‘Two boys on a bike shouted lewd comments… they returned next day… I carry a pepper spray now’

When it comes to women’s safety, Pune may not be as unsafe as Delhi, but is that really good enough? Women students studying in Pune reveal why they can’t take their safety for granted anymore

Written by Sushant Kulkarni | Pune | Published:June 22, 2017 7:36 am
pune, women safety, india news, indian express news Incidents of eve-teasing and harassment of women in public places in the city are common. (Source: Express)

THE answer to the question — ‘is Pune safe for women’ — is certainly more complicated than a simple yes or no. As Pune Newsline tries to explore the issue from the point of view of women students in the city, a mixed scenario comes to the fore. While there is a sense of safety when compared to several cities across India, the situation is far from perfect. Incidents of eve-teasing and harassment of women in public places are common. Police say that while the anti eve-teasing ‘Damini’ squad has shown results, continued efforts are still needed.

A second-year science student, who stays in a residential society in Kothrud, has a horrifying experience to share. “Four months ago, I was on my way back from college on my motorcycle. While on a turn that leads to our residential society, I could see a boy on a two-wheeler right behind me. In the rearview mirror, I could see him looking at me. As I entered the premises, he kept following me and even entered the parking space. I got off my bike and started walking towards the lift. He shouted, ‘kya madam’, and finally left only after I entered the lift.”
The 20-year-old adds, “I later filed a complaint at the police station and checked the footage from local security cameras. But the camera was only able catch a few digits of the bike registration number. Though we suspect that the boy lives nearby, he has not been identified yet.”

A college student recalls another scary incident, “Three months ago, I and my friend were on our way back home from college. The way from Shivdarshan Chowk, to the area we live in, is a comparatively deserted patch. One night, two boys on a motorcycle passed us at a very high speed and shouted lewd comments. They returned within two minutes, and did the same. We ignored them at first… but the next day it happened again and that really scared us. We then changed our route to one that has more traffic. On the advice of parents and relatives, I carry a pepper spray with me now.”

Maithili Pawar, a final-year engineering student, faced a similar incident while she was on her way to a friend’s house in Model Colony. “In spite of that, I can’t deny that there is a sense of safety in Pune, when compared to other cities. But I… live in a comparatively better residential area and I commute on my own bike. What about women who live elsewhere or have to pass through unsafe areas, or have to travel by bus or walk long distances to get to their college or workplace? I have heard from many friends about the situations they have been in… in many cases, those who eve-tease or harass women are from the same area or loiter around schools or colleges.”

Over an year ago, anti-eve teasing ‘Damini’ squads were formed in police jurisdictions across the state. Says Inspector Sangeeta Patil of the Women’s Grievance Redressal Cell of Pune Police, “We have seen a change in the scenario due to the work of Damini squads. These police teams patrol areas around colleges, education institutes, and places frequented by young men and women. These squads respond to calls about eve-teasing and harassment. There is no doubt that there is a stronger sense of safety in areas where these squads have been able to reach. But surely, continued efforts are needed. These teams also keep evolving their working methods. New areas are identified as vulnerable and police presence is increased there.”

Since January 2017, Damini squads across the city have filed 25 cases under various heads. A police inspector explains, “Not all cases are registered as formal complaints. Every day, there are several cases where wrongdoers are given warnings and reprimandation. The repeat offenders are brought to book or handed over to police stations.”
A woman officer of ACP rank, who has served in Pune and handled cases of crimes against women, says, “We live in an environment where people with varied mentalities towards women live together. When I walk on the street, I can’t be sure of how a person will behave with me. So even the safest place can witness an untoward incident. I will definitely not say that women and girls should behave as per archaic restrictions. But will I be wrong in saying women need to be aware of their surroundings?”

The officer adds, “According to data from Crime in Maharashtra 2015, which is the latest one available, the number of eve-teasing cases have declined by 29 per cent. But some individual cities have seen an increase in such cases and the data doesn’t always represent the reality. I believe that a positive fear of police will lead to a change in the mentality of the people but we will not have safe cities, towns and villages until society stops looking at women as the inferior gender.”

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