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Mark ‘unsafe’ to stay safe

Published : Nov 15, 2015, 9:36 pm IST
Updated : Nov 15, 2015, 9:36 pm IST

Sexual violence mapping initiatives are tracking unsafe spots in the city in an attempt to make its public places free of sexual harassment

One of the walls Safecity painted in Delhi as part of their initiative (Photo: Asian Age)
 One of the walls Safecity painted in Delhi as part of their initiative (Photo: Asian Age)

Sexual violence mapping initiatives are tracking unsafe spots in the city in an attempt to make its public places free of sexual harassment

In an attempt to prevent sexual harassment issues from getting brushed under the carpet, Safecity, a website had started its journey three years ago in 2012, ten days after the Delhi gangrape incident. The online platform functions as a tool to map sexual harassment incidents in public places. In their sole aim is to urge women to break their silence and to further the dialogue, Safecity has now tied up with micro-blogging site Twitter. Their mapping services are currently functional in Mumbai, Delhi and Goa where they are working in tandem with the state police forces to keep sexual crimes in check.

Safecity seems to have inspired a few more platforms that have recently come up. Following a similar mechanism is the recently launched website, Mapping Sexual Violence that provides a platform to women, men and transgenders to report sexual crimes using an interactive tool. Women’s rights group, Akshara Centre, has also launched an online platform called HarassMap Mumbai (parallel to HarassMap Egypt — which helped pin down sexual assaults at the Tahrir Square in 2010) to help report sexual harassment cases and seek help from the police. The founders of all these websites are hoping that with the help of anonymous tools such as these, more victims will make themselves heard.

Starting a dialogue Pratiksha Rao, partnerships manager, Twitter hopes that the collaboration with Safecity helps fight the stigma around sexual harassment cases. She says, “Women are still apprehensive about sharing their stories. But when individuals collectively speak about an issue, it ensures that the issue doesn’t die down. With this tie-up, we are hoping that more women will come forward to help map unsafe areas.”

Mapping Sexual Violence — the brainchild of Indira Chandrasekhar, Meena Kandasamy, and Samhita Arni from the Out of Print team — is an extension of their special print issue, following the positive feedback it received. Indira says, “Sexual violence is committed in the spaces that we use everyday and we need to bring them into focus. There was a need to examine, evaluate and bring out these stories.” She adds that men too have shared stories of violence on their website because the anonymity is an incentive across genders.

A solution oriented platform Elsa D’Silva, co-founder and managing director of Safecity reveals that since 2013, the website has received over 6,250 reports from different parts of India, and some from Nepal and Kenya. She says, “We see that more women are willing to share their experiences because they can see their data is being used for solutions. Plus, we have certainly seen the rise in these voices — more reports, more conversations on the handle @pinthecreep. We have also witnessed more people attending our workshops and our on- ground campaign work.”

Elsa recalls an incident of the campaign bringing about real change. At a tea stall in Lal Kuan, Delhi, women often found themselves being stared at. At the Safecity workshop, the girls admitted that in order to avoid that tea stall, they would have to take a longer route. Safecity collaborated with The Fearless Collective (a collective of singers, artistes and filmmakers) and painted the wall outside the tea stall with the girls. Elsa says, “The girls painted the wall depicting staring eyes and a message that roughly translates in English as: ‘Look with your heart and not with your eyes’ and ‘We will not be intimidated by your gaze’. The wall mural was so effective, the staring and loitering has stopped since then.”

In Mumbai, Akshara Centre carried out a similar initiative. After the Sion subway was reported unsafe on the map on account of poor lighting and lewd remarks, the organisation approached the local authorities and the police for help. Co-director Nandita Shah of Akshara says, “We carried out safety audits with the help of students from SIES College and Rachana Sansad. It was reported that the subway was extremely unsafe because it was dingy and overcrowded with lewd men. Once we presented the problem to the local authorities, they were more than happy to help. Last month, we painted the subway and it is no more dirty or unsafe. Today the citizens are not hesitant to use it.”

What’s next Out of Print’s Indira is now looking to make the website available in regional languages to broaden its reach. She also intends to collaborate with NGOs and other organisations to help generate resource networks. Akshara Centre will collaborate with the Central Railway line (from CST to Thane) this month to make sure women are safe when in transit. Nandita Gandhi, co-director of Akshara says, “We are getting in touch with colleges and commuters association to ensure safe travel. A lot of times, the policemen aren’t on board but that doesn’t mean that women cannot intervene and save a fellow citizen. We want to make Mumbai safe for women.”

So, what are the unsafe spots in the city Mumbai is on the whole reporting a lot of physical touching, groping and masturbation in open spaces. The major rail hubs like CST, Kurla, Dadar and Andheri have many reports on touching and groping. We have seen many reports about people reaching into autos (even moving ones) and groping women. Overhead bridges outside Malad and Goregaon East railway stations are also badly lit, crowded and comfort zones for gropers. —Elsa of Safecity