Does Bangalore’s working woman feel safe? At both ends of the broad spectrum of working women lies a study in contrast: over the past decade, the debate on women’s safety in the ‘IT Capital’ has focussed largely on IT/BPO workers, but the everyday struggles of over five lakh women in the garment industry have not received as much attention.

Take Muniya Sajid, 31, who works in a mid-sized garment factory in Byatarayanpura. Her shift officially ends at 6 p.m. but on most days she works till 7.30 to meet inflated work targets.

Her factory offers one 20-seater mini-bus for over 230 employees. So, travel home is a nightmare. Paid around Rs. 3,900 a month, Muniya and her workmates cannot afford public transport (bus tickets cost Rs. 8); so they cram into goods tempos, share overcrowded autos or simply walk.

Around every corner, Muniya says, is “a new threat.” Their journeys are replete with incidents of abductions, sexual abuse, harassment and even rape. “Our strength is in numbers,” says Muniya, who says her brother’s promise is to get them a house where the approach roads are better lit.

R. Pratibha, vice-president of the Garment and Textile Workers Union, says: “Many molestations and rapes go unreported.”

But even those reported fail to raise alarm. “While the rape of an IT employee made national headlines and got a fast-track trial, scores of such cases in newspapers go unnoticed by decision makers every day.”

Safety measures

Pratibha’s reference is to the 2005 high-profile case in which, an HP employee was raped and murdered by her cab driver on her way back from a late shift. The case forced a rethink on the security of women in BPOs, and more importantly, put the onus of safety on employers. Most companies streamlined their drop and pick-up facilities, introduced GPS and tightened rules. The police reacted with guidelines, including monitoring of cabs and more patrolling.

Yet, seven years later, BPO workers say enforcement is lax. “The rule that the woman can’t be dropped last is often abandoned. I’m not sure GPS works either,” says Nayana, a BPO worker.

The IT industry is not homogenous. Its regulations leave out large sections of women workers. The nine-to-five software workers find that meeting project deadlines means staying back late. “If your project’s not billable, the manager won’t offer cabs. You don’t want to lose out on performance, so you take a risk and stay,” points out Jahnavi, a senior systems engineer. Things are worse in scores of small and medium IT firms, mostly tucked away in residential areas, where no transport facilities are on offer.

Crimes against women in Bangalore, which once boasted safe roads and a low crime rate, is a climbing statistic. The Hindu spoke to women working across job profiles — nurses, sales girls, DTP operators and beauticians. Most of them highlighted the need for safe public transport.