Mumbai women who want free pepper spray can visit her website: www.rajyaraksha.in. Rao is looking for support, donations and tie-ups with courier companies who can help deliver the cans to women who have requested for them.
The vision of the initiative is to help "save our city, save our country in whatever way we can," she says. And while everyone has been talking about self-defence and how women should carry pepper spray, buying a can is not easy as it is not easily available at stores.
Here's Rao talking about safety in Mumbai and how more people can volunteer to protect women, train them to protect themselves.
Why pepper spray? How effective is to combat crimes against women?
Pepper spray is something which has been an effective counter attack in the West, on people trying to commit crimes - it is used not just by women, but by police, owners of establishments etc. It's non-lethal, but effective and legal.
Where are you sourcing the pepper sprays from and how do you intend to implement it on a large scale? Are you looking for funding?
I have written to various vendors both Indian and international to send their quotations and samples. We don't want large cans that are hard to carry around. We want something as small as a keychain or a lipstick which can be easily carried by women anytime. Right now, I'm trying to reach as many women as possible with my own personal funds. We are also looking for donations or sponsorships for the Rajya Raksha pepper spray. Every bit helps.
Some people have already written and said they don't want it for free and would prefer if someone who couldn't afford it, got it. They are happy to pay for it as long as we can send it to them. That was very sweet and considerate.
How should one collect the free pepper spray from your organisation?
We are trying to send this to women's addresses directly. It would be ideal if some of the courier companies joined in this initiative. If not, we will pay for the cost of sending it to them.
Do you need volunteers or any other kind of support to take things forward?
Yes, we definitely need volunteers - primarily for the self-defence classes we would be starting after we complete the pepper spray initiative, and then in the long term concept of education men.
Have you ever felt unsafe in the city? How do you think women can protect themselves?
My husband and me were attacked in our home 30 years ago. There were 5 thieves with knives who came to rob us. Our children were sleeping. I had to choose between helping my husband or protecting my children. I chose to help my husband because together we were able to fight the attackers and save our family. Things have improved a lot since those days in the 80s but one can never know where danger can approach from.
Two months ago, my son and daughter-in-law witnessed a woman being brutally beaten on the street, in Worli, at night. There were 50 people standing and watching and no one did anything.
My son stopped the car and confronted the abusive drunkard while my daughter-in-law got the woman into the car and they drove away. Thank God for them, however, one can't always count on good samaritans. Therefore one must always be prepared - by having devices like pepper spray, a safety app, or by learning self defence.
How do you intend to "right the wrongs in India"?
I'm not trying to change the world. I have done years of social work, I have done decades of work as a judge in the consumer courts. I just want to help in my own little way, the best that I can. This tragic incident in Mumbai has awakened us YET AGAIN.
How many more rapes need to be committed before women protect themselves?
How many more rapes need us to teach our young sons to always honour and protect any woman.
Your website says that you will also be holding self-defence classes for women. Are you looking at any particular martial arts form? Have you spoken to trainers?
The free self-defence classes is the next step of our initiative. I have started talking to some trainers. I would love to get as many of them to volunteer their time to go to schools, colleges and work places. But we would first create a proper agenda so that proper training is given, and not haphazard. It has to be done but done right.
You say the larger goal is to educate men. How do you intend to go about doing it?
To educate men, you need to educate women. Men are products of women. If we can educate our women to teach their sons & brothers, they will be inculcated with values to protect and honour women. We also need this to be a part of our curriculums in schools.
Having lived in Mumbai since the late 70's, Rao has worked in the consumer courts for almost 20 years, finishing up a decade at the apex National Consumer court (NCDRC) in New Delhi. She has been a speaker at various fora on consumer rights. She is currently on the board of Tech Mahindra, Aon Global, Rewas Ports and Kamat Hotels.
Author's take: This is a good initiative by an individual. We've seen more another interesting effort by Mumbai girl Paroma Bhattacharya who is surveying women to map the city's most unsafe places. And while efforts like these should continue, one wonders what it will take to reduce the number of crimes against women in the city. And not just women who belong to the middle and upper middle classes but also women like the rag pickers who were gangraped by the same men in the Shakti Mills compund.