Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bringing rowdies on track

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing" . Irish political thinker Edmund Burke's words might ring true for many a common man but not 29-year-old Mumbai citizen Dipesh Tank. An advertising professional, Tank has been trying to make commuting on trains safer for women.

Called the lifeline of Mumbai, local trains ferry over 72 lakh commuters across the length of the city daily, and have historically facilitated the participation of women in the workforce. But like most public spaces, trains and railway platforms too have been sullied by the increasing violence against women . In recent months, an American national was mugged, her face slashed in a running train. In another instance, a man attempted to rape a nurse who was alone in the ladies compartment.

Such incidents are no longer rare in a city that took pride in its relatively safe public transport. Women commuters are often subjected to casual groping on crowded platforms , ogling and lewd comments.

"After the Delhi gang rape last December, I felt a lot of anger that a fellow male had acted so brutally," says Tank. At first, he dragged a few troublemakers to neighbourhood police stations. But standing on the train footboard on his way to work he realized how routine such harassment was. "Last month, I saw something that was alien to the Mumbai I was born and brought up in. A group of boys in the train were swinging out of the compartment , endangering themselves to physically touch women in trains that slowed past them," says Tank. Conscious that those who get away passing lewd comments today are more likely to inappropriately touch women tomorrow or even rape another subsequently, Tank decided to act.

He spent two hours daily for a week travelling the same stretch to identify the miscreants, capturing them on camera and then co-ordinating with the police to rein in the menace. He found out what most women know — fighting everyday sexual harassment is an uphill task. Complainants have to navigate police turf and bureaucracy.

Tank used social networking sites to mobilize support. While 667 people 'liked' his ideas on Facebook, only three women friends actually responded to his call to act. They started out with a perception survey at one of the suburban stations. Of the 480 women commuters questioned , over eight in ten had faced some sort of harassment.

The youngsters then launched a crowdsourced initiative — War Against Railway Rowdies (WARR), which is currently seeking volunteers to help reclaim railway premises. "Let's not wait for another disaster to strike. We want volunteers who along with the police can track down such rowdies and bring them to book," explains Tank. They refrain from public shaming. WARR has shot off letters to senior railway officials about the gangs they encountered . Their efforts were boosted when the Andheri railway police reassured them that an alert had been issued against rowdies.

Calling it a great idea, Sameera Khan who co-authored 'Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets' , believes the key lies in getting more people involved in such initiatives. "We all have equal rights as per the Constitution but public spaces are largely seen as male spaces. We want to create an enhanced vision of the city by encouraging women to access the city, not just purposefully but also to hang around freely or loiter."

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