So much for the rhetoric about safety measures! About 36% of 4,500 women commuters surveyed in Mumbai are not taking the state government at its word that it is serious about ensuring safety of women who take public transport.
Offering little respite to the government, 15% of those surveyed side with it, while 49% think it is only concerned “to some extent”.
The findings will be a rude wake-up call for the government, which has “offered” various safety measures, ranging from posting cops at all secluded places in the city and modes of public transport to assigning a guard for women out on risky assignments.
About 75% of those surveyed don’t feel safe taking public transport after sundown; about 48% admitted that they have been harassed (verbally/physically).
The survey, conducted by students of second-year bachelor of science St Xavier’s College in July and August, covered 4,500 girls and women in the age group of 10-40 who take trains, buses and taxis for their daily commute. Of them, 52% were students, 39% working women and 9% homemakers.
Staunch defenders of government measures can, however, peck at other findings to turn the tables around. Despite the lack of faith in the state machinery, not many have taken it upon themselves to ensure their safety. More than half of train commuters surveyed (58%) either didn’t know the existence of a railway helpline or remembered its number.
Scared to confront
Many women are also scared of the ‘consequences’ of confronting harassers. Only 36% of those surveyed say they would help a co-passenger being harassed; 22% others feel it’s safer to ignore such “regular incidents”.
Avkash Jadhav, nominated corporator and professor at St Xavier’s College, says government agencies should shift their focus from knee-jerk reactions to precautionary measures.
“A working woman who supports her family, while battling all odds, at finds little solace when her rights are violated and her dignity comes under attack. The government should concentrate on precautionary measures rather than announcing compensations for victims.”
Subhash Gupta, member of the National Rail Users’ Consultation Council, finds the findings alarming. “It is shocking that so many women feel unsafe in local trains, especially because Mumbaikars are believed to be most understanding passengers in India. This also shows that running trains on time is the railways’ priority, safety isn’t.”
Gupta explains that earlier this year, a zonal committee of railway passengers had proposed that first- and second-class women coaches be clubbed for better security.
“This change was not a costly affair. Moreover, it would have reduced the need for security personnel by one-fifth. The proposal seems to be in cold storage now.”
Deputy commissioner of government railway police, BN Shirsat, says the railways have added more personnel to ensure women passengers’ safety.
“We have more than 350 personnel to guard women compartments. Recently, 200 home guards were also added to the force... I’m sure women will feel safer now.”