While joining a firm of her choice in Hyderabad over a year ago, this 23-year-old from Ananthapur in Andhra Pradesh thought she was one step away from a life she had dreamt of. In reality, her life outside work-shifts largely revolves around a few hundred metres of her office, where she lives in paid guest accommodation. At dusk, it is only darkness that prevails in the booming neighborhood.
Welcome to Adibatla village, one of the booming IT/ITES special economic zones adjacent to the 158-km long outer ring road (ORR), and 40-60 km away from the city centre. The woman is one of the 15,000-strong workforces of an IT giant that is soon to employ another 15,000 as part of its expansion plans. In addition, a junior college with hostel accommodation, a private college and an aerospace firm have set up shop here already. Residential buildings have also started cropping up along with a few eateries.
But it is the absence of basic facilities – like street lighting – that makes women think twice when they step out.
The 6.5-km stretch to Bonguluru is wrapped in darkness as early as 7 pm. The nearest neighbourhood with necessities is 5 km away. While the stretch to Bonguluru is dotted with street lights, they have never been functional.
“In the initial days, we felt so isolated, but gradually you start feeling better,” said the woman from Ananthapur, who depends on a shuttle provided by her employer and friends to accompany her, if she had to go out of the locality. Her colleague from Gulbarga in Karnataka chipped in, “We do not even imagine going out after 9 pm. People in groups would be standing in the dark randomly along the road. Though there has never been any major incident, we are still worried.”
Adibatla has a swanky police station in the neighbourhood and the women agree the locality is well-patrolled.
On December 3, Jagannath Itikyala had tweeted multiple photographs and videos showing how the stretch should be illuminated to prevent any untoward incidents.
The twitter handle of Adibatla police (@AdibatlaPS) responded that they had already written to the Municipal Commissioner about the issue.
A senior engineer from the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority(HMDA) said tenders for street lighting on the main carriageways and service roads are being processed. “We have taken up the works on the service roads between Kokapet and Pipeline road. On Adibatla stretch too, we will take up the works soon,” he said, refusing to be identified.
A 2013 incident that shocked the state
On the evening of October 18, 2013, even as the nation was recuperating from the ghastly episode in Delhi in December 2012, a techie waiting for an auto-rickshaw at Hitec City’s Mindspace junction after shopping at a nearby mall was offered a ride by V Satish and friend N Venkateshwarlu. What should have been a 20-minute drive to her working women’s hostel turned out to be a six-hour ordeal for the woman, who was raped inside the moving car.
The duo took her to Kolluru forest area via the ORR, and later dropped at the hostel after threatening her. Though she was initially hesitant to approach the police, the case was cracked with the help of CCTV footage and the fact that not many Volvo S60 cars plied on city roads then. Public anger swept the state, a fast track court was set up, and a chargesheet was filed in three months. In May 2014, the special court convicted the duo and sentenced them to 20 years rigorous imprisonment.
Soon after, the then chief minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy reviewed women’s safety and called for measures to ensure the same. These included visible policing, installation and monitoring of CCTV cameras, more check-posts in IT corridors, barricading and vehicle checking, monitoring of private transport, branding of taxis with specific colours, registration of all autos and cabs with the police, increasing public transport connectivity, a survey of working women hostels and service hostels, street lighting along ORR with electronic toll-gate management and high-traffic management systems.
Years have passed, much has been done, and much more is being planned to ensure women’s safety. But the abduction, rape and murder of a veterinarian in the area has shocked the country again.
This time, the response has been to ensure that “cases of crimes against women and woman missing should be registered immediately by the police upon receipt of complaint without reference to the point of jurisdiction of the respective police station”. A meeting called by home minister Mohammed Mahmood Ali decided that teams should wing into action soon after, and a ‘Zero FIR System’ should be followed.
Considering the toxic nature of statements on social media justifying and trivialising the rape and murder, the Telangana Police, Education department, and Women and Child Welfare department have come out with e-learning courses for school and college-going men to sensitise themselves and acquire certification.
Speaking about the lack of basic infrastructure, Rachakonda Police Commissioner Mahesh Bhagwat – under whose jurisdiction Adibatla lies – told indianexpress.com that his department is constantly in touch with municipal authorities to take up various developmental activities. “There are dark patches. We are conducting a survey and taking up the matter with the municipal authorities. In addition, there are a good number of CCTV cameras which will work well even in the dark,” Bhagwat said.
Bhagwat said the government has also decided to form a security council for the Rachakonda Commissionerate on the lines of the Society for Cyberabad Security Council (SCSC). According to their website, the SCSC is a registered not-for-profit body founded in 2006 and operates in tandem with Cyberabad Police to promote safety and security in the Cyberabad IT corridor, empowered by the IT industry to attend the security needs of IT companies. It provides safety from information theft, fire, health and personnel safety, guard against sabotage operations of vital installations and thwarts terrorist attacks.
Though the Rachakonda Commissionerate was carved out of the Cyberabad Commissionerate in June 2016, it continues to remain part of the SCSC. “We are still part of the Cyberabad Security Council. In the coming days, we will have a government order to have a separate security council for Rachakonda. There are many industrial parks, IT Parks which will all be brought under one umbrella for better functioning, ensuring women safety, cyber safety, physical security etc,” said Bhagwat.
Echoing similar views, Swati Lakra, Inspector General of Police (Women’s Safety), told indianexpress.com: “We are working on bettering the infrastructure by ensuring better coordination with other departments on a priority basis. We are also having a lot of NGOs, general public, come out voluntarily to help us in ways they can, be it regarding spreading awareness, content development, or technology, etc.”
Sunitha Krishna of Prajwala, an anti-trafficking organisation working on the issue of sex trafficking and sex crimes, said the lack of streetlights is an “everyday nightmare” for her. The organisation has a shelter situated in the Tukkuguda village that adjoins the ORR, about 10 km away from Adibatla. “An entire stretch from the main road is through wilderness. There will be hundreds of places, like bus stops, which are not lit up. Anything can go wrong. Someone standing for a bus could be mugged,” Krishna said.
“Why should any citizen go through an unsafe situation because the state and the system does not think it is a priority?” she said. Pointing out that perceptions are built on certain realities, Krishna wondered why the Nirbhaya fund is left unutilised and isn’t used to making public spaces accessible and safer for men and women