When it comes to sexual harassment on the streets or anywhere, it’s important to make a complaint and kick up a fuss. It’s silence that encourages the perpetrators finds Vishnupriya Bhandaram

The brutal rape of a 23-year-old, the heinous crime, has sent a chill down everyone’s spine. People are up in arms about it — both online, social media platforms and offline. While accusations rain down on Delhi for being the ‘rape capital’ of the country, it is perhaps a good time to take stock of the safety of women in our own city.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau statistics for the year 2011, Andhra Pradesh has reported 4562 cases on Sexual Harassment (Section 509 IPC) recording the highest crime rate of 5.4 as compared to the national average of 0.8. Among women, Hyderabad has gained a notorious reputation for its unfriendliness towards them; albeit this is masked by the overall ‘chalta hai’ attitude that plagues most other things in the city.

Rashi Tiwari, a sub-editor with a national daily, recounts instances where men have deliberately zipped past her, approached her offering ‘lifts’. “I feel like they do this because I walk alone. This has deterred me from doing a lot of things I could otherwise be doing, like going for a walk or taking yoga lessons. I don’t want to be constantly thinking of the ‘if’.” Rashi carries a pepper spray along with her each time she steps out.

Varsha Ravindranath, a social media manager with BYT Social recalls of the worst thing she could do to a trouble-maker: “I gave him a deadly stare! It’s sad that’s the worst thing I could do,” she says. Reason: Varsha was being followed by a man and she had to change lanes to avoid him. “It’s become a daily occurrence, I devise new strategies to deal with these people,” says Varsha.

Rashmi Kumari Mishra, a Delhi School of Economics student, recalls of her time in Hyderabad when she was solicited for a ‘lift’ and a ‘ride’ in the city by a cab driver. Rashmi however never complained because of the complications that arrive along with such complaints. “Most of the time we don’t know which police station to go to and what I am most afraid of is unresponsiveness, it’s not worth it,” says Rashmi. Rashi Tiwari remembers calling 100 and availing no response in September this year. Kondaveeti Sathyavati, editor of Bhoomika magazine and coordinator for the Bhoomika Women’s Collective in the city puts the responsibility on the government to make a girl feel safe and says that adequate gender and victim sensitisation must be in place to handle sexual assault cases. Varsha believes that our uncomplaining attitude is in fact ‘normalising’ deviant behaviour. In response to this Madhavi Lata, Inspector at the Begumpet Women’s Police Station says that the line of police questioning can sometimes be harsh, but it is important that the investigating officer gets all the details right. “Girls shouldn’t think it is insulting to have to answer some questions. Being brave is the best solution and girls should be equipped to handle interrogations. Nobody can help you if you refuse to help yourself,” she says.

Six years ago, Annie Zaidi, journalist and now author of three books wrote in her blog, “You will be very pleasantly surprised when a man takes the seat next to you, and actually leaves two inches breathing space between you, instead of pushing so close that the windowpane leaves marks on your forearm.... All the same, old habits die hard, and you will spend the journey with a clenched fist balled up somewhere in your shoulder-blades, because, you never know when he’ll start acting up, do you?”

Crying over spilt milk is certainly no solution. It is best to realise one’s strength and say “No” to what’s wrong. Instead of normalising deviance, one must normalise comebacks. “I am not going to give in to fear. Only if women take to the streets and makes that normal, will these hooligans back off. Women shouldn’t be afraid of complaining,” says Sudeshna Ravikulla, a sociology student.

Helpline Numbers

Emergency Numbers: 100, 112

Crime Stopper: 1090

Bhoomika Women’s Collective: 040-27660173; 18004252908 (8 a.m. to 11 p.m.)

Women’s Police Station: 040 -27853508, 040 – 23240663

Main Police Control Room: 040-27852333

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Safety firstJanuary 1, 2013