Time to reclaim women-friendly city status

Women's safety

It is unfortunate that it has taken a brutal and inhuman sexual assault on a young woman in the capital city of Delhi to drive home the fact that women are unsafe and insecure in our country. Even a city like Pune, where women once freely moved about on bicycles, acted in plays, took part in public debates and wrote in vernacular journals about women's emancipation, is no longer wholly safe for women.

This is a city that has seen the rape and murder of female IT professionals, a rape on the university campus, the rape and death of a two-year-old by the 75-year-old employer of her domestic help mother, and the abduction and rape of a young woman trying to find a way to the city. This is now also a city where women are molested in crowded buses, assaulted for their ornaments, young college going women are passed lewd comments on and stalked, and even stabbed or shot to death for refusing the unwanted attention of men. The list is endless. It makes one wonder if this is really the Pune of Mahatma Jotiba and Savitri Phule, Maharshi Karve and many other social reformers who challenged the patriarchal and caste hierarchies.

Every time there is such an incident of violence against women, the standard response has been to question the behaviour of the victim.Women are held responsible for the attacks they face, either because "they were out alone" or wearing "provocative clothes", or for being at the "wrong place at the wrong time". After the university campus rape, many college administrations proposed dress codes for girl students, while women's hostels responded by advancing their closing time. Such knee-jerk responses that put more restrictions on women hardly solve the problem.

Today, Pune is touted as an educational or IT hub. More and more women are out and moving in public spaces. But both these sectors, which have reaped huge concessions in terms of land, taxes and other civic amenities, have shown no or little responsibility towards providing safe public transport at affordable prices for students and employees. This is especially necessary in a city like Pune whose outer limits are expanding by each passing day. Even the hostels run by the state government for tribal girls are located at far-flung locations. The other problem is lack of well-lit public spaces — bus stops, railway platforms, streets et al. The subways in the city are filthy, populated with vagrants and look dangerous even during the daytime.

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