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A taste of instant justice

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National Commission for Women member Nirmala Venkatesh making enquiries about harassment against women street vendors, at the Esplanade Police Station in Chennai on Friday.
National Commission for Women member Nirmala Venkatesh making enquiries about harassment against women street vendors, at the Esplanade Police Station in Chennai on Friday.

Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: A taste of instant justice — that is nearly what a few women hawkers on Esplanade had a taste of on Friday. Little did Ranganayaki, about 80 years, imagine that her rants about policemen “harassing her” would ever amount to anything. Experience had taught her that.

This time, however, things worked for her. At the seminar on the status of unorganised women workers, Ranganayaki, shrivelled with age, loudly vocalised her troubles – she said she was being harassed by the police every day as she sold biscuits on a small handcart opposite the Esplanade police station. The police had even beaten her cart up and upset it many a time, she alleged. This seemed to grab the attention of the National Commission for Women Nirmala Venkatesh, who decided to take up cudgels for the old lady.

She immediately accompanied Ranganayaki to the Esplanade police station, giving the old woman her first ever ride in a car.

At the police station, when she found inspector Murali Sundaram had been assigned to supervise an ongoing lawyers’ rally, she spoke to him on telephone and demanded to see the sub inspector. Commanding respect from the sub inspector, who scarcely knew what was happening, she asked why the police would harass a poor, old lady like Ranganayaki. By then, a number of women hawkers had gathered at the police station to vent their grievances.

She got the reply that the police were only “registering petty cases” against the hawkers for obstructing the footpath. They only had to pay a small fine at the mobile court and promise not to block the 4-ft wide footpath. Allowing hawkers to use the footpaths would also include a lot of inconvenience for the road users, they argued after delivering a stiff salute.

Ms. Venkatesh kept up the drill, asking police personnel why they harassed women on the streets and even threatened them with suspension if they kept up with it. “All the women of your family must be safe at home while you harass these poor women?” she asked.

The NCW member then promised to take the issue up with the Commissioner of Police to ensure that no more harassment followed. She then also got the women hawkers’ assurance that they would not obstruct the footpath while carrying on their trade.

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