Young women across India are outraged over the recent molestation of a college-going girl at the hands of a mob of grown men in Guwahati. Here, college student Kavya Bhatt shares her ire and frustration at what happened, and provides safety tips to fellow youngsters. Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
On July, 9, 2012, a Class 11 girl in Guwahati was molested by a mob of an indeterminate number of men (reports vary, and passersby seem to have joined in the 'fun') after leaving a club located on a busy street. Despite being in a reasonable-sized group of six -- four girls and two boys -- she was groped, stripped and beaten for almost half an hour, which was how long the police took to get there. How do we know this? The entire episode was filmed by a local camera crew, which informed the police and then chose to stand around recording the spectacle.
This raises an important question for us youth today, a question of safety. Guwahati is a big city, the largest in the North-East. It is not a small town where such things are known to happen. "My first reaction is that of disgust and bitterness," says Manali Mehta, a Class 12 student studying computer science at KJ Somaiya College in Mumbai. "This time it was Guwahati, it could very well be Mumbai tomorrow. This time it was some hapless girl; it could be my friend tomorrow."
"Trust and faith in the police and state officials is nowhere to be found. There is a feeling of helplessness and shame. It's almost like nothing can change this anymore!" adds a disillusioned Manali.
Mumbaikar Debbie Gail, who works in brand communications, is shocked by the event. She vehemently declares, "Saving women from these disgusting predators should be the need of the hour, not saving the tiger!"
So how is a young woman in any of the big cities like Mumbai or Bangalore supposed to feel safe anymore? How is she, who is financially and otherwise independent, supposed to deal with the fact that she is still in danger outside her circle of comfort -- work, home, school, friends, family? What are we, as an educated, socially liberated and free-thinking people, supposed to do about such heinous acts of personal violation?
For women, the most striking aspect of the issue is personal safety. Social awareness well and good, but considering that these things still happen, even in metropolitan cities, women have to take control of their own security. How? Read on to find out.
1. If you are in a situation that has the potential to be threatening (alone in a dark alley with a group of men in the distance seems like a good example), walk away immediately. Sure, maybe nothing would've happened, but are you willing to take that chance?
2. If you suspect you might be attacked, give somebody a call and keep talking until you reach a crowded place. You are less likely to be bothered if they know you can call for help right away.
3. When you know you are going to be out late, take a trusted male friend along. Or better yet, go out in a mixed group. Like it or not, the more men there are around you, the less likely you are to get harassed.
4. Always carry pepper spray or chilly powder on you when you are out alone. You might feel silly lugging it around, but it'll give you a few extra seconds to run if anything happens.
5. Take a self-defence class. Most cities have tons of them, and some basic training will give you an edge in a bad situation.
6. If you haven't had the time to take a self defence class yet, remember what Sandra Bullock touted in Miss Congeniality -- SING, an acronym for solar plexus-instep-nose-groin, apparently the best places to jam that elbow in when you are trying to escape. Poking the attacker in the eyes is also considered effective by many women.
To sum it up, be paranoid, be prepared, and have an if-things-go-horrifically-pear-shaped plan.
Akshay Marathe, 12th grader and avid Lokpal Bill activist, places supreme importance on personal safety, but he thinks that "we must also realise that it is unfair to expect more from the bystanders; superheroes are not for real. Rather, police patrolling must be increased at night-time."
I disagree. I think that if you see somebody being molested, you CANNOT just ignore it. It's just as bad as seeing a hit-and-run and not taking the victim to a hospital. Of course, if you are alone and you see three burly men harassing a girl, you shouldn't mindlessly run in to be the knight in shining armour -- that would be suicidal. But call the police. Run to a public place and try to get help. Scream and run if you can be sure of outrunning the attackers and reaching a crowded place safely. Don't just stand there and ignore it, you're adding to the already too many women-related crimes in the country. Make a fuss -- we can't simply accept that women are threatened because of their sex and sit around doing nothing about it. Make your own safety a priority, but don't ignore a fellow human being in need. And please don't join in.
Girls, go to that late-night party, go see your favourite band play live at that club -- just try to be safe while you are doing it. And if your city has a curfew, stick to it as much as possible. As always, have fun, but be responsible.
Kavya Bhatt studies in Mumbai and is coordinator of a student discussion group that convenes each week to discuss gender and sexuality.