For girls raised in Hyderabad homes on a daily dose of safety instructions, sexual violence lurks as a possible calamity, although it is not often confronted. Yet, many women who are forced to risk the unknown sometimes fall prey, like the B.Ed. student last year, who was picked up by two autorickshaw drivers while she was waiting for a bus near Majidpur, and raped on the way. She would travel every day from Aliabad, a suburb, to attend her classes in Secunderabad.

This is only one of dozens of cases each year, of auto drivers trapping women and sexually assaulting them. Girls studying in the many professional colleges located beyond the city’s outskirts are at risk.

Incidents where some women are lured with liquor and attacked after being taken to a solitary location too are on the rise. Unidentified female bodies are found with their heads smashed using boulders. In one particularly gruesome incident near Shamshabad in April, the rapist used boulders to severe his victim’s legs below knees to steal her silver anklets.

Social activist K. Sajaya attributes the attacks on working class women to the rapid expansion of the city, and the influx of migrant labourers. “There is no safety for migrant women, especially construction labourers. They are hired by contractors from labour pick-up points and taken to distant sites. Once picked up, there is no way to trace them, even if they go missing later,” she says.

K. Sandhya, of the Progressive Organisation of Women, stresses the need for an emergency helpline for women in distress.

The Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) is yet to cater to suburbs adequately with buses. Many women are thus forced to resort to private vehicles. They could be targeted by men on the prowl. State-run buses are assumed to be safer. Yet, the bus service diminishes after nightfall, leaving the commuter in jitters. The increase in the number of women working late has not made a difference to the service. Night buses are often full of men in an inebriated condition. That is also the case with bus-stops which double as pick-up points after sunset.

While MMTS local train service partly fills in the gap left by city buses, the stations are often desolate and dark. Also, because of the failure of an accord between South Central Railway and the APSRTC, pick-up from the MMTS stations is left to private operators.

A woman sanitary worker who complained of sexual assault by her supervisor consumed rat poison because he threatened to get her dismissed. The 35-year-old had been appointed to the job of a safaiwala at the Railway Hospital at Perambur after her husband’s death. Working Women’s Organisation (WWO), a unit of the CITU and affiliated to the All India Democratic Forum, took up the issue; on Friday, protests raged for nearly two hours, demanding the suspension of the supervisor, A. Nagaraj.

It took a lot of persuasion on the part of the women to ensure that Nagaraj was suspended because he had allegedly sexually assaulted a colleague. Although the police took a statement from the woman, they did not register a case. Even on Saturday, when the WWO’s representatives demanded that an FIR be filed, the police maintained that the statement did not amount to drafting an FIR. “Talks are still on,” said R. Manimegalai, State committee member of the WWO.

Radhai, State secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, however, says that though they may receive at least 10 cases of such assaults every month, it is mostly domestic violence, by a husband on his wife. “We rarely receive complaints of sexual violence such as the one at the Perambur hospital. Even rarer is the reporting of incidences of workplace sexual harassment.”

Hesitant to act

Though there are organisations that teach men and women self-defence techniques, trainers say the women would hesitate to attack a man even when they are in danger. “A simple reaction would be to attack the man and get away from the unpleasant situation,” says Yogesh Giri Kumar, a trainer in krav-maga, a self-defence martial art form.

“Whenever violence happens and it is shown on TV, interest in self-defence surfaces, but it lasts only for a few days. Recently, a man was robbed in the Tiruvanimiyur railway station. But a week after the incident, many of those who joined the programme dropped out. Women are uncomfortable with some of the tactics. But these are necessary to shock their attacker and allow time for escape.” Few women have so far opted for lessons in self-defence.