What are the problems that women face in public places and what can we do about it? Students and police officials got together to dicuss the issue and arrive at solutions to make the city a safe place for all.
Despite the rain and the battered roads, the evening seemed bright and the conference hall at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was abuzz with student representatives from various colleges in Chennai. We had all come to participate in a dialogue with the Police department and to get our questions answered, thanks to Prajnya's 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence.
There were students from city's top colleges like Anna University, Ethiraj College for Women, Hindustan College of Arts and Science, Madras Christian College, Meenakshi College for Women, Queen Mary's College and Women's Christian College. We had all responded to an offer made by Prajnya to put forth our problems regarding harassment in public places before the police. The session started briskly; we introduced ourselves and discussed the various issues we deal with, both inside and outside the college. The police personnel introduced themselves and explained the fields they specialise in.
The first issue to kickstart the discussion was the reluctance among the public to report cases of harassment, big or small. Ariyamala, Inspector of All Women Police Station, Vepery, assured us that the identity of the victim would be kept a secret at all cost. We also found out that the fall in the number of eve-teasing cases being prosecuted was because the police have to take into consideration, the future of both the victim and the accused.
Another issue discussed thoroughly was the use of mobile phones in reporting cases. It came as a surprise to many of us that there is a 24-hour SMS helpline to access the police (9500099100). Though questions were raised about the follow-up action for such complaints, the police assured us that such messages are taken seriously. They also added that they go to the scene described in the message and enquire about the incident and at no instance is the sender contacted. In case they do discover something fishy, they do not hesitate to take up the case and pursue it on their own.
Other issues that were discussed included sexual harassment in public places like trains, bus stops, etc. The officers were enthusiastic in sharing solutions to such problems with us, their experiences and the functioning with in the organisational structure of the police department. One aspect that they repeatedly stressed was that a student should know which police station his/her area falls under and that it would be an added advantage to be familiar with the police station and the other officers there.
All of us thoroughly enjoyed the session and it was clear the students wanted more when it was time to conclude the session. Varun Warrier from MCC was clearly impressed with the enthusiasm and responsiveness of the police force. Hitesh, Vice president, Hindustan College of Arts and Science, thought it was an excellent idea and that such events should be organised more often. Saranya from Meenakshi College for Women lauded the efforts of Prajnya and felt that more such interactions between the general public and the police force would make the police department truly people-friendly and help remove popular misconception as propagated by cinema. On the whole it was a truly rewarding experience for all those who participated.
Anupama.N, Joint General Secretary, Ethiraj College for Women, Students Union 2010-11