Women in Indian cities face sexual harassment on public transport systems with terrible regularity. Even though these crimes are common place, there is little or no official data on the massive scale of the problem in Lucknow. Victims rarely come forward to register their complaints with the police due to inconvenience, sense of shame or fear of being targeted by the offender.
Under-reporting of cases of sexual harassment is a global phenomenon, and especially true of developing countries where a combination of conservatism, lack of police training, and poor sensitisation of state agencies discourages women from coming forward to register their complaints. In such a scenario, sexual victimisation surveys where respondents can share their experiences anonymously are an accepted form of investigation to guide policy making on the issue.
In order to lift the veil from this dark shadow of crime against women, Lucknow-based Safe Safar in partnership with Department of Security and Crime Science at University College London (UCL) conducted a comprehensive study on sexual victimisation of women on public transport in Lucknow.
Over a period of three months, a long-form survey and a specially developed smart phone app called SafetiPin were designed to collect data on multiple facets of sexual harassment ranging from nature of offences, profile of offenders and the sense of fear amongst women in Lucknow while using public transport. The respondents were young, educated women with an average age of 24 years who travel every day for work or education. The study was conducted by a research scholar from UCL, volunteers of Safe Safar, and students of Social Work Studies at Lucknow University.
The survey instrument used in the study was of global standards, and followed a format similar to the National Crime Victimisation Survey (NCVS) used in the United States, and British Crime Survey (BCS) in the United Kingdom. It was especially designed by Dr Herve Borrion, Dr Jyoti Belur and Kartikeya Tripathi – all three leading academics in the field from UCL. Zeeshan Mohammad, Shariq Ahmad, Abhishek Balodi from Safe Safar supported this study in Lucknow.
The survey used new definitions of sexual harassment framed by the central government after the brutal Delhi gang rape case as a basis to solicit information from the respondents. One of the aims of the study was to get information not only on serious cases of sexual assault but also on every day incidents of sexual harassment that go largely unreported. All the information supplied by the respondents was voluntary, and obtained through informed consent.
The mobile phone app, SafetiPin was used by 10 volunteers to record their feelings of safety or insecurity while waiting for or using public transport. The volunteers conducted 309 audits in total that recorded the experiential aspects of a particular spot on parameters such as lighting, quick availability
of transport, feeling of safety, and crowding. On analysis of the data it was found that none of the parameters scored more than 3.2 on a scale of 10. This shows a general feeling of insecurity and anxiety while using public transport in Lucknow.
The research was conducted with an eye on the Lucknow Metro rail which will start its system operations from 2016. All the data collection was done along the proposed route of the metro rail line. The introduction of metro rail in Delhi contributed to safety and security of women, encouraging them to go out confidently for work and social engagements. It is hoped that Lucknow Metro too will bring a similar social change to the city.
Studies like this are necessary to keep our focus on the fact that women continue to suffer in silence. Respondents reported regularly being victims of unwanted physical touch, sexual remarks, video-filming on the Vikram, bus and rickshaw in Lucknow. They also spoke of deep dissatisfaction with police in tackling common cases of harassment.
An interesting finding was that all the women who were surveyed expressed an unwillingness to lodge a formal complaint at a police station, but an overwhelming majority of them wanted to report cases anonymously through modern technology like apps, social media and mobile phones. This is a challenge for government and law enforcement agencies to find ways to record crimes of street level harassment against women in a manner that women find comfortable. As long as that does not happen, the state agencies will continue to work with inadequate data which is insufficient for proper planning for crime prevention, reduction and prosecution.
UCL and Safe Safar are optimistic that the study will assist police, Lucknow Metro Rail, and other policy makers to get an estimate of crimes against women on public transport in Lucknow, and use the same for future planning.
Key findings of the study are:
• 82% women said that fellow male passengers had passed sexual comments during their travel,
• 71% said men sang lewd songs on seeing them,
• 66% reported whistling by men
• One respondent reported being victim of unwanted touching on public transport in Lucknow as many as 60 times in the past six months
• Vikram is the most common mode of transport for women with more than half of respondents (56%) using it every day, but only one-fifth (21%) said they felt secure during the journey
• Women experienced strangers using smart phones to make their videos during travel
• The women felt that travelling alone (73%), Clothes they were wearing (64%), Age (53%) made harassment more likely
• Harassment took place at all times during the day, and all throughout the year
On Feeling of Safety
• SafetiPin App was used to conduct 314 audits by volunteers to rate sense of security at 314 different spots of public transport usage
• None of the parameters such as lighting, sense of security, easy availability of transport scored more than 3.2 on a scale of 10. This is a low score for quality of public transport in a city.
On Reporting of Crime
• All the respondents (100%) wanted to report the crime anonymously. Most of them wanted to use a phone to report the crime
• None of the respondents (0%) wanted to go to a police station and register a complaint
On Measures Taken by Women to Feel Safe
• 83% of the women carried a mobile phone with them to feel safe
• 76% women had tried to learn self-defence to feel safe
• More than half the women (55%) were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the police in preventing sexual harassment cases or with arresting the culprits
• 56% of the women said that offenders rarely or never get caught by the police
On Lucknow Metro Rail
• 98% of the women said they will use the new Lucknow Metro Rail system
• 62% of the women said they will use the new Lucknow Metro Rail system every day
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