Web Chat: How safe are women in Bengaluru

Lack of street lights on Nrupatunga Road in Bengaluru. Photo : Bhagya Prakash K

Lack of street lights on Nrupatunga Road in Bengaluru. Photo : Bhagya Prakash K   | Photo Credit: Bhagya Prakash K


When it comes to safety of women, Bengaluru definitely scores low. Whether it is walking on dimly lit streets, driving alone, travelling in a crowded bus, or using public spaces, women must take each step with the constant fear of danger lurking in some corner. Is there a way to make the city a better place to live in for women?

Here is the transcript of the chat with our panellists — Gauri Lankesh, a journalist and author, and Jasmeen Patheja, founder, Blank Noise — on the issue.

The Hindu: Good evening! Over the last week, The Hindu's #WhatsYourIssue campaign highlighted some of the problems women and college students face every day in the city. Right from safety in rented accommodations and hostels, college campuses to even public spaces... no place is safe for women, it seems.

We would now like to welcome journalist and writer Gauri Lankesh to interact with our readers on the issue of women's safety in the city.

Gauri Lankesh: Thank you. I am here

The Hindu: Hello madam... would you like to begin the discussion with short opening remarks?

Malavika: It is difficult for a woman to sit alone in Cubbon Park without being leered at or made to feel uncomfortable. What can we do about such situations?

Gauri Lankesh: Just ask “What to come to the nearest police station with me?” I meant “Want to come to the nearest police station with me?”

The Hindu: Ms. Lankesh, what is your opinion about safety of women in the city what with the increasing number of instances of women being targeted?

Malavika: Another problem is the lack of proper lighting on many roads, making it difficult for women to walk alone at night.

Navya: How safe are women in public transport?

Gauri Lankesh: not just Bengaluru, I think most places in our country are not safe for women/ girls/ even little toddlers. But most times, I think a little ‘hard nosed’ attitude will scare off men.

For instance, when I was reporter and used to commute on my scooter, sometimes men would follow me. I would make sure that I knew all the police stations enroute to my home. Whenever guys followed me, I would stop at the turning to the nearest police station and ask them the question I have mentioned above. Invariably, the men would scoot off in much haste :-)

Bengaluru, these days, suffers from absolutely no street lights. Its a danger to even drive on those roads, let alone walk. I agree it is a huge, huge problem.

Guest: Will separate bus transport for women in Bengaluru ensure safety?

Andymudam: Good initiative.

Sanaya: So very often when there are instances like sexual assault or eve teasing, our college managements impose restrictions. I study in a big campus and our college authorities tell us (only girls) to not stay back after 5 p.m. Boys can stay till 9 p.m.

Megha: Women feel unsafe when cabs driver or auto rickshaw people harass when they are waiting for other transport, so in this situation what can we do?

Gauri Lankesh: Regarding public transport, I can’t say much since I have stopped using public transport a long time ago. Recently, however, I travelled by metro and found it safe, clean and very comfortable.

Andymudam: SHE teams have been successful in Hyderabad. May be Bangalore can adopt that.

Guest: Do you feel policing during night hours should be increased?

Jayashree: @Andymudam could you explain the concept of SHE teams?

Shwetha: I work in a software company and I have found that there are many men who tease me near Madivala junction. The police tell me it is a small issue. It is not a small issue.

Gauri Lankesh: I feel that the best way to avoid lecherous men while waiting for an auto or taxi is to travel with one other friend. Safety in numbers. And if the two of you girls have the ‘hard nosed attitude’ I mentioned above, you can beat off any lech :-)

Navya: Do you think there is a need for the Bengaluru police to increase visible policing rather than relying on CCTVs alone?

Guest: Poor streetlights cause women vulnerable after 7 p.m.

The Hindu: We would like to welcome Jasmeen Patheja from Blank Noise Project to the discussion.

Jasmeen Patheja: Thank you team, The Hindu.

The Hindu: Ms. Patheja, any opening remarks on the safety of women in the city?

Gauri Lankesh: Shwetha, why don’t you and some of your colleagues go as a group to Madivala station and ask for some measures especially during office closing time? Maybe it will help?

Shwetha: Many times, I also find that my friends who have gone to complain for eve-teasing to stations are told to go to other police stations as it doesn’t come under their jurisdiction. Why should a woman be made to run around?

