How safe is Coimbatore for women? Not all that much, Karpagam will never forget that bright morning. She was returning from her dance class. Her father could not pick her up that day and she had to take a bus home. The 18-year-old boarded a bus to the CITRA stop, near her house. In the beginning, it was a lovely ride, Karpagam remembers. She enjoyed traveling alone. When the bus was about to reach her stop, she walked up to the door. An old man, in his 50s, stood right behind her. He mumbled something and soon it dawned on her that he was saying something obscene in Tamil. Karpagam did not know what to do. A sense of shock was followed by disgust. She couldn't wait to get off the bus.
Karpagam is not the only woman in the city who faces this kind of harassment. Not just in the bus, even walking freely on the road is often uncomfortable. Simran Wahan, who runs the Amaya Store in Race Course, says the stretch outside Café Coffee Day, Race Course, is scary after dark. "There are no street lights in this stretch. Usually, big cars with music blaring and with guys inside are parked there. Cat calls, comments and snide remarks are common. While these boys do not cross the line, it is still uncomfortable for women to pass that way," she says.
The scary thing is how brazen men are even in daylight. Two young journalists, just outside the jail were accosted by a guy on a bike who passed a lewd remark. When they glared at him, he stood there grinning, unrepentant. Shockingly this happened outside a newspaper office and just outside the Central jail! "People assume that a girl who wears casual t-shirt and jeans is easy game", says Shreya Padmasola, a college student.
"There have been instances when drunk men would try and talk to us while we wait for a bus in the Gandhipuram bus stand. It happens in broad day light, too." The worst part is the public does not react, says Ayushi Sharma, her friend who hails from Mumbai. "Once I was walking with my friends on the road near our college. Four guys walked past us. And one of them grabbed me. I hurled abuses at him at the top of my voice. But not a single person came to my rescue or even enquired what was happening."
"All of us blame the girl for dressing inappropriately. That should stop," says Janaky Venunathan, a nutrition expert. "The change begins at homes where the parents must teach their sons to respect women. We must educate our sons." Janaky says how her 14-year-old daughter was scared to tell her when someone had behaved inappropriately with her. "We must tell our daughters not to keep mum about these issues. They should be vociferous and definitely learn self-defense.
The police suggest some safeguards like dial 100 to immediately alert the control room, store the phone numbers of your neighbors and friends, file a complaint, seek immediate police action, Alert the police about stalkers, be alert while you are in the following areas.
The writer is a journalist at The Hindu www.thehindu.com
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