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Archive for the category “Social Activism”

Chain-snatching: A manifestation of violence against women

Streets Turn Unsafe

Maltitai checked herself in the mirror. The gold of the long laxmihaar and that of the choker made of coins shone as brilliantly today as they did on the day she received them from her mother in law, thirty years ago. Her mangalsutra with its black beads linked to textured balls of gold held pride of place in the golden trio, it being the symbol of marriage. The green sari with its golden border accentuated her complexion and added to the elegance the stray white hairs in her head gave her. She felt she looked suitably impressive as the groom’s aunt.

Picking up her 9mo grand-daughter, she called out to her daughter-in-law to hurry up or they would get late for the marriage ceremony. It was a semi-busy lane and the ladies were familiar with the area, having lived there for many years.

Maltitai waited at one end as her daughter-in-law made her way to the other end of the lane where the cabs generally queued up.

And then all at once she saw a bike come close to her. At the same time she felt a harsh tug at her throat followed by burning pain. She felt herself being dragged forward but she held on to her grand-daughter. Only when the duo on the bike had roared away did she realize that her gold chains had been snatched away.

By the time her daughter-in-law reached there with the cab, the painful, bloody lacerations at Maltitai’s throat required them to rush to the hospital rather than to the wedding. It was evening when they were able to go to the police station to lodge the complaint.

They are keeping their fingers crossed for recovering the stolen jewellery.

Yet Another Incident

In another incident that took place one late afternoon, in a quiet suburban lane, Yvonne D’Cunha was deep in thought, as she walked towards the market. She too was taken unawares when the gold chain was snatched from her throat leaving behind a burning laceration and a shell-shocked, traumatized woman. Here, too, the perpetrators were two young men on a bike.

Violence Against Women

In a safety audit I participated in two months ago, one of the findings was that elder women often face violence on the streets in the form of their chains and necklaces being stolen. Chain- snatching is on the rise and needs to be controlled to prevent any further impingement on women’s safety in public spaces.

The MO of Chain-Snatchers

A conversation with a senior Inspector of Police revealed the modus operandi of bike-riding chain-snatchers. They cruise deserted and semi-deserted roads for potential victims. When they have identified one, they traverse the road to and fro, once, to set their path of escape and then they strike. So, one must remain alert on quiet roads and try to vary one’s timings and paths to avoid setting an easily observed pattern that could alert such criminals.

In Case Of Chain-Snatching

  • If you are witness to a chain-snatching, you must alert the Police Control
    Room (or dial 100, you can remain anonymous) immediately and inform
    them of the episode and give as many details as possible about the crime
    and the location so that the perpetrators can be nabbed.
  • Police patrolling can be requested for those areas that are particularly prone
    to such incidents.
  • Nowadays many societies have opted for CCTvs in their lanes and this has
    served as a huge deterrent.

Role Of The Police

Besides the awareness of the citizens, the role played by the police is a huge factor in preventing any crime. The police needs to take cognizance of the crime and pursue the culprits till they are booked and the loot retrieved from them. Once the criminals realize the serious intents of the police, hopefully there would be a serious drop in the rate of such crimes against women.

What happened the very first time I donated blood

I am a huge believer in the effectiveness of a one-on-one interaction. In the Second Year of Degree College I stood for the Class Representative elections. I remember I made a personal appeal to each and every student of S.Y.BSc to vote for me. As a result each and every student turned up on election day to vote and I won by a margin so huge which the college had never ever seen before.

The very first event organized by the newly elected Students Council was a Blood Donation Drive. My MO intact, 8am onwards, on the day of the event, I approached each and every student of S.Y.BSc yet again to convince them to donate blood. Most of them did. At the fag end of the event at 12:30pm, it was my turn to give blood. I lay down on the table and stretched out my right hand. The doctor encircled  my upper arm tightly with the fabric strip of the blood pressure machine, searched for the vein, found it, inserted the needle to draw out the blood that would be collected in a bag. The blood was collected and just as the doctor took out the needle from my arm, my eye fell on the full bag of blood and suddenly the world was a merry go round. My thought, just before I fainted, was that the doctor was quite good-looking.

It was a pretty embarrassed-me that regained consciousness which I assume was a couple of minutes later. I’m sure no slippers or onions were used in the process. After a sweet coffee and a couple of biscuits I was fine. And my parents wanted me to be a doctor. Who knew!