Guest: What are you views on separate sections for women and men in mass public transport systems, like buses and trains. On the one hand, such measures ensure that women can commute in peace. But on the other hand, does gendered segregation in public spaces address the issue at hand at a larger level? Can women share the same space with men, without fear of harassment?

Meenakshi: I couldn't agree more with Shweta. Why is "eve teasing" seen as a non-issue by everyone, starting from policemen to the way it is projected in films? Worse, it is even assumed women enjoy being "eve teased"!!!

Shwetha: Gauri madam, your advice is good. I will take your advice.

Kavita Lokesh: I have seen women who drive get harassed by people in traffic signals. They also start commenting on women’s dressing. So, in this situation what can we do?

Guest: Do you feel women are safer in metro rail than in BMTC buses?

Jasmeen Patheja: I start with, we the citizens are the city. Our response towards each other is instrumental in building safe spaces, and a feeling of safety all around.

Kripa: Yes, metro is safer; but it has connectivity problem.

Guest: As of now, there is no reservation for women seats in Metro train. Will you put pressure on govt to provide reservation for women in metro trains?

Greeshma: In college too when we are eve teased, college lecturers tell us that we need to change… our dressing needs to change. But they never talk about what boys should do. It is sometimes irritating.

Gauri Lankesh: Yes, I have noticed considerable guards at metro stations. Whereas, there is absolutely no police presence near bus stands or auto stands.

Jasmeen Patheja: A big hello to Gauri Lankesh too.

Gauri Lankesh: Hi Jasmeen.

Meenakshi: Reservation is a good idea if it will be enforced. We have hardly ever seen it being enforced in BMTC buses!

Jasmeen Patheja: Hello :)

In response to the question towards segregation and reservation, while on one hand it may enable mobility, on the other, it is not a solution.

Guest: Why is the length of our skirts always a measure of our character?

Shruthi Ram: In colleges, we do not have any committee to complain to. What is the person troubling you is the teacher?

Gauri Lankesh: I have noticed on metro trains that commuters should give preference to the aged, pregnant women and those who are differently challenged. But our metro is more like a single tube. It does not have compartments like Mumbai trains. So there separate bogies for women is possible.

Guest: Are self defence classes the only option for ensuring women's safety in the city?

Jasmeen Patheja: Shruthi- would it be helpful, you think, to reach out to a community?

Or build one? We are trying to create an Action Hero Campus Network, bringing together student / campus allies to address this.

Gauri Lankesh: Shruthi Ram, yes, colleges should have a committee to complain to. Such committees should be made up of faculty, students and wards for more transparency

Jasmeen Patheja: To the person who spoke about the skirt and length and character, could you elaborate more?

If it is okay, please do share more about being judged and its relationship with sexual violence.

Gauri Lankesh: Attire and character are not related in any way. If anyone tries to assess your character by the way you dress, tell him to take a hike.

Jasmeen Patheja: Yes, indeed. I agree with Gauri and we are in fact working on this and invite you to it as well, with the I Never Ask For It mission - a project to eradicate victim blame. And anything that justifies sexual or gender based violence.

Greeshma: One of my profs even mentioned and asked me to go for Karate classes. Why can’t they sensitize male students instead?

Prarthana: Most of people speak about women’s dressing, if they are well carried women are safe, so is dressing has become main issue for harassing.

Jasmeen Patheja: We invite citizens/ individuals/ communities to bring a garment they wore when they experienced violence. The garment is memory, witness and senders voice. Garments stand together as an installation, in solidarity: no excuse for sexual violence. I Never Ask For It.

Guest: Many private organisations have not formed committees to address sexual harassment cases. How one can ensure such organizations set up such committees?

Sanaya: The men on our campus do not have dress code, but we women have it.

Guest: See, it is not just length of skirt, they even tell us not to wear lipstick and all. They tell us that we are seeking attention of boys in our college. They tell us we need to take precautions.

Women are always being judged by what they wear. Why should our external appearance decide who we are? Why do we constantly be noticed for our clothes?

Guest: Wearing jewellery is not safe. But still women wears jewellery and that makes them vulnerable.

Gauri Lankesh: I feel that all colleges, police stations, institutions should have gender sensitivity training. I think that will go a long way to contain harassment of women.

Guest: Like Health City, how one can launch a campaign for making women safe city?

Kasturi: I have a problem. So I have been groped on a road and then I am scared to walk on that road. It is like a paranoia. How can I overcome this?

