Seema Vijay, 29, hardly goes out of her house alone after 7pm. Seema stays in the posh JP Nagar 2nd phase, next to JP Nagar Cultural Association. But after 7, the roads here are dark and isolated, and harassment is common. Women rarely walk around alone at night here.
There is a playground near the club, which has only added to women’s woes. Though a ‘public’ place, only boys and men use the ground. In the evenings especially, women stay away from this area as they are harassed and commented on by men hanging around in the ground. There have been some cases of chain snatching in nearby roads as well, over the last few years. The area is mostly deserted and there are only a couple of shops around.
There are no parks nearby either, which leaves lesser hang out options for women. Seema, who has a two-and-half year old daughter, says, “There are no options for children to play and they spend all their time at home. Mothers have no place to take them to, and they too cannot go out.”
Bangalore has many such pockets, even in residential areas, that women avoid. In south Bangalore, for instance, areas around Madhavan park in Jayanagar 1st block and Jayadeva flyover are considered unsafe. Sangeetha Ramakrishnan, resident of Jayanagar 1st block says that cases of harassment and chain snatching occur near Madhavan Park even during the day, and happen more at night. Sangeetha herself was once stalked by a man in a bike late at night near Madhavan Park, upon which she had to seek the help of a policeman.
Areas that are very crowded, like Jayanagar 4th block Shopping Complex and Ayyappa Temple in Madivala are considered safer. Here, the chances of being attacked are lesser, and women can seek help easily. The exceptions to this are major bus stands like Majestic and Shivaji Nagar, where women prefer not to hang around alone after 8 pm. “The crowd here is not good at night. I have had terrible experiences travelling in regular (non-Volvo) buses that start from these bus stands,” says Sabiha P, 27, from Ejipura.
Old areas in the city are safer compared to outskirts. In Hebbal and Whitefield, for instance, the number of women out on the streets itself is less, and many inner roads have no street lights. Even the bus stop that comes after Hebbal flyover, right on the main road, is known for street harassment.
Are public places for everyone?
In general, women hang around more in malls and coffee shops, and less in road side stalls, playgrounds etc. “In these places I have to be conscious of what I wear, about people staring at me, how they judge me etc. In malls I do not have to worry,” says Ngaitlang Mary Tariang, 32, from Lakkasandra.
Parks are good hangout options, but cases of chain-snatching and anti-social activities deter women, especially in early mornings and late evenings. During the day too, many do not sit in parks alone. Remya P K, 28, residing in Indiranagar, says, “I would like to spend time in places like Cubbon Park, but there are very few women around, and many men misbehave.” For the same reason, many women do not go jogging on roads alone in early mornings, or use public swimming pools.
Lack of toilets is also an issue, especially for women with children. Ambika Priya, 35, says that Adugodi CRPF park, where she goes with her three-year-old daughter regularly, does not have toilets for children. “I would love to take my daughter to places like Lalbagh, but because of lack of toilets in such places, we only go to nearby areas.”
Younger women in general say that they would not use autos late night if alone due to fear of being threatened or harassed by drivers; most prefer buses. But many are forced to use autos as bus connectivity to their areas is low – after alighting buses, they have to walk for some distance to reach their homes, which is even more unsafe.
Older women more confident
Generally young women are seen hanging out more often, but older women say they may be harassed less often because of their age. “My age makes a difference when I am just walking down the road or even going by auto. I befriend auto drivers too. I would not have done this when I was younger,” says Vimala Ramakrishnan, 57, freelance communicative english trainer.
Vimala, resident of Jayanagar 4th T block, stays out alone till about 11 pm, going to malls, coffee shops and branded showrooms. “I only have to walk from home to many of these places. Usually I go out alone as my friends are often busy with some work,” she says.
Vasumathy S, 58, says, “There are lesser women in buses after 8 pm, but I feel confident because of my age.” Both women say that their localities are safe and well-lit, which makes access easier. Vasumathy says that going out at night may be difficult for women staying along inner roads rather than the main roads.
Vimala says that older women go out lesser in general, probably because of lack of options. Branded coffee shops, for instance, have only young people, and older women may feel embarrassed and out of place there, she says. ”Places like libraries would be ideal to meet friends and talk; but these should be close to their houses so that they would not have to spend on conveyance – as many old women are financially dependant – and other family members would not worry about them staying out late.”
What makes an area safer?
Women generally rated crowded areas as safer. Sangeetha says that Madhavan Park area may be unsafe because it is located in a posh residential area which is usually deserted. “Not many people are seen outside their homes, and there is only one shop nearby. Small gallies are always crowded and hence chance of being attacked is lesser,” she says. Women also tend to avoid areas that have bars. Those who own vehicles find it much easier to move around.
Proper lighting on streets, in subways, foot over bridges and bus stands is another requirement. Women say that there should be more police patrol at night. Vimala says that Jayanagar 4th T block is safer because of police patrol and well-lit streets and many offices that work through the night.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) T Suneel Kumar (Law and Order) generously says that police patrol vehicles and squads can be arranged in case of complaints. “Women can complain to local police stations. Cases have not come to our notice, probably because women are not reporting them considering legal hassles that follow. Harassment may be higher in outskirts which lack in infrastructure like street lights”, he says.
In JP Nagar 2nd phase, Seema says that communities should get involved in ensuring women’s safety. “The main issue in my area is the lack of community. People are busy and do not know others in their locality. RWAs should be active here so that we can discuss safety concerns.”