In India, thousands of men and women are affected by sexual violence every year. In 2014, a report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund revealed that 77 percent of young girls between 15 and 19 years of age were affected by rape, forced sexual intercourse, and physical abuse by partners. In Bengaluru alone, there has been an alarming increase in the number of cases of child sexual assault.
DURGA (Dare to Understand behaviour, Respond appropriately and Guard ourselves Ably) is a unique citizen’s initiative to help young women and girls harness important life skills to deter crime. By creating DURGAs, the organisation will equip young girls to understand how to identify social behaviours that may impact them and act upon it. In addition to working closely with women and children, the organisation is also involved in creating safer public spaces for women by spreading awareness.
The DURGA alarm is one such initiative for safer public transport. The DURGA alarm was inaugurated on February 7th, at the Yelahanka Satellite Bus Stand by the Transport Minister and Chairman of KSRTC, Ramalinga Reddy, Yelahanka MLA S R Vishwanath and various other BMTC officials including Nabhiraja Jain, V S Aradhya and Dr Ekroop Caur. Popular Kannada stars, Sharan and Nivedita, and music director Arjun Janya were also present at the launch.
How the alarm works
The alarm is a revolutionary system that any woman or child, can reach for in a bus, to alert others about any form of harassment. Pictorial messages displayed in these buses will help even those with a language barrier to realise that there is an alarm switch they can use. There are a series of switches placed on either side of the bus on the panel between the windows; these are placed at a convenient height so that a child can reach them too, in case of distress. When a switch is pressed, it activates an alarm which will alert anyone inside and outside the bus.
When the alarm is triggered, a buzzer beeps for 20 seconds. The driver of the bus has to mandatorily stop the bus to check if any passenger is distressed and resolve the issue before turning off the switch. If the switch is not turned off, the buzzer will continue beeping every ten seconds. In addition to the beeps, the alarm will also turn on flashing lights installed both inside and outside the bus, to attract the attention of the police and other commuters on the road.
Ask Priya Varadarajan, founder of Durga how the will serve any better than a distressed woman raising an alarm on her own accord, she says, “As a part of Durga, I have been working with large number of women, many of whom say that they do not feel confident enough to address the perpetrator directly. It is an established fact that 99% of women have faced some sort of harassment in confined public spaces. This alarm allows the women to alert the driver, conductor and the other passengers about her distress, without having to confront the abuser directly, by pressing the switch or asking someone else to press it.”
Meera Vijayann, a member of the Advisory Board for Durga, and an elected member of +SocialGood connectors says, “I’ve avoided taking buses before because I’ve never felt safe on local transport. But now, the fact that you can report harassment immediately and so easily makes me confident that I can raise an alarm instantly if I face an issue while travelling within the city.”
The DURGA alarm has so far been installed in five BMTC buses on a pilot basis. Plans are currently underway to increase this number.
- Route No: 238U – Ambedkar College to KBS
- Route No: TR12 –Srinagara Bus Stand to Basaveshwara Nagara Bus Stand
- Route No: 18 – 9th Block Jayanagara to KBS
- Route No: 401R – BEML 5th Stage to Yelahanka
- Route No: 27E – Shivajinagar to JP Nagar
As per a press release issued by BMTC, the staff on these routes has been sensitised and educated on how to respond in case the alarm goes off. Priya adds, “Just like it is the responsibility of a person driving a vehicle on the road to give way for an ambulance when he sees flashing lights or hears the siren, it is his/her responsibility to stop the bus when the alarm goes off and ensure that no one is in danger.”
Durga plans to conduct a survey in two months to ascertain how many have used the switch, if staff were helpful when an alarm was raised, if such a mechanism made women passengers feel safer etc. “If we get a positive response and we can establish that harassment on these buses has significantly reduced, we will consider the project a success,” Priya says. She adds, “If that happens, I will approach all the concerned stake holders and BMTC to facilitate implementation of this in all buses.”
Meera believes that the Durga alarm is a great step forward for public safety: “The biggest advantage that I see is that many young women who take local transport can now raise an alarm about harassment easily and without a hassle. This is a big step forward for citizen safety on local transport and I hope this will help keep perpetrators at bay.”
The goal of DURGA is to empower young women to become champions, mentors and facilitators; so that they can be equipped with practical skills that can help them take on everyday harassment bravely.
Through interactive theatre games embedded into a 3-hour module that assesses and helps in understanding sexual harassment, an individual’s social environment and his or her response mechanism, Durga will help in distinguishing and responding to challenging situations in a simple, yet effective way.
So far, DURGA has successfully touched the lives of nearly 1,000 women across Bangalore, and in the days to come, this number will certainly grow.