Jasmeen Patheja: All of this says: sexual violence is your fault, your calling. This attitude is precisely what needs to change. Violence against women is justified, excused, perpetuated through individuals and institutions both.

Sameera: What do you do if police do not take complaints?

Gauri Lankesh: Sit in a dharna and demand for your rights.

Heena: Can Siddaramaiah introduce pepper spray bhagya? Because this city is unsafe and there is police shortage.

Guest: Domestic helpers are also worst hit in city, which has large number of migrants. How to ensure safety of domestic helpers?

Jasmeen Patheja: Kasturi - if you are afraid to walk on that road, and if it is recent, do what you feel you need to do. But over time, find ways to revisit, only when you feel ready. We have been working on walking alone, as a project, to visit sites we fear, or associate a negative memory with, as a way to reclaim it. But again, visit only when ready, no rush, chose your pace. You could even try by walking with a friend at first. We at Blank Noise build on the strength of the Action Hero community.

Sulochana: How effective are women helplines? Do they function 24x7?

Kruthika: Pepper spray bhagya!!!

Gauri Lankesh: about being groped on the road... try to walk against the traffic. I mean make sure that the traffic is coming in the opposite direction. This way, you can make sure that the groper is not coming from behind. That way, you can see a groper approaching you side step him.

Jasmeen Patheja: Domestic helpers - we need to ask ourselves if our homes are safe work spaces. Would also connect you and Geeta Menon of Stree Jagruti Samiti.

Guest: Last time, I checked this is still a man's world. As long as women are dependent on men they will be harassed in someway or another.

Rajesh: I am the odd one out here. So I find some woman stereotype men, even if I am trying to do good. They think I am trying to make moves at them. Please don’t stereotype.

Gauri Lankesh: Rajesh, I don’t understand your comment.

Rajesh: I want to help. I have a daughter too!

Mrinal Kashyap: Last time I checked this is a still a man's world. As long as women are dependent on men they will be harassed in one way or another.

Gauri Lankesh: Mrinal, we should keep trying to change the world :-)

Rajesh: Every time I try to help my colleagues at work or anything with good intention, one girl thinks I am trying to be bad with her. When I asked her, she said her boyfriend misbehaved with her. That is why she stays away from all men.

Jasmeen Patheja: Rajesh, we hear you, but what do we do about the years of warning that tell us, its not safe, it makes many women see many men as suspect until proven otherwise.

Guest: Men seem to have fatal attraction to women's seats in BMTC buses. Even though half the bus is empty they come and plonk on women's seats. If you ask them to vacate, you are invariably shouted at by other women, or the conductor gives you dirty looks!

Gauri Lankesh: Rajesh, Jasmeen is right. But please do continue to be a good man and help women get their rights.

Mrinal Kashyap: That's what people like us want to do. But then there are people out there who like to claim things because they can. That's how world works.

Guest: Which is the best City in India that ensures women safety?

Jasmeen Patheja: Thank you for raising this q, because regardless whether you have a daughter or not, this is your issue, a collective issue, women being warned is linked with men being seen as suspect.

Meena: I want to do a solo trip. Which is a safe city in India? Please suggest.

Ravicharan: Chennai

Guest: Kolhpur

Meena: My mother asked me to ask her.

Guest: Kolhapur

Jasmeen Patheja: Meena, where do you desire to do a solo trip?

Gauri Lankesh: I have been told that Kolkata is relatively safe for women. But remember the word ‘relatively’.

Sanaya: Goa!

Meena: There is nothing to see in Chennai and Kolhapur. Please suggest better. I want to go anywhere, but alone... But I want to be safe.

Kasturi: I would highly recommend Bombay.

Kanchana: If we are going to make bus pass and stand in a line, there also people start taunting on being slim or being obese and making fun, harassing, so it makes us so uncomfortable… that makes me avoid going such places. So, in this awkward situation, what can I do? One side, I feel uncomfortable and other side, I should face it to get my work done. What can I do in this situation?

Ravicharan: Goa

Meena: @Jasmeen I am asking you...

Vidya Prabhu: Do you think Women and Child Development Minister Umashree has done anything worthwhile for improving women safety in Karnataka? Or do you feel there is need of change in the portfolio of Umashree?

