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December 25, 2012

Unsafe at any hour in big, bad city

Women Tell TOI Their Moments Of Horror When Predators Almost Got Them

Prerna Sodhi TNN

SCARY REALITY: Women say they are regular victims of gender bias and sexual harassment

New Delhi: Two years ago, a 25-year-old got off the Metro at Central Secretariat to hire an auto to Netaji Nagar. What happened after she left the Metro station made her decide she will never step out of her home alone again after 9pm.
“It was 8.30pm. I got off the train at Central Secretariat by mistake. I wanted to catch an auto to Netaji Nagar. While I was waiting for the auto, five men started harassing me. I tried walking away quickly but they ripped my sleeve. I boarded the nearest auto and paid him extra to drive me home,” said the woman who works for an online portal. What saved her from worse was an oncoming ambulance which the harassers mistook for a police van and left hurriedly.
Her predicament is not unique. TOI spoke to a few women in the capital who said they felt unsafe whenever they stepped out and whatever mode of transport they took.
Most faced gender and sexual harassment on a regular basis, be it in the form of stalking, eve-teasing or even chasing by a group of predatory men on wheels. Many of these instances took place in broad daylight and being in a crowded place never ensured security. For example, a 24-year-old freelance writer recalled an attempt to pick her up about 1.30pm on a busy road. “I was crossing the road at Moolchand flyover. A car braked in front of me. It had two men in it. Instead of walking ahead of the vehicle, I passed by its side and crossed the road from behind it. A few car drivers stopped. They were curious to find out what the hold-up was about. But no one protested,” she said.
Her observation of silence in the face of atrocity is corroborated by a 23-year-old management student.
“No one wants to help or get involved. When we tried asking staff at a toll booth, we got complacent responses. Ya h a n c h ale ja o , w a h a n c h ale ja o (Check out this place, try this other place). Instead of looking for help I’d rather use my own wits. Help does not arrive on time and the people around end up as onlookers,” she said.
She recounted how she and her three friends were chased by a Scorpio full of men on Delhi-Gurgaon road on their way to a wedding. When no one helped them, they “decided to take a u-turn and go home”.
A study conducted by Jagori and United Nations Women in the year 2010 reveals 54% women and 69% men who witness an incident of women’s harassment prefer to stay uninvolved. It also states that 70% of women are harassed by the roadside, 50% inside public transport and 42% while waiting for transport.
Another management professional, a 27-year-old, said she uses office transport in the evening in a bid to “avoid autos”. “Although I have never faced misbehaviour aboard public transport, I’ve heard of my friends falling victims to untoward happenings,” she said.
For a 21-year-old fashion student, it is not once that her bus-stop wait turned ugly. “What is frustrating is that verbal protests are often interpreted as more encouragement,” she said.
(Names have been withheld on request)

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