Modern girl’s arsenal: Pepper spray, early deadlines, handy cellphone

Written By Unknown on Kamis, 20 Desember 2012 | 22.23

MUMBAI: A series of kindred crimes, like the rapes and molestations we've been lately witnessing, are not isolated violations visited on single individuals, but elements that accrete to form a slow-building tsunami that eventually crashes down on a populace and submerges its social infrastructure. What's left behind is the thick silt of fear.

The women of Delhi have long known this fear; Mumbai's women are now getting acquainted with it. Women, particularly those who work long hours, have become doubly cautious about travelling alone past midnight, and have even started equipping themselves with that quintessential ammunition of the Delhi woman - pepper spray. Sheila Singh (name changed), is an unmarried media professional who never leaves home without it. "I sometimes work late, and even when I'm travelling home in an office car or private taxi, I'm always on guard," she says. Ken Lobo, editor of DJ Mag, also advises his girlfriend to carry a can. "She should be prepared for any eventuality," he says.

Their vigilance has been built bit-by-bit by regular reports they read of women being attacked at home and in public spaces. Preethi Pinto, 30, works for the non-profit Sneha and travels from her home in Santa Cruz to office in Dharavi. When she has to take a cab home past midnight, she follows a few ground rules: "I take a taxi driven by a seemingly older man, trying to gauge the reliability of the driver. I sit directly behind him, which would render it difficult for him to attack me should he try. I try to stay on the phone with someone and convey the taxi licence number."\

Pinto is one of many who now keeps a rule book to help her negotiate the city alone. Some who feel they need no such manual are made to memorize the safety drill by their parents, partners and friends. Sammy and Vinita Reuben, a couple in Andheri with two working daughters, recite the litany every morning: "Make sure no one else is in the rickshaw you board; be aware of the routes the driver takes; if you sense something wrong, act immediately." Vinita says, "The young today don't realize there's a risk and darker side to the city." Both believe Mumbai has become more unsafe; it's why they've set an 11.30pm deadline for their daughters, one 28, the other 32.

In Thane, Leela Surendran, has set a 9.30pm deadline for her 17-yearold daughter. "If she returns home after 9pm, I usually pick her up at the station," she says. "I can't imagine her coming home alone late. I reassigned her to a 6.30am tuition to avoid such hassles."

Some time back, the Reubens and Surendran may have been called overprotective, but now they're not the only ones to worry. "My mother wants me home by 9pm," says Priyanka Shetty, a 27-year-old PR professional. "It's impossible in my line. So if I'm late, my parents insist I'm dropped home by someone they know. If I take the train, they ensure I'm on the phone with them throughout. My mother won't sleep until I'm home. Their protectiveness used to annoy me, but now I understand," she admits.

Even women at hostels have been stood a session of Caution 101. Anuradha Tendulkar, warden at Aditya Birla Hostel for Working Women in Chembur (E), advises her 224 boarders, both students and working women, on public safety measures whenever she can. "I advise them not to travel in sparsely crowded trains; check if a policeman is in the compartment; keep their cell phone handy, and have a pre-dialled number ready to call in an emergency," she says.

But, some believe Mumbai is not half as bad as Delhi. "I'd rate Mumbai 10 on the threat-to-women scale, and Delhi 100," says Sunanda Chadha, 37, VP at Publicis, who migrated here 10 years ago because it was relatively safer. "The sense of security here has diminished, but not as much as we'd like to believe," she says. Chadha says India hasn't yet embraced the concept of the single woman, so cities here don't have the social and material infrastructure for it. "If as single women we've stepped into this realm of independence, we're aware of the risks - risks that measures like pepper sprays and early deadlines cannot comprehensively overcome."

With inputs from Namrata Singh & Clara Lewis

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