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City of Fears: Is Delhi any safer for women?

For a city that has witnessed unprecedented anti-rape protests, boasts four helplines for women -- 100, 1091, 1096 and 181 -- has Delhi become any safer? Not really.

Revisiting the Munirka bus stop from where the young physiotherapy student took a private bus on December 16, Mint reporter Cordelia Jenkins reports that while women continue to travel in buses that ply in late evenings, their journeys are fraught with  fear. [Read Fear and Loathing in New Delhi]

A demonstrator during the anti-rape protests in Delhi. Reuters.

A demonstrator during the anti-rape protests in Delhi. Reuters.

Deepa Joshi, a 25-year-old who boards a bus from the stand five days a week told the newspaper that her parents still get worried and call her up to ask her whereabouts.

Like many women who use public transport out of necessity, Joshi feels safer because she abides by a set of unwritten rules for women in the city. She dresses demurely, makes no eye contact, avoids the more crowded buses and gets home early. In short, she takes all the advice that was handed out to women by the police and politicians in the wake of the December protests.

While the government has increased the number of helplines for women in the city their effectiveness remains in doubt. According to Mint, the non-governmental organizations Jagori and Multiple Action Research Group (Marg) in collaboration with UN Women conducted a study of the Delhi police helplines, as part of their Safe Delhi campaign.

The study found that over 50 percent of the women surveyed (who included sex workers, slum dwellers, expatriates, homeless women, lawyers and doctors) had not even heard of a women’s helpline. The survey also found that almost two in three women reported facing incidents of sexual harassment two to five times during the last year and public spaces like buses and roadsides were also where women and girls face several incidents of sexual harassment. Just 1 percent of the women surveyed said they had reported incidents of sexual harassment to the police.

These results are not surprising, considering the indifferent and even misogynist attitude of the police towards women. A Tehelka investigation revealed shocking conversations with police officers like sub-Inspector Arjun Singh, who declared, “Ladkiya ek seemit daire main, seemit kapdon main nahi niklengi… to apne aap khichaon ho jata hai. Wo khichaon bhi aggressive kar deta hai ki kar do bas (If girls don’t stay within their boundaries, if they don’t wear appropriate clothes, then naturally there is attraction. This attraction makes men aggressive, prompting them to just do it).”

NGO worker Soumya Suresh sums up the stark reality of a post-Nirbhaya Delhi that remains mostly the same: "Society has created a space for girls: that they should be at home, where they will be safe. We don’t talk about how women compromise and restrict themselves to be safe. If I’m out at midnight or 1am, I have this feeling that no one is going to empathize with me if I am raped. It’s still, ‘You should know your place or I’ll rape you.’”

Read about Fear and Loathing in New Delhi.

It is part of a special Mint's Independence Day Issue which focuses on women and includes a number of must read essays by Salil Tripathi, Nivedita Menon, Urvashi Bhutalia et al.

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