In recent times, the question of women safety has been raised time and again with a stark rise in crimes against women. With news of horrific rapes, assaults, and molestations blaring out of newspapers and our living room TVs almost on a daily basis, we are being drawn into a constant state of worry and doubt — how safe are we in our own cities? And how can we make Kolkata safer for women?
Delhi has always been notorious in this regard, where cases of hostility against women have made many headlines over the past decade or so. Kolkata, on the other hand, has always been considered much safer. Call it the city’s “soul” or its bhadralok (literally, gentleman) culture, women in Kolkata walked the streets, partied at wee hours, and went to school, college or work without the threat of sexual harassment and violence. But things are changing. While it is still safe to venture out in Kolkata streets after dusk, cases involving eve-teasing and sexual crimes are increasing. The question is, what can be done to prevent this trend from getting worse?
Less Political Interference in Crimes against Women
In a country like ours, politics is apparently everywhere. However, too much political interference often cripples law and justice. For instance, political leadership has a big contribution toward the efficient functioning of the police. In many recent cases, political interference has emerged as one of the major reasons why the police have not been able to do their job effectively, which has affected the investigation of crimes, including those committed against women. Especially if the offender has a certain political leaning or affiliation, the police are often forced to bow out owing to political pressures. When this happens, the law takes a backseat and perpetrators remain scot-free.
In order to improve the safety of women in the city, the police need to be able to do their job without political intervention.
Better and More Responsive Police Force
The social stigma of rape and molestation still lies at the root of why many cases go unreported in our country. Given the tech-driven times we live in, technology should be used to spread awareness and education among masses. Social media and the internet can be turned into viable platforms for women to come forward and report any misdeeds. Also, web portals and mobile apps can become part of citizen-friendly and responsive policing.
There are instances where the police force in different cities of India are taking the advantage of technology and being more responsive. In cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Mumbai, a woman in distress can just WhatsApp or tap a button in an app to alert the police. The police control room then immediately forwards the information to the nearest police outpost or patrol car to respond. This saves precious time. We urgently need such systems in place in Kolkata too.
Installing CCTV cameras at street corners and increased police patrolling can also help limit criminal activity and maximize safety in the city.
Need for Societal Change
We live in a largely male chauvinistic society. There is an urgent need for sensitizing the society, especially at a very young age, to respect women. Of course, our civil society at Kolkata is highly liberal and responsive towards the women’s safety, but a major change in views and prejudices against women is needed.
Any woman is part of the society and must derive a sense of safety from helpful male members of the society.
There is a need to change the views regarding the attire of women. Sexual harassment based on a woman wearing revealing clothes is absolutely unacceptable. Judging a victim of such incidents based on her attire or activities is generally based on masculine prejudices.
At the level of families, such misconceptions need to be eradicated. The female members of the families should take up a pioneering role in this effort.
Ensuring Personal Safety
In most cases, staying alert is the first line of defense. Here are some things every woman should know about personal safety.
- Avoid talking on phone and texting while walking alone.
- Save all helpline phone numbers in your phone so that you can contact the authorities fast. Metro rail, Kolkata Police, and other authorities have their helpline numbers.
The Metro helpline for women is 9007041908 while the Kolkata Police helpline is 1091.
- Whenever possible, walk or drive through well-lit areas.
- Pepper spray and even everyday items such as a steel fork, safety pins, needles, and umbrellas are helpful weapons in case of an unexpected attack. Make sure to carry these in your bag.
- Avoid sparsely populated areas after dark, especially during late nights.
- Do not engage in a verbal spat when confronted. Get away to the safest possible distance and call the police immediately.
- While traveling in a cab, note the cab registration number and communicate that number to a family member or friend as soon as you board the cab.
- If you a situation or a person makes you feel uneasy, call for help, walk in other directions, get into a crowded public space like a restaurant or shopping mall.
- Download and install safety apps on your phone. Here’s a list of some of the best ones.
The sad truth is, there’s no city or country in the world where women live absolutely free of the fear of violence. But if we try, we can — as a society and an individual — take steps to make Kolkata safer for women.