Thursday, September 5, 2002



  The Rediff Special/ Shobha Warrier

Chennai: No longer a safe city

Nirmala was at a film theatre to see the matinee show. As she waited for a friend to join her, a group of youngsters crowded around her and started making obscene and lewd comments. She protested. In response, the verbal assault turned physical, with the rowdies slapping and kicking her in the stomach.

As the goons assaulted young Nirmala, not one person in the crowd assembled around raised a protest, let alone intervene physically. They simply stood around as though watching a movie show. When her friend, who had reached the theatre by then, tried to rescue her, he too was beaten up. And when a police constable tried to intervene, the leader of the gang arrogantly proclaimed, 'Nobody can do anything to me. I belong to the ruling party' and then he and his friends assaulted the policeman.

Nirmala was admitted to a hospital. The daughter of an army officer, she complained to the police and identified the rowdies, who are students of a city college.

More than the incident, it was the apathy and utter callousness of the public that shocked the state. Why didn't a single person from the crowd of men come forward to rescue a helpless girl?' is the question being asked over and over again.

Inspector General of Police K Radhakrishnan, who has handled scores of cases relating to the harassment of women, is of the opinion that atrocities against women are on the rise. Also on the rise is the number of cases registered against men for harassing women.

Radhakrishnan sees two reasons for the increase in complaints. "One is because more crimes are being committed against women, and the other is because more women now go to the police station to record their grievances," he said.

Regarding the Nirmala incident, the police officer was not surprised at the public's cowardice. "This is not an exception. The Indian public is very mute and selfish. Except for a few cases where the public has reacted extremely well, I find the general behaviour outrageous. If the wrongdoer knows the people will catch him and beat him up, he would never even do such a thing in a public place. But the wrongdoer knows no one will come forward to rescue the woman," Radhakrishnan said.

Vasuki, general secretary of the All-India Democratic Women's Association's Tamil Nadu wing, says one reason for the rise in crimes against women is the increase in poverty and unemployment. "What is alarming is the boldness with which such crimes are carried out. And the worrying aspect is the silence of the community as a whole. This kind of passive attitude is shocking," she said.

The silver lining is that more and more women are willing to register a police complaint. "It could be because of the support organisations that we now have," she said.

The Tamil Nadu police crime statistics
   2000  2001  2002
 (first six
 Rape  538  432  263
 Molestation  1948  1773  929
 Kidnapping & abduction  805  659  390
 Eve teasing  2167  1012  672
 Dowry deaths  191  194  132
 Cruelty by husband and his
 837  815  515
Radhakrishnan also points out that domestic violence kills many women every year [see chart]. He said most women are silent victims of violence meted out to them by their husbands and the husbands' families. "Irrespective of caste, religion, community, and educational background, Indian women are being subjected to domestic harassment," he stated.

Both the police and the women activists agree that movies have a baneful influence on the public. "The most common scene you find in films these days is teasing a girl. An incident that might have occurred at a bus stand is shown in films in an exaggerated way, and there are others who seek to emulate that," remarked Radhakrishnan.

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According to Vasuki, "The average citizen looks at women as secondary citizens and as a commodity that can be used for enjoyment. Films and film songs only strengthen this idea. Take, for example, the recent and popular song, Oh podu. The lyric says, 'If you have lust, you don't even need an address to satisfy your lust. You just enjoy.' "

Radhakrishnan says tragically, most people believe it is the responsibility of the police and government to end all such behaviour. "But the police and government alone cannot change society's behaviour. It is the society that must come forward, and that includes the people, the media, the films, the educational institutions, and so forth. Only with the joint effort of all of them can we bring about changes," he said.

Fear in the Cities

Bangalore: At risk at home

Delhi: 'Lacking a culture that respects women'

Mumbai: Citizen's indifference is the problem

Kolkata: Safe streets, unsafe offices



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