A survey conducted by Thomson Reuters in 2018 had ranked India as the world’s most dangerous place for women. This was based on a multitude of factors. 3 years later, we find out if there has been any improvement in the way women feel in India or if there is still a shadow of fear.
India ranked most dangerous country for women
The survey was conducted by asking 548 experts on their views regarding the six different vital areas that a country should be progressive in. These were namely healthcare, discrimination, cultural traditions, human trafficking and sexual and non-sexual violence. India topped in three categories, cultural traditions, sexual violence and human trafficking.
There was a lot of debate at the time as to whether the ranking was justified considering there are countries where women are denied rights and a voice, as even these did better than India. Three years following this ranking, we speak to women on the ground and ask them a simple question: Do they feel safe?
Harassing in public transport never ceases
Chandrika Jajoo says there are times when she has felt more unsafe in the daytime in contrast to the night. As a theatre practitioner, there are times when she has late-night practices. She recounts an incident where she was travelling in a bus that was filled with more men than women. “There was no space to sit and I was just standing holding a pole and there was a man standing beside me holding the pole just above my hand. I shifted my hand onto the side of the pole and once again he kept his hand above mine.”
She says her voice felt stuck inside and she couldn’t get herself to raise it. She also recounts times when random boys have shouted comments at her when she walked on the street.
“All this might seem like minor incidents but they have left deep imprints on her,” she says.
Women’s safety, she says is a deep-rooted problem. “If we really need a solution we need to work on the upbringing of boys. Boys need to be taught how to be sensitive. As an immediate effect what actually could be done is to organize sessions of gender sensitisation in schools and colleges.”
Victim blaming needs to stop
Public transport does seem to be a common complaint, as another young woman in India says there have been instances where she has felt unsafe while travelling. “These especially are times when it goes beyond 11 PM or when I am walking through an isolated lane. I do feel unsafe.”
As to what she wishes was done on the ground regarding improving the safety of women and the conditions, she says “Police should take women’s complaints of harassment seriously. When they receive complaints of assault etc. instead of blaming the victim, steps need to be taken to have courses of action in place. Public spaces should be well lit at night,” she adds.
The environment in the country needs to be safer
Malathy Madathilezham says it's very difficult to point out particular instances where one feels unsafe in India. “I was first made aware of this when I was around 13 or 14 and we were walking through a public space. My mother was telling me to observe men coming from the opposite directions and giving me tips on how to judge them, whether they may grope or graze your body and how to avoid that.” She says that to this day she follows these tips as she knows she has the right to safety in all spaces, whether public or private.
“Better lighting in streets, improving safety in public spaces, factoring in gender in the design of cities, public transport, responsive legal support etc, could be the measures that are taken.”
Malathy says it begins with listening to women and what makes them feel unsafe. “Moreover, there’s need to look at it from beyond being just about "women's" safety, but about having an environment which is safe regardless of gender, age, caste or ability. There has to be a mix of design, social and police level transformations.”