As the sun sets in Hasra and nearby villages near Jahangirabad village in Barabanki district,Uttar Pradesh,and darkness looms over the fields and the mud houses,an eerie silence engulfs the area. With no street lamps to light the lanes,the women prefer to stay indoors,but thats not possible since most of the houses here do not have a toilet.
The lack of electricity and toilets at home poses a threat to womens security and is an everyday problem in this area, says Hans Raj,who works as a driver in Hasra and has a teenage daughter. Hans Raj hopes to save enough and get a toilet constructed in his house soon. Its not possible for family members to accompany the girl at all
times, he says,adding that incidents of harassment are common in these villages,where most people are farm or construction labourers.
Electricity is elusive for these villages,including Azim Nagar and Hasra,which do not even have basic amenities like a proper drainage system or roads.
For 40-year-old Sofia Bano of Azim Nagar village,a visit to the fields at night means first looking for a lamp to light the path,and then calling a neighbour to accompany her,lest she be attacked and assaulted. We are afraid to step out of our house in the dark,but we dont have an option. We do not
have the resources to build a toilet at home, she says.
But the fear is not just about defecating in the open and lack of street lamps. Crime against women in the state has increased in the last one year,according to chief minister Akhilesh Yadav himself. Between January 1 and November 15,2013,1,301 cases of eve teasing and 1,915 cases of rape have been registered. During the same period,530
cases of harassment,1,160 cases of rape and 39 cases of rape and murder of minor girls have been registered,Yadav told the state assembly recently.
The women of Belahni village,near Lucknow,where a 13-year-old Dalit girl was raped during day time in May this year,are so afraid that they move in groups even during the day. We dare not venture alone lest we are assaulted. The situation here is very difficult, says a woman,who doesnt want to be named. Surrounded by forests on all sides,Belahni,like the other villages in Barabanki district,seldom gets electricity.
When I had to go for coaching classes to Jahangirabad,I had to either miss evening classes or ask my father or brother to pick me up. Even in the day time,we are afraid of boys passing lewd comments and we dare not move out alone. We go to our college in groups, says Sayada Bano,a class XI student,who lives in Azim Nagar village.
Even as living amid threat and fear has become a reality for the villagers,there are very few who can muster courage to file a police complaint. Says Momina,a social activist working in the area with Prayatna Foundation,a local NGO,We hear of incidents of harassment and even assault on a regular basis from these villages. Most incidents happen in the evening. But for the fear of tarnishing the girl’s or the familys image,the families dont report the incidents to the police.
Naheed Aqueel,founder member of the NGO,says, In villages,because of the fear of earning a bad reputation,none of the women dare lodge a complaint with the police even if they are victims of assault or harassment. There are no women constables and the male constables are not sensitive enough. They call women names and do not behave in an appropriate manner. So approaching the police is the last thing a woman does when in trouble.
Salmi Bano of Jahangirabad,who ran away from home after being thrashed by
her husband,was humiliated at the police station when she went to file a complaint and faced constant threats from her own sons. Instead of supporting me,the police acted as my familys accomplice. They said I ran off to enjoy myself and now that I am back,I should not be given any money for
my survival. My husband is now living with me in a rented room because my sons deny me entry to my own house. Who would
go to the police in such a situation? asks the 45-year-old.
The story of Rubi Bano from Azim Nagar village is similar. Tired of constant beatings from her husband,the 30-year-old got a divorce last year. My former husband still threatens me. I have complained,but the police has done nothing so far. They talk
in the most inappropriate manner to
women and that makes it very difficult to approach them. I am not afraid of them and visit them whenever required,but it is not a pleasant affair,so I avoid it as much as I can, she says.