulder every minute. Bangalore, in comparison, didn’t feel as safe. After the office traffic hour, many roads wore a desolate look with dim pools of light alternating with dark stretches.
Over a period of the last 13 years, even though I myself, was not subjected to any direct form of sexual assault, I found myself adapting my lifestyle in line with the rising crimes against women. Every gruesome incident reported in Bangalore was yet another shackle on my perceived freedom to ‘be’.
As I listened to the various incidents faced by the women in the room, it just re-affirmed what I already knew. Anybody could be a victim, it was just a matter of chance. Interestingly, Franklin , a self defense instructor, told us otherwise. People’s personalities and their attitudes could go a long way in reducing the chances of being a victim. Your presence of mind, he asserted, is a far more superior tool as compared to any pepper spray.
As people discussed the various dimensions of women harassment, from what they faced on the roads to the boardrooms, one thing that stood out amongst them was the treatment meted out to physically / mentally handicapped women. Their struggles against their handicap is vastly compounded by their gender, making them a very convenient target of sexual attacks.
The discussion would have been completely depressive, if it were not for the one bright silver lining. We were there not to brood on it, but for action. The discussion was part of TOI’s campaign on ‘Bangalore for Women’ which was hosted together with Indiblogger. As we brainstormed on ideas and content which could be relevant for women, it became increasingly apparent that while media can throw the spotlight on a lot of subjects and disseminate information, the real onus of change is on each and every person.
So how can each one of us start contributing towards a safer society ? First and foremost is an awareness of safety for oneself. As is commonly said, ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is true for safety as well. As part of prevention, assess situations for possibilities of threats and evaluate escape routes.Avoid risky situations and use presence of mind to diffuse tensions. Always try to get out and avoid confrontations if possible. If a confrontation becomes inevitable, have rehearsed defense mechanisms. Letting your family know where you are or having useful numbers at hand in an emergency is something every person should do.
Invest time in ensuring safety of children by educating them on self preservation and avoiding situations which expose them to risk.
Then comes awareness and empathy to the safety of people around you. Surprisingly, many people mistakenly assume that a male escort is a sufficient cover for any form of sexual harassment encountered on the road. As has been seen time and again, a man is as helpless against a gang of men as a lone woman. Being cognizant of this and assessing risk accordingly will go a long way in ensuring safety of a female companion. Similarly, extending help when required or enabling help to reach a victim is a responsibility that can not be shrugged off anymore. Society has long witnessed the apathy , which is threatening to devour all that was good in a human being.
Reach out to people around you – to those who might be less aware than you or who might be economically backward.Help them understand their rights and what they should stand up for. In case of need, put them in touch with self help organizations and other NGOs who are capable of handling the required situation.
While the required levers have to be pulled to move the juggernaut of government machinery, we can no longer afford to sit back and wait till crime comes knocking at our doors.
As I looked at the people gathered in that small room, my thoughts turned to the case which set the wheels turning. A silent revolution has begun and its time to walk the talk. While the awareness and assessment of danger, is a long way from what constitutes freedom for me, I hope its the right step in the direction , where one day I hope to walk alone without looking over my shoulder.