Yesterday Once More

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You are on your own!

What working women can do to avoid sexual violence 

By Shalini Rai

You’re on your own. Repeat it, believe it, accept it. You’re on your own.

On the streets of New Delhi, while taking an auto — during the day, after dark, on crowded roads, in isolated stretches. While travelling in the Metro. And definitely while boarding a taxi/cab after work. You’re on your own.

Murphy’s Law — whatever can go wrong will go wrong — may just happen to apply to you at the most ill-timed moment. The police may arrive too late. Your phone may be out of charge or it may crash. Your mobile’s safety app may stop working. Your network may fail when you most need it. You’re on your own.

To ensure it’s not too late before women in India — especially working women in New Delhi, but also in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru — realise the extent of their “on-their-own-ness” and take timely remedial steps, they must wake up to the singular fact that their safety is their own responsibility.

You are looked at as a prey, as defenceless, as easy game, and that man you call bhaiya or uncle actually treats you like an object, an object that one day, some day, he will not shy away from using to avenge historical wrongs — of caste-based violence, of economic disparity, of political irrelevance — by inflicting sexual violence on you. When faced with the possibility of such mind-numbingly casual brutality, the only thing you can rely on is your own alertness and survival instincts.

And you thought you were only taking the cab/auto back home after a tiring but exciting day at work!

So, forgetting all that you’ve been told till now, remember only this. It’s better to err on the side of caution, to never let your guard down, to be labelled anything from a paranoid feminist to an aggressive androgynist, than to end up becoming a victim of sexual violence in India’s metros.

Because then you are just a ‘statistic’ in the crime records. You are just one of several such ‘numbers’ filling up the inanimate record books without any redressal, any succour, any justice coming your way.

You’re on your own. Now more than ever.

So, here’s what women working day shifts/night shifts/‘graveyard’ shifts must do to avoid becoming victims of sexual violence in India. Follow a protocol: Let’s call it the Standard Operating Procedure (sop), divided into three components.

After work

• Time your commute back in such a manner that you can get home as early as possible

• If you can, avoid travelling after 8 pm

• Inform — by sms — your parents/family/friends about the number and make of your cab, the name of the taxi service and the driver

• When travelling by auto, do all of the above and keep a closer watch on the driver

• If possible, travel with other colleagues staying in the same locality

During the commute

• First things first, get off your phone. Become aware of your surroundings

• Always, always trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right, back out

• If the cab driver seems drunk, if the cab’s gps is not working, if there’s another passenger in the car, if the driver makes an unscheduled stop, register your protest and ask the driver to stop the car

• Call up the taxi service provider and tell them what’s wrong. Stop only at crowded places

• When travelling by an auto, take the crowded, traffic-heavy route rather than a quieter, quicker detour

• When taking the Metro at night, if the ladies’ coach is empty, take the crowded general coach, ensuring there are other women around

• Avoid revealing any personal details through your phone conversations. If possible, avoid any specific personal conversations while in a cab/auto/Metro

• Never, ever, let your guard down and fall asleep! Remember, you’re on your own

• Do not strike up a conversation with the driver

• Never take the same cab/auto over and over again — crimes against women are carefully planned and executed

• If you are running low on battery, plug in your phone into a portable mobile charger during the commute

From the drop-off point to home

• If you are dropped off some distance away from home at night, carefully plan your walk home

• Get off your phone, switch off the music and be in alert mode

• Always have some kind of self-defence ready (a pepper spray is handy and almost a necessity now)

• Take the elevator, not the stairs

• Keep your house keys handy. Avoid fumbling in your bag standing outside your house

• Ensure your apartment/housing society has no unlit spaces after dark

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With inputs from Varun Bidhuri

letters@tehelka.com

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