Jasmeen Patheja: I think you should go anywhere you wish to go, and then work towards building community and connections in your solo travel. People knowing, relating, makes a safe experience. I believe in the power of people, connection and safety.

Bihari: Women are safe in Bihar.

Meena: I cannot go to U.P. I am asking for three places and then I will shortlist.

Kripa: Umashree needs to go! She has done nothing...

Gauri Lankesh: Even if Siddaramaiah takes up the portfolio from Umashree, I don’t think he will be able to do much either. The problem is with our society and the way it thinks about women.

Ratna Gowda: Do you think learning Karate by women will help them to take on "irritant and unruly men"?

Jasmeen Patheja: Where do you feel most safe and why?

Gauri Lankesh: Training in self defense will always help.

Guha: The entire government machinery starts to act once there is an incident like Swathi murder (that took place in a railway station in Chennai). Candle light vigils are held, discussions are conducted and after all this women safety is forgotten till another incident takes place.

Kripa: Gauri madam, with respect, tell me one thing she has done for woman.

Guest: It is not just about safety. We should try how can we make women stronger for self defence. Only laws could not fulfil requirement.

Bihari: What about unruly women?

Shakthi: I am safest at office. I am a software engineer at Manyata Tech Park. Office atmosphere is great.

Jasmeen Patheja: That is nice to know your office is your safe space.

Anyone else? What contributes, or lends itself to feeling safe? Where do you feel most safe and why?

Gauri Lankesh: There are enough laws already for the protection of women. What we need is a change in attitude of our society towards women?

Jasmeen Patheja: I echo Gauri

In that the attitude informing institutions and experts in the institutions needs to change.

Shailaja: I feel most safe at home.

Utkarsh Singh: All PGs must be installed with CCTVs.

Jasmeen Patheja: and the hence the laws too.

Shailaja: One more question. I get very irritated with things about how a woman is supposed to behave. It is not the same for men. My brother is allowed to come home by 10 p.m., but I need to be home by 8 p.m. from college. Even if I have project, I cannot stay back.

Jasmeen Patheja: Thanks Shailaja, what makes home safe? For many home isn't safe either.

Sanaya: I feel safe at less crowded hotels.

Jasmeen Patheja: Shailaja, imagine if there were more women out on the street at 10 p.m., would that make the city safe?

Paru: How to make parks safe for woman?

Shailaja: Yes, but how do I convince my mother?

Gauri Lankesh: Shailaja, I understand your problem. I have seen many girls who face the problem that you are facing. Perhaps, it will help if you convince your mother that you too need an education to stand on you own two feet instead of being just a girl whose only aim in life is to be married off?

Devasena Bachchan: I feel safe in crowded buses, sometimes empty buses also makes you so uncomfortable that to feel safe, I should take some crowded bus.

Guest: No society is and can be perfect. There will be some odds always. So, women must be prepared for that. They can learn martial arts, karate, gain physical strength. It is not pessimism, but we must prepare ourselves for odds. That’s it.

The Hindu: We will be ending the web chat shortly. Any final remarks, Ms. Lankesh and Ms. Patheja?

Jasmeen Patheja: Adding to Shailaja, I know this sounds off, but maybe also invite your mum to participate in city pleasures, like walking at night. Start to share city activities with her, small tiny steps. Maybe a laughter club?

Shailaja: Yes, thanks. Keep me updated on events pls.

Gauri Lankesh: No government, no court, no institution will be able to protect women on its own. We, as a society, have to be gender sensitive to ensure the safety of women.

Angoori Gilhari: I work in a BPO. Whenever we call people regarding our product, few men try to harass us and flirt. In this situation, we can neither scold them nor wrap up the call. What can we do?

Gauri Lankesh: Angoori, pl remind the caller that the conversation is being recorded.

Jasmeen Patheja: I would love to continue the conversation on all aspects from segregation to campuses, to blame. Anyone interested can reach out at actionhero@blanknoise.org . This is a big issue, and we can all take small steps in our capacity, both personal and community led to make change. Thank you Hindu for invitng me to the chat. Lets keep the conversation alive, step in, not ignore. Lets walk together- freedom from fear.

Gauri Lankesh: Thank you, The Hindu. Its been fun and interesting and enlightening.

The Hindu: Thank you, Ms. Lankesh and Ms. Patheja! Thanks to all our readers for participating!

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 4:54:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/Web-Chat-How-safe-are-women-in-Bengaluru/article14640077.ece

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