Bhubaneswar, Dec. 23: Sasmita, 26, employed with a jewellery store in the state capital, was walking home after work when she suddenly saw two men rushing towards her.
She stopped dead on her tracks. The men, who loomed out of the shadow of the Master Canteen bus terminal around 10pm, approached her with quick steps even as she was trying to figure out their intentions.
“You want to come with us?” Sasmita went numb with terror. However, her ordeal came to an end as an autorickshaw full of passengers came that way. She hailed the auto and got in before the men could say or do anything more.
This is not a one-off incident. Working women in the state capital get accosted and propositioned almost on a daily basis. “The risk is double if your work gets over after 8pm and if you don’t have a vehicle of your own,” said Sasmita, who is from Balasore.
Working women said that alongside the poor law and order situation in the city, the lack of safe public transport makes them vulnerable to men with bad intentions. “I would prefer a bus to an autorickshaw, but it is difficult to find one after 9pm. The company I work for does not have any drop facilities,” said Aishwarya Pattanayak, 25, a software engineer, who travels close to 30km every day for work.
Apart from the distance between work and home, which is a major factor, the women said they didn’t feel safe at most locations in the city. “The other day I was coming out of a movie theatre around 9.15pm when some youths passed lewd comments in Odia. My friends and I did not react and walked away because we were scared that they would try to hurt us,” said Monali, a 32-year-old private sector employee.
Even malls and parks are dreaded places for women. The smaller establishments around the malls are usually the hangouts of goons, who tease them while people stand and stare, she said. The situation is worse at bus stands and railway stations because of the unscreened crowd that hangs around to ensnare women. Lax security at such places makes them even more vulnerable.
City police, however, do not have any special measures in place for the safety of working women staying alone in the city or returning home alone at night. Nor have they issued any guidelines for private companies for pick-up and drop facilities for their women employees.
Bhubaneswar deputy commissioner of police Nitinjeet Singh said the police personnel keep patrolling near ladies’ hostels, women’s colleges, cinema halls and malls. The newly launched beat patrolling vehicles also monitor vulnerable points such as parks and other hangouts.
“Whoever is found roaming suspiciously around such places are warned and booked. Whenever we get complains of harassment against women, we instantly bring the perpetrators to book,” he said.
He said the police keep records of public transport facilities such as autorickshaws, city buses and private town buses. Though the registration of autorickshaws and drivers is done at the traffic police station, city bus operators stay in constant touch with the police. However, town buses are yet to come under police control.