We had a great collection and the drive was a huge success. All those who donated blood that day got a little card which mentioned their blood group and it entitled them to receive free blood for a period of one year from that date.

Many years later I got another opportunity to donate blood but they refused to take it because in the past few months I had suffered three bouts of malaria. Totally my loss.

P.S.: BloodConnect is a group of motivated individuals working towards a single goal – “To solve the problem of blood shortage in India”. When you donate blood, you can save a life. Please donate and encourage others to do too.

This post is in response to a friend who tagged me as part of the #IBloodConnected_DidYou Initiative of BloodConnect.

SENSITIZING THE YOUNGER GENERATION TO GENDER EQUALITY

As a way to understand the dynamics between male and female students in a co-ed school, I asked my 9yo nephew a few questions about it. According to him, his teachers tended to side with the girls in case of any dispute between the boys and the girls (which shouldn’t have risen up in the first place) even when the girls were clearly at fault. This seemed to create a lot of resentment in the boys against the girls, even as they continued to be friends with them.

Two years later, at his birthday party, boys and girls sat in separate groups even while playing games and eating and the only time they came together was while playing housie. The boys were loud and boisterous and even though the girls were not boisterous they were neither meek nor timid.

The resentment of two years ago seemed to have created a rift deep enough to make the girls form separate groups but not deep enough to not be invited to a boy’s birthday party at all.

Two questions rose up in my mind:

  • What is the role teachers play in perpetuating or breaking stereotypes
  • If mindsets develop in early childhood what must parents do to ensure the children assimilate gender-equality rather than develop the default patriarchal mindset.

When I was designated #VoiceoftheWeek by Sayfty on Twitter, I used the opportunity to find answers to these questions in my many conversations on that platform.

WHAT I LEARNED:

  • Parents nowadays are more sensitive about gender typecasting and are supportive of their children’s choice in toys, colour of clothes, books they read. Eg: dolls for boys to play with or trains for girls. Boys choosing to wear pink because they love that colour (pink supposedly being considered a colour worn only by girls).
  • Teachers can create gender equality by encouraging boys and girls to sit /study/play together as classmates rather than as boys and girls and at the same time being fair in their dealings with the students, irrespective of their gender.
  • Many students face a lot of peer pressure to confirm to society-supported gender roles especially in the case of colour of clothes and types of toys. Giving in to their personal choice which if it is against the accepted norms can attract ragging and unnecessary harassment from those who have not been sensitized to gender equality.

ROLE OF THE FAMILY

This brings us back to the point that the family plays an important role too in creating a mindset that encourages boys and girls to be considered as individuals with equal rights.

Parents then have to be very careful to examine their own behaviours and speech to ensure that they themselves are not perpetuating existing backward norms.

Is it not possible that while driving to the Toys Mall to buy that train set because your daughter wants one (or because you want to buy it for her as your contribution towards girl empowerment) the car driver in front of you is driving erratically and you mutter under your breath, “must be a woman putting on makeup”? Okay, that might be a bit over the top but such attitudes are so ingrained that we sometimes overlook them just because they are so rampant.

Or perhaps, your wife is doing all the cooking and cleaning while you are at work the whole day and then when you are back at home, you park yourself in front of the television for a “well-deserved rest after a hard day.” You cook a cordon bleu meal once a week and there is a lot of excitement and your wife tells her friends with great pride that you are a great cook. But you never ever help with everyday cooking because that is “your wife’s department.” Or worse, both of you work but cooking food is completely your wife’s responsibility. So even if your daughter is not buying that toy kitchen set, doesn’t your son get the message that the woman is in charge of the kitchen?

With girls and boys getting the same high levels of education, it is inevitable that the only things that will sustain a relationship are respect and trust between the partners. And this can be done only when the sensitization begins in childhood.

Happily, lots of young parents are much aware of the situation and making efforts to sensitize their young ones.

What steps are you taking to ensure your children are aware of gender equality?

Do share your practices so others can also adopt them and this in turn can only benefit society in the long run.

Mumbai’s First Safety Sprawl – Auditing the streets with Safecity and Badal Ja!

FEELING SAFE! OR NOT?

It was 8:30pm. The train had stopped at Kalyan station. Inside, 28yo Sujata sat as did an elderly couple. It being the evening of Holi the train was unusually empty but just before the train could move away from the station, three men boarded the compartment in which Sujata and the couple sat.

