CHANGING TRACKS TO SAFETY
If you are a woman or a girl travelling on the local trains, you know what it is like to face the daily barrage of lewd comments, uninvited touches, gropings and stares. Most of the time, women tend to ignore these uninvited propositions. It is at the very least annoying and at times downright frightening and dehumanizing. Having faced it themselves, 277 students of the National Social Scheme from 18 Mumbai colleges decided to take up the issue of sexual harassment of women on trains. They launched a campaign to make the local lines of the Central Railways safer for women. The campaign was initiated between two significant days: Nov 25th – the International Day for the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women and Human Rights Day, 10 December, 2015. What better time than these 16 days of activism to speak of the sexual harassment. Don’t women have the right to a safe city too?
This campaign coincided with the one launched by the United Nations Secretary General and the UN Women to ‘Orange your World’ in which people use orange in different ways to highlight the need to eliminate violence. Mumbai joins this international campaign by working for the safety of women in the local trains with the Central Railways and NSS, University of Mumbai.
Akshara and the NSS students have been planning the train campaign for some time. Our first step was to gather first-hand information by compiling evidence through a survey of 522 women commuters. We then held a Focus Group Discussion with 15 regular women commuters and conducted Safety Walks with 150 students over 18 stations.
Mumbai’s local trains transport over 7 million people every day, of which around half are women. How do they experience their journeys? What are their problems? What do they want to make their journeys safer?
- Findings: The majority of women said they faced sexual harassment everyday in the forms of staring, commenting, pushing, flashing, touching, singing lewd songs, etc. 42% of women commuters admitted that they prefer to ignore the harassment, shrug it off or remain silent out of fear of consequences.
- Where: Harassment happens on crowded stations, trains and approach roads where men can harass and then disappear in the throng of people.
- Actions taken: Little or nothing. Many prefer to take action on their own rather than approach the police for help. Women know but do not use helplines or emergency numbers. Mostly, they stay alert and devise their own strategies. They change their routes or timings to avoid stalking or repeated harassment.
- They want:
- Free and clean public toilets
- Guards manning help desks
- Reserved benches near Ladies Compartments
- Improved infrastructure in stations like working lights, sign boards, lighted skywalks and reserved ticket windows for women
- Police patrolling is a must after 7.30 pm in the evening
This is what Vijay Pevekar, a student of Maharishi Dayanand (MD) College had to say about her experiences of travelling by local trains, “Men brushing against women or trying to touch them during peak hours is a common sight. There is a need for a change in the attitudes of male commuters and to make female commuters introspect on the harassment they continuously face.”
Students called their campaign “Aapne Kya Kiya?” to urge commuters and bystanders to take action against harassment.
WHAT WE WANT
“With the campaign we want to break the silence around sexual harassment and ask women to take action against their harasser. We also want that bystanders not remain indifferent, and intervene to support women who are facing sexual harassment. At the same time we want to emphasize that secure infrastructural facilities, especially clean and safe public toilets, are a necessary prerequisite for women to have a safe and comfortable travel.”
– Snehal Velkar, Program Co-ordinator, Akshara.
On 3rd December 2015 a three-station – CST, Dadar and Thane – campaign was launched with the Chief Security Officer of Railway Protection Force, A. K. Singh saying, “This is a very important issue. Central Railway and RPF are committed to the safety of women. We will make every effort to improve women’s experience of travel by using railways.”
Thousands of commuters were reached through interactive displays. Students carried colourful placards bearing strong messages against sexual harassment and interacted with commuters to distribute pamphlets. A “Selfie Booth” provided the opportunity for station users to express their support of gender equality, while a large “Wish Tree” asked for commuters to give feedback on ways to improve women’s safety; over 800 suggestions were gathered.