Last year, city-based professor Anjuna Menon (40) was walking back from a music festival at 10.30 pm when she noticed a man following her and passing lewd comments. Nervous, Menon started walking faster. Fortunately, she saw a group of girls standing at a corner, and stood with them till her husband arrived to pick her up.
About two years ago, media professional Dipti Bhasin (name changed on request) was walking with her friend in Karvenagar, looking for a restaurant. They noticed three men on a motorcycle following them. After lunch, when Bhasin and her friend were returning to their hostel, the men followed them again. “As we were heading towards our hostel, they touched my friend’s hair and and rode away. They kept stalking us for two days. We complained to our hostel warden. One of the men turned out to be a worker in our hostel mess… he was fired,” she said.
Working women from various backgrounds not only admit to feeling “unsafe”, but also say that the increasing cases of crimes against women, not just in Pune but across the country, have made them more “careful and alert” about their own safety in the past few years.
Recalling her college days, Brinda Thomas (38), who was born and brought up in the city, said she never feared going out at any hour, or to any place. Thomas, now an assistant vice-president at Accenture, says those days were “carefree and fun, as the city was a safe place”. But Pune is no longer what it used to be, in terms of women’s safety, says Thomas.
“The city has changed in the last couple of years. I am nervous when I have to stay out late at night. There is fear at the back of my mind, as we keep coming across reports about women being subjected to heinous crimes. Though no such untoward incident has happened to me, I take precautions for my safety… I have two pocket knives – I keep one in my handbag and the other in my car. It’s sad but true. I hope I don’t have to use them, ever,” says Thomas.
Menon, who has lived in Pune for the last 20 years, says she has seen the city gradually becoming an unsafe place for women. Menon says that the woman students in her college often share instances of how they face eve-teasing, stalking and lewd remarks. “The general feeling is that they don’t feel safe. When I was a student, I never felt unsafe. Though people feel that such incidents happen in areas like Hinjewadi, I would say this ‘unsafe’ feeling is prevalent across the city. I have come across men misbehaving with women in areas like Vimannagar and Kalyaninagar as well,” she says.
Vidushi Kala, a city-based lawyer and author who hails from Dehradun and has lived in Pune for the last six years, says that as compared to her hometown, she feels more unsafe here.
Back in 2011-12, Kala says she felt relatively safer and would roam around freely even at night. But today, Kala says she thinks twice before going out at 9 pm or later. “Drunken men passing lewd remarks, stalking, rampant misbehaviour by eve teasers are incidents that most women have experienced if they need to go out at night. There have been times when I and my women friends have encountered such men and have tried calling on the emergency number 100 to seek help from police. Unfortunately, we have never been able to get through… once, when I did manage to get through, the police personnel on the phone said he won’t come because by the time he will reach, the accused would have fled from the spot. We have become more alert now and have been taking safety measures… because there’s an environment of fear and discomfort,” says Kala.
In a recent incident, on June 11, a 24-year-old woman filed an FIR at Chatushrungi police station against an unidentified miscreant, alleging that he threatened and passed remarks against her and her friend while they were trying to record a video of him beating up a man in front of their house. The woman also alleged that cops initially refused to file an FIR and mistreated her and her friends at the Pandav Nagar police chowky.
Amruta Mayuresh Wakade, who has been working in the IT sector for the last 14 years, says that after she shifted from her hometown Solapur to Pune in June 2003, she found the city a haven for working women. But that, says Wakade, is no longer the case.
“… If women need to be out at night, they must take measures for their safety, like carrying pepper spray. They should also know the basics of karate, so that they are able to protect themselves if something untoward happens. I also feel that employers should avoid putting women on night shifts and they should explore work-from-home option. Working on weekends, when the staff strength is low or nil, should be completely avoided,” says Wakade, who also carries a pepper spray. She shares that the firm she works in, PTC, has distributed pepper sprays to all its women employees.
Earlier this month, Hinjewadi Industries Association, KBK Raksha and MIDC had jointly organised a self-defence workshop at the Rajiv Gandhi Infotech Park for IT employees from various companies. The workshop saw participation from employees of over 53 companies that included Tech Mahindra, KPTI, Infosys, Emersons, TCS and Persistent, among others.
Deepak Nathani, founder of Relfor Labs Pvt. Ltd. and former COO and co-founder of Cybage Software Pvt. Ltd, says, “At Cybage, no women employees were allowed to work after 9 pm. If at all any important project demanded their presence in office, we made sure the project head accompanied them till their home. Even at Relfor, women employees are not put on night shifts. As employers, one must be alert about their safety.”