How safe is Chennai?

The Blank Noise Project, an effort to highlight the sexual abuse of women in towns and cities in India, brought out the reality of ‘eve teasing’ (I hate that term, it somehow manages to make sexual abuse, either verbal or physical, acceptable) in our society. Many of the women who wrote in were from Mumbai and Delhi, but there were many from Chennai too. A recent survey by an NGO also highlights the fact that some 40% or more of children are abused in our cities. Mumbai has become much worse in recent years, with some terrible cases of rape even in broad daylight. So how safe is Chennai?

This is what a recent article in The Hindu, dated May 15 sought to highlight. I thought it well worth sharing excerpts from this thought provoking article:

From the Hindu: May15, 2007 ‘CHENNAI : Sarika Shah, a college student, died after being tormented by a group of youngsters in 1998; Nirmala, another student, was brutally assaulted by a gang for objecting to their lewd remarks in 2002, and Stephanie, a call centre employee, was run over after being chased by youth in a car in 2004. The cases were among the most widely debated crimes against women in the city in recent years. But, for every headline-grabbing offence against women, there are scores that go unreported. Everyone — police, activists and residents — agree that the cases that come to light form just the tip of the iceberg.

Police records reveal that 84 cases of crimes against women, such as harassment inside campuses and public places, were registered in 2006. This is a marginal decrease from the 100-odd cases registered in 2005. Officials, however, agree that most victims of harassment do not come to police stations and that these numbers do not tell the whole story. Women in Chennai have several examples of harassment to narrate. It is an everyday reality, only the form differs … staring, whistling, touching, pushing around, deliberately brushing past, leaning over, exhibitionism, verbal and physical sexual advances.

R. Bhuvana Lochini, a Madras University student, started riding a two-wheeler to college to avoid crowded buses where `accidental’ harassment is common. She still is made to feel vulnerable. “Men stalk me on bikes. I nearly had an accident a few months ago when I was stalked on the road in Adyar,” she says. Crimes against women do not stop with the lewd glance or seemingly accidental physical contact. Of the grave cases reported with the Chennai police — especially those of murder for gain or chain snatching — the victims are often women. A senior officer in south Chennai said chain snatching is a big challenge. Many of the incidents occurred in and around Madipakkam, St. Thomas Mount, Pallavaram and Pallikaranai. Harm or harassment is not physical or tangible in all cases, activists note. Advocate Sudha Ramalingam cited the case of a friend who was told by an MTC bus conductor to “learn to sit like a woman” and not sit with her legs crossed.

Sexual harassment at the workplace is increasing by the day, said State Women’s Commission Chairperson P. Ramathal. The Personnel and Administrative Reforms department in Tamil Nadu had issued a circular to all departments to form a Complaints Committee to evaluate cases of sexual harassment. The heads of these committees and at least half the members should be female. The commission will soon begin to monitor the efficacy of these committees. “The Government has the power to enforce the formation of these committees by private employers also. The Women’s Commission is working on the issue,” she said. R. Geetha of the Unorganised Workers’ Federation said every institution should have a complaints committee. The institutions should prominently display the Supreme Court guidelines on what constitutes harassment at workplace. “We also need counsellors in all colleges,” she added.

The Southern Railway has set up a helpline – 25353999 – for women travelling by MRTS and suburban trains. It was established following a request from the Women’s Commission. The police helpline for women is 1091. An average of 40 calls is received each month, said personnel manning it. “Domestic violence forms the largest percentage of violence against women. We counsel them and do not always suggest that they file a complaint,” they say’.

End of article.

More than anything else, this is an appeal to all of you to be vigilant, and step in if you see some form of harassment against the women of our city. After all, they are just the same as our sisters, mothers, cousins or other loved ones. You would be saving them from needless harassment and trauma, and in some cases, even their lives. Let’s make Chennai a safe place for everyone.

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