The weird way in which they looked at Sujata terrified her. Images of gang-rapes and murders she had seen on TV filled her with dread. Perhaps the fear showed on her face, because the elderly couple told her not to worry. They stayed with her till the train finally halted at Dadar and then accompanied her till Andheri Station.

At Andheri Station Sujata felt completely safe and any person, male or female, who dared to harass her now would not come out of it in one piece. She and her brother had even beaten up a 40yo ragpicker when she chanced upon him sexually abusing a five year old girl. She makes it a point, she told us, to train her 9 and 11yo daughters to take care of themselves in this city which she perceives to be ‘safe’.

This then was the paradox of women’s safety revealed in an audit conducted during the Mumbai Safety Sprawl held on Saturday, 14th of March, 2015.

Conceptualised by Elsamarie D’Silva, co-founder of Safecity (an online platform created to map areas of sexual abuse) as part of their ‘Pin the Creep’ initiative and implemented in co-ordination with Caitlin and Nilima of  Badal Ja! (a group working proactively to bring about a transformation in gender justice) this sprawl threw up some surprising facts and perceptions.

LET’S SPRAWL

BREAKING THE ICE

BREAKING THE ICEI

It was a motley group of about twenty: students, professionals, graphic designers, social activists. From Bhayander, Marol and some staying near Nana Nani Park in Andheri, which is where we all gathered to play icebreaker games which involved answering questions such as: Do you agree a woman should beat up the person who has groped her in a public place? Do you agree a woman too has a right to pee in public when no public toilet is available? Depending on the reply, one joined the Totally Agree, Neutral or the Totally Disagree group. From the questions you can imagine that a lot of vociferous discussions took place.

ALL SET TO SPRAWL

ALL SET TO SPRAWL

From there we broke out in groups of two, to go over to pre-designated streets in Versova, Seven Bunglows and Four Bunglows to conduct the safety audit. This involved checking out the conditions of that particular road and the civic amenities such as streetlights (existence and condition) and safe walking spaces. Also, three persons of apparently different demography had to be interviewed for their perceptions and actual experiences related to safety issues.

FINDINGS

  • Safety has different meanings and perceptions for different people. Older women had the fear of their chains being snatched while younger women were often subjected to groping and sexual exhibitionism.
  • The presence of working streetlights was a major factor in enhancing the safety factor of a street. During the audit it was discovered that 14 streetlights on one of the roads was out of order. Calls were made by the volunteers to the BMC and RELIANCE. The pole numbers (printed at eyelevel on each pole) were given to the company. For the poles that didn’t have a number, the location was given. BMC said relevant action would be taken in 5 days.
    LATEST UPDATE: Reliance fixed the streetlights in 24 hours.
  • Sexual harassment often took the form of men masturbating in public. In one such case, the man who witnessed this incident said he felt mentally harassed while the girl accompanying him observed she felt sexually harassed. Different responses to the same heinous act.
  • It was also noticed that most citizens do not raise their voice against injustices and harassments. Many housing societies had a frontage with a well-made pavement but just beyond the pavements, dilapidated cars were parked by the neighbouring garage owners and this posed a huge safety risk, forcing people to walk on the roads in the face of traffic.
  • In another case of public apathy towards women’s safety, a couple of men daily stood in front of a housing society, twice a day from 10-11am and 5-7pm, fondling themselves and indulging in sexual exhibitionism. Shockingly, NO-ONE raised a voice against them. Inspired by this audit, the volunteers, realizing that they can make a difference have complained to the police and the BMC to get rid of this menace.
  • 1091 is the national helpline for WOMEN. Any woman in distress can call this number for an immediate response. 1098 is the National helpline for child safety. The BMC Number is 1916 and all relevant complaints can be lodged here. Save all these numbers in your phone.
  • It is the duty of each and every citizen to hold the existing systems accountable and this sprawl is an activity to test if the systems are fully functional. Every individual in the city might feel safe but when the surface is scratched, stories of sexual harassment, terror and abuse spill out.
  • STREETLIGHTS THAT DON'T WORK

    STREETLIGHTS THAT DON’T WORK

  • CARS THAT POSE A SAFETY RISK

    CARS THAT POSE A SAFETY RISK

    COLLATING THE FINDINGS

    COLLATING THE FINDINGS

    If you are keen to organise a Safety Sprawl in your locality, please get in touch with Safecity. 

(All pics courtesy Elsa D’Silva and Safecity).

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