Do’s & Dont’s Women’s Security in India
Why Women Remain Vulnerable – Socio- Political Causes?
Public outrage after the brutal rape and murder of the 23 year old student, “Nirbhaya,” in Delhi on 16 December 2012 has focused greater attention on necessity for holistic measures for security and safety of women. Sadly despite a strong legislation there has been no reduction in incidents of assault and physical abuse of women underlining larger socio-political ills and environmental changes in Indian society today. The underlying trends may seem aberrations in male behavior but these have become so pronounced in recent times and their ill effects so damaging to society at large that these need blunt assertion.
Briefly stated these include rapidly transforming socio economic landscape, urbanization, and cross-cultural migration. Studies and surveys reveal that basic aggression in male behavior patterns has created a sense of insecurity in women. Biological proclivity of men to sexual aggressiveness has not been affected by the larger movement for gender equality.
Ironically as more women are entering the work space, their vulnerability seems to have increased. Despite financial and material security women continue to be victims at home and outside to male chauvinism which manifests in some cases in mental and physical violence sexual assault and rape being it’s most venal form.
A manifestation of rapid socio economic transition is social inequality leading to a class of under privileged whose depravation can lead to aggression directed against women of all socio-economic classes who are easy victims in vulnerable settings in which Nirbhaya found herself in December 2012. At the other end of the spectrum in the affluent world is the dominant male in a work setting where he can unashamedly exploit his position of power.
Cases of acid attacks on women could be seen as another vector of violence that exclusively targets females by rejected males who attack the face, symbol of feminine persona.
Sexual harassment at the workplace is common with a 2010 survey indicating that 88 percent of women who work in large numbers in the IT/ITES sector have faced some form of persecution. Though as the current public debate indicates all professions seem equally vulnerable. To those working in less privileged jobs exploitative maltreatment may be even more brutal.
These factors suggest amongst others that despite a perceived change of status of women, increased vigilance and stricter laws, violence against women is likely to be a worry for some time to come. More over the trend is not India centric but affects all countries in varied ways.
Preventives are the best form of safety for which a Do’s and Don’ts framework provides practical guidelines for women to preserve themselves under varied circumstances. Do’s and Don’ts for women safety and security in India are thus covered in four parts in succeeding paragraphs as follows:-
- Know Your Rights as a Woman
- Common Tips– Applicable at all Times
Knowing Your Rights as a Woman
Women are empowered by society as well as legally, simply speaking some basic rights that are universal applied to both genders but specifically for women include the following:-
- Rights as a woman for dignity and respect that implies no male of any age has the right to make advances at a woman tease or sexually harass her.
- A privilege to respect under all circumstances. No one has the rights to make women uncomfortable, whether at work place, home or on the streets, whether in school, college or in a social gathering.
- Rights to physical and mental security. No one has the rights to use physical force, torture physically or mentally, or coerce women in any way, no matter relationship with that person.
- Privilege to complain. Women have all the rights to complain when violated even in the smallest way. Take advice and adopt the correct course under such circumstances, whatever is the status of the individual, be it boss, relative or a neighbourhood bully.
- Rights as a women employee for security by the organization as per Visakha guidelines for prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace.
- Violence physical or mental against women is not her fate as is made out to be in some cases. Dominant behavior is not anyone’s right and not a women’s destiny, thus complaining against the same is in perfect order.
Common Tips – Applicable at all Times
Whatever be the situation or circumstances, there are some constants that are applicable to women’s safety and security these are as follows:-
- Women should be highly concerned about own security especially during vulnerable time as at night and at sensitive locations.
- Mental strength may be more important than physical power, develop a strong will to resist male advances. As noted female activist, Malala Yousafzai said, “If 10 men stare at me in the market I just stare back at them (and they wilt away)”.
- Develop an instinct for trouble and take evasive measures.
- Inclement weather, night, darkness or odd hours are vulnerable times for any woman as much as but more so than others are.
- Isolated places increase level of vulnerability. These can be secluded buildings, parking lots, staircases or even lifts.
- Cyber space has created a new set of challenges for women, be fully cognizant of the threats in use of social media and internet fraud.
- Getting away or escaping from a situation is more sensible than confronting it, remember a cat has nine lives because it skillfully escapes death the other eight times.
- Take a self defence course if possible and at least some form of exercise that will help keep fit and active thereby evading force.
- Nobody is immune to being violated there are examples of women violated in the most affluent homes.
Do’s for women
- Do be aware and accept that women are more vulnerable and the phenomenon is not restricted to India.
- Seek information and develop awareness of local security and safety situation for women in the city, town and the locality in which you live.
- Do be culturally sensitive in your behavior or while dressing, based on the place you are visiting or time of day. This is plain common sense.
- Do wear clothes and footwear that help in running or escaping quickly especially when going to an outdoor event or at night where you are likely to be vulnerable.
- Do keep an eye for suspicious men or women lurking around, avoid taking lifts offered by stranger(s) and avoid traveling in near vacant public transport system.
- Do alert the security or raise alarm in case you encounter a suspicious person or vulnerable situation.
- Do save emergency numbers on your phone and ring these regularly to check that they actually work especially when you travel from one city to another.
- Do download application that sends distress messages from your cell phones, test it a number of times including reaction of the people on the other side so that they are prepared to help you in an emergency.
- Do inform your travel routine particularly at night and odd hours; ask for call back from relatives or friends at fixed times without having to call up.
