'Being alert is the most important weapon in one's armoury when one is on her own or is venturing out in unknown territory.'
Three women police officers -- Deputy Commissioner of Police Tejaswi Satpute (HQ II), Assistant Commissioner of Police Renuka Bagde (Goregaon Division) and another DCP who didn't want to be named -- share safety tips with women (as well as men and children) if they feel they are under threat from criminal elements.
On the evening of December 1, 2022, two young men tried to molest and assault a South Korean influencer who was livestreaming from a Khar street at 8 pm. The Mumbai police soon swung into action and arrested the men soon after a recorded video of the assault was tweeted on Twitter.
In the video, the South Korean influencer, who has been in Mumbai for about three weeks, could be seen overwhelmed by this unruly behaviour and walk away from the two men after shrugging them off.
Here are some easy-to-follow safety tips women, men and children could implement when under duress in a lonely street or remote area.
'Dial 100; a police unit will reach you in 5 minutes'
Assistant Commissioner of Police Renuka Bagde (Goregaon Division)
1. Whenever possible, women should not venture out alone in deserted streets. While Mumbai is one of the safest cities for women one can't know what kind of criminals they would come across, especially in vulnerable locations.
2. While women are free to visit any places of their choice at any time it is very important that they know of police and emergency helpline numbers just in case they face any trouble.
For a city like Mumbai the SOS police helpline number is 100 and for the rest of Maharashtra it is 112.
3. If you sense any kind of trouble, even if it is not grave enough, immediately call 100. Our mobile police units from that particular jurisdiction will reach the spot where you are within five minutes.
4. If you are new to any city or town anywhere in India it is paramount that you ask a trusted person (a female or male colleague) to accompany you. Since the location and area as well as people are new to you, a trusted colleague often proves to be of great help.
Your local colleague would most often know the areas you should venture out at day or night, which areas, localities you must avoid.
Taking advantage of your being new in the city any criminal can take advantage of your situation.
5. If you are alone in a new city and are hiring a vehicle one must be conscious about where you are travelling and what kind of person is accompanying you, or, who the driver of your vehicle is.
There have been instances when drivers have sexually molested their passengers. To avoid such instances, it is preferable that they travel with someone who is well accustomed to city they are travelling to.
6. Every woman, whether Indian or foreigner, must carry pepper spray or chili powder in their purse especially when one is in a foreign country or venturing out in unknown locations. For whatever happens, before any help comes your way, you will be on your own.
Please make use of pepper sprays for your own safety and defence.
'A fast-track court, strict punishment for culprits and wide media publicity'
Deputy Commissioner of Police, speaking on the condition of anonymity
It is mandatory that they keep in touch with their embassy in India.
It was just 8 pm and the city is very safe for women. This girl was just taking videos when these two boys started sexually harassing her.
Khar is a very well-known location and if someone dares to act like rowdies even when there other people in the streets, then such people should be punished severely.
We should set an example that such masochistic behaviour with women belonging to some other country or to India will not be tolerated and dealt with strictly.
- A fast-track court should be appointed to quickly dispose this case and these boys should be given maximum punishment proportionate with their criminal act. If this is done, then no other person would dare to molest not just someone who is new to the country but any other woman in India. Our streets and villages, and towns and cities should remain safe for women at any time of the day or night.
- When you are visiting any new city, especially when you are a foreign national then you must follow certain guidelines and advisories issued by your respective countries. Every foreign embassy issues guidelines for their nationals travelling to foreign countries on a monthly or quarterly basis. It is mandatory that they keep in touch with their embassy in India.
- Many countries have issued guidelines that warn their nationals about cities or places that are not safe for them to venture out. It is the duty of every foreign national visiting India to carefully go through these safety guidelines and observe them properly for their own well-being and safety.
- They should keep emergency helpline numbers of the city they are visiting handy and also numbers of their embassy official they can get in touch with in case of an emergency.
- Finally, it is very important that foreign nationals should immediately report such incidents to the nearest police station so that they can get police help.
- Such cases of molestation and sexual assaults should be tried in fast-track courts and quickly dispensed with so that they act as deterrence to criminals as well as create a feeling of safety and security among women in the country.
- The media should also give wide publicity to actions taken by the police as well as the judiciary. What happens in many cases is once such criminals are convicted the reports of their conviction are hidden in inside pages instead of being on the front page. Not sure how many people read the inside pages but if wider publicity is given to such convictions it will help create a sense of awareness among the people as well as give a feeling of safety and security to women.
'Stay alert; don't let gadgets distract you'
Deputy Commissioner of Police Tejashwi Satpute
- To keep oneself protected, in my personal view, not just women, but even children and men should always stay alert. Given our lifestyle, most of us are either on our mobile phones typing something or talking to somebody, or listening to music on headphones or earphones and are so engrossed in it that we remain oblivious to what is happening around.
- In such a situation, a person is so distracted or focused on task at hand, that she/he remains unaware of people following/tailing them or, planning to assault/molest them.
- If we are alert, then it is a basic human instinct that we subconsciously realise the dangers/threats lurking around us. You often find out suspicious activities or people around you when you are alert. When one is alert, then she/he is always mentally prepared to react quickly to a predictable situation.
- If one is alert, then she/he can always call out for help, or scream, or ask around for help.
- It happens that when you are alert you keep track of an open shop here and there while in a remote lane; or if you take a particular street regularly then you know that so and so shop is always open till late night; or a bus stop which is always crowded or an STD booth that remains open till late night.
- In such a situation one is always confident of quickly reacting to a situation; you know that you just have to travel some distance before help will be at hand, but if one is not alert the advantage belongs to the attacker/assaulter.
- When a woman suffers a sexual assault when she is not alert or aware of her surroundings it becomes difficult to take defensive action quickly. You are caught unawares and that's what your attacker takes advantage of.
- Being alert is the most important weapon in one's armoury when one is on her own or is venturing out in unknown territory.
- Don't get distracted when you are alone, when you are travelling at night, when people are not around. In such situations, it helps to stay alert.
Gadgets, your friend
- On the positive side gadgets can also be your friends when in distress.
- The same gadgets that distract you also help you stay connected with your loved ones who you can contact if in trouble.
- These gadgets can also help you share your live location if there is a physical assault on you. You can call anybody and ask for help if your vehicle breaks down in unknown areas.
- One must also take care that their gadgets – mobiles, tablets, laptops, etc. – have enough battery life while one is travelling.
- And just when you are in trouble or send an SOS call to seek help you realise that your gadgets battery is dying on you.
- So these gadgets can be your best friends too when you are starting a journey – always keep your battery fully charged.
- Ensure you do not unnecessarily waste battery life; ensure you have a proper charger; ensure you have a battery backup when you are travelling alone.
- If you are alert and if you have pepper spray or a pocket knife or chili powder then you know it can be of help in untoward situations and your being conscious makes you react quickly.
- If you are trained in martial arts or self-defence, then it makes you more confident when you are out on your own at night or are travelling in remote areas. But for one to act reflexively one also needs to practice it regularly.
- Whenever you are travelling alone prepare yourself for various situations. Mentally prepare yourself how you are going to react if you someone tries to molest you or snatch your chain or try to assault you physically.
- I am not saying that one should always remain scared when you are alone or travelling in a remote lane. What I am saying is keep yourself alert and focused. Be prepared for facing any untoward situation.