The rape and murder of the veterinary doctor has enraged the public conscience so much that rallies and marches are being conducted across the country and the demand for death penalty has only got shriller.
One question which remains unasked and unanswered is, in case the heinous crime had not taken place, and the doctor’s two-wheeler had indeed got punctured, what would she have done? The troubles she might have undergone reaching home safe would have never made headlines.
As the city expands on all sides and newer areas get merged in an amoeba-like spread of the metropolis, the question that keeps getting bigger on all working women’s minds is: “Will I reach home early and safe today?”
Weak transport system
Sadly, however, initiatives on the public transportation front have been woefully short at pace with the rapid urbanisation, and the first victim seems to be the woman in public places. Unpalatable experiences are a dime a dozen.
“As soon as I start from home, my focus is entirely on how to finish work on time and start early. Every minute spent at the shop after working hours burdens my mind enormously,” shares Deepika S., a sales executive in Dilsukhnagar who commutes daily from Vanasthalipuram.
“Once during the festival season, I had to work late, and the wait for buses was unending after 10 p.m. When I got into the bus finally, there were drunk men aboard, and I was the only woman. That was the scariest experience ever,” Ms. Deepika recalls.
Salma Fathima, a medical transcriptionist, concurs. She and her colleagues were waiting at the Punjagutta bus stop, when a solicitor approached them thinking they were sex workers. “It was only 8.30 p.m. then. We immediately got into the next bus, without even checking if it would take us to our destination. And all this happened with Punjagutta police station across the road,” she narrates.
Ladies’ services run by the State-run RTC have come down in number and frequency, especially at night, which makes it riskier for women working late, she says. There are several areas in the city which are not covered by the RTC and to reach their destinations, people have to depend on share autorickshaws.
Gender insensitive public infrastructure compounds the problem. Outer Ring Road is the best example of how hundreds of crores of rupees have been splurged on creating a 165-km six-lane road, without any thought given to making it safe for women.
“I try not to go alone on ORR if possible, because I find it scary. The actual road might still be safer, as people can be spotted, but the radial roads leading onto and off ORR are the scariest. These roads are where one finds mysterious characters looking for a prey. And there is no way to escape if you have a vehicle breakdown,” relates Sunayana (name changed), a working professional.
Sujatha Surepally, a professor of Satavahana University, recalls an eerie experience: “I recently had vehicle breakdown on ORR while going to airport. It was a horrific experience. I could not even book a cab as I was stranded midway between toll plazas. Even if someone kidnapped me from the location, there was nothing I could have done.”
Several other structures coming up in the city in the name of infrastructural betterment are also extremely unfriendly to women. “A few years ago, I was travelling in an autorickshaw and I noticed that the driver was drunk when he began leering at me. Suddenly, on the Tolichowki flyover, he declared that his auto has broken down. I got down and started walking on the flyover, which did not have a footpath. The driver chased me, saying his autorickshaw had started again and he could drop me. Several riders passed by and noticed that I was being troubled, but nobody bothered to stop and help,” Ayesha Minhaz, a freelance journalist, says.
K. Satyavathi, founder of Bhumika Women’s Collective, questions if the city is prepared for the influx of women. “Several women are migrating to the city, some for studies, some for jobs and several for livelihood. They have no shelter, no transportation or other facilities. Many stay in the outskirts as they cannot bear the rental expenditure within the core city. Several others stay crammed in hostels which are not even registered. Has the civic administration ever asked itself what kind of problems they might be facing,” she asks.
‘Safety audit needed’
The government has been paying excessive attention only to areas such as Gachibowli and Madhapur, while leaving other localities to their fate, she says. A safety audit should be done to assess the situation in various localities, she suggests. Police patrolling should be increased on ORR, as it is fringed by hillocks, wastelands and forests, which are conducive to attacks on women. Phone charging points should be provided at frequent intervals, she adds.
“I fail to understand why the road should be restricted to only cars and trucks. What is the point of having a road of such a size and extent, if all vehicles cannot be allowed onto it. Increased movement of all kinds of vehicles will at least make the road bustle all the time, and make it relatively safer for women,” Ms. Satyavathi says.