Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - HTNATION -

The other day my col­league Marika came to of­fice trau­ma­tised. She had been at­tacked on a busy thor­ough­fare just out­side our of­fice in Con­naught Place by a man who tried to snatch her cell­phone. She did not let go of the phone but sus­tained in­juries to her neck where he hit her hard. The man went down the road and made an at­tempt to try again to snatch her phone. He failed, thanks to her rais­ing an alarm. It brought home painfully how dif­fi­cult it is for many women sim­ply to ex­e­cute tasks that men do in a heart­beat and without a thought. I am speak­ing of nav­i­gat­ing pub­lic spa­ces safely.

In the full knowl­edge that women must rely on them­selves for pro­tec­tion, have you thought of how many seem­ingly mun­dane tasks women re­frain from do­ing or are care­ful while do­ing them in an act of self-preser­va­tion?

Women have to be care­ful what route they take to work and what time they are on the roads. As my col­league found out, be­ing in a well-lit area sur­rounded by peo­ple does not nec­es­sar­ily pro­tect you. If a woman goes to a party, she has to en­sure that she does not drink too much and leave her­self vul­ner­a­ble and also not to leave her drink unat­tended. A sim­ple thing like call­ing in a handy­man, if you hap­pen to live alone, is fraught with dan­ger as the man is then privy to sev­eral de­tails about your life. In many ur­ban ar­eas, a woman liv­ing alone is con­sid­ered fair game and ven­tur­ing out to mar­kets or other places af­ter dark is un­safe.

If a woman is ha­rassed, chances are that she will not be able to con­front her ha­rasser as passersby tend not to get in­volved, or worse still, sup­port the of­fender. A woman go­ing out alone to a party or an event of­ten has to in­form some­one of her where­abouts, carry the num­bers of friends on speed dial and, in the case of some women I know, carry pep­per spray or some other item to re­pel at­tack­ers.

Then we have the mat­ter of clothes. In­vari­ably, a woman’s cloth­ing is seen as the rea­son for her at­tract­ing un­wanted at­ten­tion. It is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter that ba­bies and women cov­ered from head to foot are raped or mo­lested with reg­u­lar­ity. As one of the con­victed in the De­cem­ber 16, 2012, gan­grape said, the vic­tim had no busi­ness be­ing out at night, she is to blame for what hap­pened to her.

A friendly chat with an un­known man at a so­cial event could be mis­taken for an in­vi­ta­tion. It can be fol­lowed by stalk­ing. We all know some­one who has suf­fered this way. In pub­lic places like the metro, or while walk­ing, women hes­i­tate to make eye con­tact with men for fear of this be­ing seen as friend­li­ness. In In­dia, the lack of safety in so­cial spa­ces stops many women from work­ing, dis­em­pow­er­ing them and re­sult­ing in eco­nomic losses for the fam­ily and the coun­try.

The al­lowances made for men are sim­ply not there for a woman. If a man drinks too much at a party, he is a bit of a lad. If a woman does so, she is thought of as easy and a bit pa­thetic. A man can get up and go about his life ev­ery day without over­think­ing ev­ery­thing. It is a good thing that women take most of these pre­cau­tions in their stride

If they had to do all this con­sciously, I think they would col­lapse from sheer ner­vous ten­sion. It has be­come so much part of a woman’s psy­che, that it does not bother her as much as it should. This is not how smart cities are built. I won’t go into the is­sues ru­ral women face here. The foun­da­tion for a smart city is that every­one should have free­dom of move­ment without fear. Let’s get that right first; women’s safety will fall in place.

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