“Women have a right to feel comfortable anywhere in Bengaluru”

A panel discussion on "Making Bengaluru Women-friendly" was held on Saturday as part of ‘pEtE maatu’, a three-day festival. The panel discussion was organised by Citizen Matters and Just Femme, an online women’s magazine at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Palace Road, Bengaluru. 

From L: Prakash Belawadi, C K Meena, Mithila Jha, Deepika Nagabhushan, Vasanthi Hariprakash, Siri Srinivas, S T Ramesh and Honnamma. Pic: Meera K.

It evoked mixed responses from the panelists as well as the audience. Opinions flew thick and fast. Conversation covered safety of public transport, sexual harassment, attitude of police and apathy of fellow citizens. Vasanti Hariprakash, a television journalist with NDTV, moderated it well giving all panelists and listeners ample time to express themselves interjecting with pertinent comments and questions.

C K Meena, journalist and author has found public transport ‘safe’ in the 32 years that she has been using it, as it evolved from BTS to BMTC. She finds that bus frequency and overall service has improved and suggests that they should be available round the clock.

"Let us not get paranoid about safety of women in Bangalore. Sometimes it is an issue of class – all murderers and rapists are not necessarily from low income backgrounds." She extorted women to be tough and stand up for themselves, for one can’t expect society to be full of saints. Mothers especially those who have experienced molestation, groping, pinching or lewd remarks must not overprotect their daughters too much or be shocked when their daughters go through the same experience. 

Deepika Nagabhushan, Vasanthi Hariprakash and Siri Srinivas. Pic: Meera K.

Responding to Vasanthi’s question if Bengaluru is a safe city, Deepika Nagabhushan, a freelance photographer, felt "This city is not safe 24/7 unlike Mumbai where I spent a year". She shared her bad experiences while at a late night shoot of the Karaga festival in 2008.

Susheela Nair, a freelance writer on travel and heritage, seated in the audience, suggested that one should approach organisers of religious festivals for photography or reporting, based on her positive experience at such events.

Deepika insisted that women have a right to feel comfortable anywhere in Bengaluru irrespective of their dress or language. Siri Srinivas, who like Deepika, was also born and raised in Bangalore talked about how she has adjusted her travel habits within the city, to ensure safety. She uses only Volvo buses and is accompanied by friends if she leaves her office after 7 pm. "I am paranoid even if the conductor touches my hand while returning change." Asked if she was not overreacting, she said, a woman always knows when touch is offensive.

A resident of Bangalore since birth, Karnataka’s Director General of Police (Training) S T Ramesh admitted that he does not have a first hand experience of buses. But as a parent, he is aware of the challenges of women in Bangalore’s public spaces through his daughter. "I cannot declare Bangalore as safe or unsafe. But I know that no young girl can walk on Brigade Road without facing little, little humiliations."  He talked about how the Karnataka Police have been undergoing gender sensitisation training. Around 13,000 police personnel have completed the programme till date. He felt such programmes should be extended to all government departments and society at large.

Geeta Menon from Stree Jagruti Samiti, seated in the audience, wryly commented that she and her fellow activists (from low income families) are yet to meet any women-friendly police officials. She requested Ramesh to review the efficacy of the programme, given that lakhs of taxpayer rupees is being on such initiatives. 

Prakash Belawadi with C K Meena and Mithila Jha. Pic: Meera K.

Panelist Prakash Belawadi narrated his personal experiences and drew attention to how even young boys are subject to sexual harassment.. He also talked about how he had tried to overprotect his children, avoiding public transport and appointing a driver to ferry them around; only to find that the driver committed an offence with a close family member too.

Belawadi said comparisons between Bengaluru and Mumbai are not apt. Mumbai is a city while Bangalore is a small town with 83 villages trapped inside, with growth too fast to handle. He talked about how character of a neighbourhood changes with new money and landowners. When the wealthy acquire land in a neighbourhood, they dislike the presence of small stores or bus stops and fight to have them removed. "This disrupts the sense of community and security. Neighbourhood shops are often open late at night and are lit", he said. 

Mithila Jha, a consultant with BMTC on urban planning and transport, feels fairly safe in this city. She finds separate seats for men and women in buses, fairly sexist. "Around a third of the seats in BMTC buses are reserved for women. But this does not exist in Volvo buses", she said. 

Vasanthi Srinivas, Siri Srinivas and S T Ramesh listening to Honnamma. Pic: Meera K

Honnamma P, a young and outspoken member of the Domestic Workers Rights Union, lives in Venkatapura, near Koramangala. Walking less than 3 kms to work early mornings in Koramangala, she experiences harassment from strangers – pedestrians and bikers regularly. Even when this happens in broad daylight and crowded places, others on the road don’t interfere or support her. She believes that it would be worse in desolate and poorly lit places. "I tell those who irritate me to leave me alone". Most of the panellists and spectators appreciated Honnamma’s boldness and her approach to the issue.

When moderator Vasanthi asked her if she had reported instances of street sexual harassment to the police, Honnmma answered, "No, I have not done that myself. When my friend had complained about it, the police personnel responded insensitively. That discouraged me".

There was a 100 strong audience from across Bangalore in all age groups in the lively interaction. Manjula Sridhar raised the topic of the influence of films and asked why sexual harassment cannot be banned on the screen, like smoking was. Ashwin Mahesh made the case for a women’s vote and political voice to get women’s issues the attention it deserves.

About Pushpa Achanta 33 Articles
Pushpa Achanta is a writer who enjoys volunteering, photography and poetry.

2 Comments

  1. Obviously, the writer of the comment is scared to write in his own name. Has he forgotten that he was born to a woman and has sisters also in his household ? Atleast he should think about their respect and safety in public from hungry and evil men prowling everywhere. Does he not know that women are like glass…whether the stone hits the glass or the other way, only the glass breaks? As far as work is concerned, who is more efficient in any office? He must understand by now that in India, our culture is to protect women.We should use their talent for the betterment of the country and should not envy about the privileges given to them.I am sure he cannot look after his own house even for a day as compared to a working woman. Such people suffer from egoism and oppressive compulsive disorders and need medical attention.

  2. Income tax: Men pay more tax than women earning the same salary. Buses/Trains : Coaches and seats are reserved for women but not for men. Maternity leave : Mothers get maternity leave(Labor law), but fathers dont get paternity leave. Ministry : Women have separate ministry for themselves, but men are treated worst than animals. Child custody : During divorce women are given preference whereas fathers suffer, they have to wait for a long time to get to see their child for an hour/week. Law : Women can harass men , but men cant harass women it is against law.Even if ther is not harassment still they are booked under law and have to attend courts. Life expectancy : Women live longer than men. Men die early and they have higher risk of heart problems. Men can’t contest in certain constituencies in elections held in so called democratic India. Men are not treated equally by society government, and the law. Should men fight for their rights?

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