The Rediff Special/ M D Riti
Bangalore: At risk at home
Rajeshwari, 29, and her mother, Nirmala, 59, were murdered in broad daylight in Bangalore on August 29. Rajeshwari's husband, Vijay Bellary, a customs and central excise inspector, was at office while her children, Rakshit, 6, and Neha, 4, were at school when the murder took place at a central government housing quarters. Police believe the women left the front door open, and a burglar walked in. When he asked them for the keys to the cupboard, they screamed for help. The police believe the burglar killed the two women to silence them.
Neighbours heard the screams and locked the front door of the house to trap the killer but he escaped through a window. The police are on his trail but have yet to nab him.
There have been quite a few instances of women, elderly men, and couples being killed by burglars over the past couple of years. The Bangalore police have warned householders to keep their doors locked at all times of the day and to be extremely wary of strangers at their doorsteps.
Women are certainly at risk inside their homes in Bangalore. The southern city reports a high number of dowry deaths [where a woman is killed, or commits suicide due to harassment, for bringing insufficient dowry].
Police Commissioner H T Sangliana put it succinctly: "It is a shame that women, who are so safe on the streets of Bangalore, are at so much risk within the walls of their own homes!"
Women appear fairly safe on the city streets. Hundreds of women working late hours, especially in the information technology industry, travel home after 9 pm or often at daybreak on flimsy two-wheelers. They fear road accidents, not street crime.
"Bangalore's streets are safe for women. Two of my daughters travel home alone late from work every night. Nobody out on the streets knows that they are my daughters. And they have never experienced any unpleasantness so far," said Sangliana.
Police statistics reveal that rape cases against women have remained more or less steady over the last five years. This year, till July, only two gang rape and 16 rape cases have been registered. Last year, seven gang rape and 33 rape cases were registered, while in 2000, the figures were four gang rape and 23 rape cases. Further back, in 1999 it was five gang rapes and 25 rape cases; in 1998, 31 rape and 10 gang rape cases; and in 1997, 36 rape and six gang rape cases were registered.
A similar pattern is visible in cases concerning outraging a woman's modesty. This year, till July end, 147 cases have been registered. In 2001, there were 223 cases; in 2000, 218; in 1999, 219; in 1998, 171; and in 1997, 227 cases.
As for eve teasing or insulting a woman's modesty, this year has seen a sharp upsurge as compared to last year. The first seven months of this year has seen 42 such cases as against 41 such cases in 2001 and 51 in 2000. In 1999, there were 52 such cases; in 1998 58; and in 1997, 50.
Interestingly, in a state where the jungle bandit Veerappan seems to thrive on kidnapping celebrities, the number of cases concerning the kidnapping and abduction of women has fallen over the years, though it has taken a sharp upward turn this year with 38 reported cases till July end. Kidnappings declined from 86 in 1997 to 73 in 1998, 63 in 1999, 49 in 2000, to just 33 last year.
Even more unexpectedly, the cases of kidnapping for prostitution in the city seem to be non-existent, as per police records at least. No cases have been registered under this category this year or last year. There were none again in 1997, two each in 1998 and 1999, and just one in 2000.
Not that women don't face harassment on the streets or on public transport buses. On crowded buses, women are subject to every kind of indignity and invasion of their personal space. And if the numbers of such cases on the city's transport system is low, that is probably because Bangalore lacks an effective public transport system like Mumbai and Chennai, forcing regular commuters to depend on two-wheelers or three-wheeled autorickshaws. A small number use cars to move around.
There have been reports of rapes in autorickshaws, the most famous such case being that of British tourist Rosena Barker, who was brutally raped by an autorickshaw driver in Bangalore late at night in 1996. The rapist was apprehended and is now serving his prison sentence.
The police are, not surprisingly, smug about the city's low crime rate and attribute it to the strict closing down time that they have imposed on pubs, bars, restaurants, and other entertainment places. For close to a decade now, no such establishment can remain open after 11 pm. The local police ensure compliance with the law.
A former police commissioner of Bangalore justified the boarding-school type of discipline, which is not very popular in the city. "People drink, or take drugs, and then emerge on to the streets at late hours. That is when their eyes turn towards women. We'd rather that such men are safely at home and not causing law and order problems on our streets."
Fear in the Cities
Chennai: No longer a safe city
Delhi: 'Lacking a culture that respects women'
Mumbai: Citizen's indifference is the problem
Kolkata: Safe streets, unsafe offices