- Do inform office security staff and home in the case of a breakdown of an office cab or when you are the last passenger to be dropped.
- Do keep your car or scooter in the best condition to avoid a breakdown particularly if you are likely to travel at night. In case of a doubt take alternate means of transport.
- Do have a hammer or rod in the glove compartment to break open the window in case of a being locked in the car in the case of an emergency.
- Do equip your car with emergencies when you are going long distance
- Do ensure you lock your car from inside while traveling at night.
- Do take the elevator instead of stairs unless the elevator is occupied by a suspicious person(s).
- Do get off from the elevator in case a suspicious person gets in and you are alone.
- Do lock and latch your house at all times and do not open the door to strangers. Install electronic alarms amongst other safety devices.
- Do plan your outstation travel in such a way that you arrive at the destination even if it is your hometown during day light hours. In case you are arriving late call a relative or friend to pick you up, do not hesitate to cause them inconvenience.
- Do hire cabs from standard travel companies who rent radio cabs with GPS. If staying in a hotel, hire a cab from the hotel renting service.
- Do check the safety and security arrangements when staying in a hotel room. Prefer rooms with electronic keys and check who holds duplicates.
- Do be cautious in making new friends while traveling particularly male friends.
- Do have only relatives, well-known and reliable friends on Facebook, who are long time acquaintances, scrupulously avoid making, “friends,” with strangers on social media.
- Do use social media as Facebook and Twitter for keeping your friends informed of your whereabouts.
- Do travel in women only compartments or buses where these are provided. Avoid common facilities.
- Do keep items as a whistle to raise an alarm, pepper spray and strong flash light in your purse. You can also use your purse as a weapon in an emergency. Practice using these.
- Do keep your visiting card in your purse so that in case of an accident, your identity can be established.
- Do know vulnerable points of the male anatomy in case you have to use force, these are mainly groin, throat, eyes and knees.
- Do learn to use your elbow, knees and fingernails these are strong points of women and can hurt when it strikes the right spots.
- Do keep a pet dog, if fond of pets and if you have to move out of the house take the pet where feasible especially at night.
- Do educate your female children to reject physical contact by strangers and report the same immediately on occurrence.
- Do ensure proper lighting of entrance to your house or flat. The exit side should be at least 60 percent more luminous than the entrance so that you are able to clearly see a person outside without exposing yourself.
- Do not hesitate in strongly objecting to misbehavior the first time it happens, if you ignore it once it will only encourage the person towards more objectionable conduct later.
- Do not visit a suspicious location alone and never at night or in the evening hours.
- Do not travel alone at night as most Indian cities are unsafe, single travel at night in suburbs should be particularly avoided.
- Do not travel in public transport alone, in case you find yourself alone it is better to get down at a safe place rather than continue the journey especially at night. Ring and seek help.
- Do not join protests or crowds unless you are in a strong multi gender group, molestation is a common complaint at such events whatever be the cause as anti socials may take advantage.
- Do not make unnecessary eye contact with strangers, but when doing so display confidence. Exchanging frequent glances with strangers can be misinterpreted.
- Do not engage in conversation with a strange man; discourage small talk particularly if you are alone.
- Do not show unnecessary sympathy for a stranger and beware of a ruse, sometimes women decoys are used by criminals to lure female victims.
- Do not establish routine in terms of timings or route while going for work or for a walk, change your timings and routes frequently as far as possible.
- Do not hesitate in reporting a suspicious person, activity or object or raising an alarm as loudly as possible and call for help to dissuade a potential attacker. It is better to end being sheepish then sorry. Shout ‘Bachao bachao’ or words to this effect
- Do not give up if under threat or attack, look for the earliest opportunity to escape.
- Do not show fear, assailants are encouraged by persons who panic.
- Do not use ATMs to draw money at night or in early morning hours when alone.
- Do not carry large number of credit cards at any one time, loss of purse may lead to compromise of your accounts.
- Do not wear expensive jewelry especially chain or heavy gold bangles when alone or display it. If you have to wear jewelry remove it after the event rather than displaying it while traveling especially at night.
- Do not carry jewelry while traveling, artificial trinkets can serve the same purpose.
- Do not accept food or drinks from strangers especially while traveling.
- Do not consume excessive alcohol or allow your male companions to do so at social events which can expose you or create vulnerability.
- Do not drive after consuming alcohol or allow your male companions to do so.
- Do not allow your social behavior to be mistaken as making advances by men.
The advisory essentially outlines basic precautions and emergency measures to be taken by women given the prevalent environment. Our society respects gender equity over the ages and only a small percentage of men can be regarded as predators however for a victim this is small solace. Thus the Do’s and Don’ts are charted to prevent exposure to the minority who may use their gender biases for aggression, mental or physical. The proverb, better be safe than sorry can be most appropriately applied to women. Erring on the positive side is therefore advisable.
Some simple Do’s and Don’ts have been outlined in the preceding paragraphs, making these a habit would create an instinct for an impending hostile situation and provide women with a safety shield deterring an adverse situation.
 Authors Col NN Bhatia (Retd), Industrial Security Consultant Email email@example.com and Brig Rahul K Bhonsle (Retd) Director Security Risks Asia. firstname.lastname@example.org. Address B5 & 6, 4283. Vasant Kunj New Delhi 110070. Issued in public interest and is an advisory of general nature application by individuals be based on local environmental conditions and specific circumstances and no liability incurs on the authors from the same. Feedback is welcome at email@example.com and relevant points will be included in version 1.2 and above.