In a conservative city like Tiruchi, the primary reasons for not reporting these crimes are fear of being victimised and the family’s anxiety over the woman’s reputation.
The death and brutal rape of a 23-year-old woman has been the crux of national debate, outrage and anguish, compelling citizens to look at the bigger picture of women’s rights, safety and protection from violence.
Though crimes against women account for 95 of 645 crimes recorded in the city in 2012, many incidents of harassment such as groping, shadowing, stalking, verbal and physical assault go unreported.
In a conservative city like Tiruchi, the primary reasons for not reporting these crimes are fear of being victimised and the family’s anxiety over the woman’s reputation. Women from various walks of life this Reporter spoke to acknowledged that the city was relatively safer for women when compared to others they have visited. Yet commuting, be it by public transport or private vehicles, topped the source of sexual harassment for many women.
Nightmarish ride home
“Tiruchi is relatively safer but groping, touching and hustling women, particularly during peak traffic hours, is common in buses,” says Harini, an engineering student. “When this is done by conductors who are the ones we can immediately complain to, it is disturbing.”
Akshaya, an executive commutes long distances for sales meetings says, “I have felt safe while driving home on my two-wheeler occasionally past midnight, but taking the bus after dark has proved distasteful. Once, a friend and I were confronted by a stranger who spewed obscenities at us while everyone watched. Even today, my friend is nervous about boarding a bus on that route after dark, unless accompanied by a male relative or friend.”
It is not only young women who face the brunt of harassment in buses, says Valli, a professor in a women’s college. “When we board the bus in the evenings, there is a distinctive stench of alcohol hanging around and neither young girls nor elderly women are spared of abuse. Though drivers and conductors are aware of this, they choose to remain silent.” The bus stops, particularly the Chathram bus stand is not the friendliest of places for women. “You can find men using camera phones to click pictures of girls in the bus stand and before you realise it, they vanish,” says Julie, a lecturer. Adds Meena, a teacher in her twenties, “There are men who walk up to unaccompanied women in the bus stand and expose themselves. My students have faced similar incidents and just walk away.”
Deepa, a mother of a teenage year old daughter says, “I am scared for my daughter when I send her to tuitions. It is important for parents to listen to their daughters when they report any incident instead of ordering them not to speak about it.” Shedding inhibitions and checking the actions of the culprits on the spot are the first steps towards curbing violence against women, feels Harini. “It is when woman are silent that men take advantage.”
Adds Lakshmi, a software engineer, “When women fight back , men will definitely think twice before they misbehave.”