It is 11.30 a.m. and Shadows, plainclothes squad of the Thiruvananthapuram city police, is on a stakeout in front of a theatre where a cinema, with dwindling viewership, has been running for the past two weeks.

The box office is almost deserted except for a few girls and boys. They hurriedly buy tickets, pair up as couples and seat themselves in remote corners of the dark auditorium. The show is thinly attended. Two plainclotheswomen follow them inside the hall.

They have information that the group are teenage students, from different schools, who have bunked classes to be together. They round them up, take them to their office at the Police Control Room and summon their parents. Their teachers are also informed.

For many students who have been caught bunking classes with their girl friends, the police have played the part of a party pooper. However, for the parents and teachers, the squad has carried the day for them.

The undercover work of the plainclothes squad has, to a small extent, also proved a deterrent to anti-social elements whose actions often endanger the safety of women and children in public places.

Collectives

City Police Commissioner P. Vijayan has tasked his squads to encourage women commuters travelling on the same route to form collectives to air their complaints jointly. His scheme to make the city safe for women includes setting up of night shelters, help desks for women and children at all station houses and women friendly autorickshaws.

However, it would be too premature to say that the capital is safe for women if a study conducted by the social activists Aleyamma Vijayan and Rejitha, both members of Sakhi, a resource centre for women, is anything to go by.

They had said that 98 per cent of the women commuters who they interviewed had identified sexual harassment in public transport buses, bus stops, and roadsides as the main safety problem.

As many as 51 per cent feared potential chain-snatchers (mostly helmeted youth travelling on motorbikes).

Verbal abuse was the most common form of sexual harassment (80 per cent), followed by physical harassment (60 per cent), stalking (26 per cent), and exhibitionism (21 per cent).

The survey also revealed that only 7 per cent of the victims sought police intervention and it was mostly witnesses who informed the law-enforcement.

It also noted that 77 per cent of women were loath to approach the police. As many as 38 per cent of the respondents felt approaching the police was “too tedious.”