Delhi: Sex predators target Metro, cops in a tangle

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Delhi: Sex predators target Metro, cops in a tangle

Instances of women commuters being at the receiving end of molestation, name-calling, lewd remarks and harassment while travelling in Delhi Metro are on the rise.

A 29-year-old Delhi-based interior designer on Monday alleged that a man masturbated on her when she was going down by an escalator at Gurugram's Huda City Centre Metro Station complex on June 14. The woman said she could identify the culprit in the CCTV footage that the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) officials showed her.

Instances of women commuters being at the receiving end of molestation, name-calling, lewd remarks and harassment while travelling in Delhi Metro are on the rise. The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) helpline receives 15-20 distress calls every day from hapless women. Sharing her ordeal on Twitter, tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the interior designer alleged that she didn't get a response from the police and questioned the lax security for women in public transport.

She tweeted: "I feel shame that the Metro, which is supposed to be the safest mode of transport for women, where the chief minister is offering free rides to women, lacks clearly in making it safe in the first place... We don't want free rides, we want safety which every government promises but none has been able to provide us. We fear walking out. Was 9:25 pm really that late?" She was referring to the Arvind Kejriwal government's recent promise of offering free rides for women on the Delhi Metro network and government buses.

The Gurugram Police finally lodged a case under IPC sections 354A (Sexual Harassment) and 506 (Criminal Intimidation) against the accused, who was apprehended by the special cell of the Delhi Police on Wednesday, five days after the incident.

A REGULAR 'OUTRAGE'

On June 7, a 22-year-old man was arrested from Gurugram's Huda City Centre for allegedly sexually harassing a 34-year-old woman passenger. In a police complaint, the woman said she was sitting in a coach when the accused stood near her, unzipped his pants and made a lewd gesture. On March 27, a 24-year-old woman was allegedly molested by an unidentified man inside a Metro coach.

The incident occurred at around 10 am when the woman, a resident of Delhi, boarded a Metro train from Saket to reach her office in Gurugram. Since the women's coach was jam-packed, she had got into a general compartment.

"It is an everyday thing that men misbehave in the Metro, but it is not possible to call the police or the CISF every time. Whenever something objectionable happens, I handle it myself either by shouting at the person or straightaway slapping him," said Heemani Bharadwaj (29), an HR executive with a Gurugrambased firm. Bharadwaj is a regular Metro user and has filed complaints thrice (related to eve-teasing, inappropriately touching) in the past one and a half years.

"We cannot report to the police because they start victim-blaming this has happened twice with me in the past, and they refuse to take any FIR without us providing proof. Where do we get the proof that a man standing behind me touched my butt in public because there were too many people and he could get away with it? How do I explain that I know a lewd expression on a man's face when I see it? This is something which we cannot explain to the police. We don't expect these patriarchal cops to understand what problems we are going through," a Delhibased woman wrote recently in her blog.

SHIFTING RESPONSIBILITY

Most of these cases go unreported, because more often than not the buck is passed from one security agency to another. With an eight-line, 373-km rail network, Delhi Metro is owned by the Centre and the Delhi Government in a 50:50 partnership.

The CISF, which reports to the Union Home Ministry, takes care of the security of the vast network in coordination with the state police, while the investigation part is handled by the city police. The plight of women commuters is further worsened owing to the police placing the prerogative of providing proof on the victims themselves.

Subhash Bokan, spokesperson for Gurugram police, said the security inside Metro premises is not in the hands of the police and they can only investigate on the basis of circumstantial evidence.

"We are committed to secure areas adjoining Metro premises. We have police pickets at Huda City Centre, IFFCO Chowk station, pickets near MG Road Metro station and police barricading on the road underneath Sikandarpur Metro station," he said.

Since the CISF is a preventive force and has no powers to investigate, state police personnel are deployed to probe such incidents, said a CISF spokesperson.

UNSAFE PUBLIC TRANSPORT

According to the findings of a survey named 'What Do Women and Girls Want from Urban Mobility Systems?' conducted in March by a cab aggregation company in 11 cities including Delhi, 91% of women perceive public transportation systems as extremely to somewhat unsafe. Only 9% women actually consider them to be completely safe. A survey by Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2017 ranked Delhi as the most unsafe megacity in the world for women. Police data shows that crimes against women in Delhi have seen a phenomenal increase of 83% between 2007 and 2016.

WHAT THE OFFICIALS CLAIM

The CISF said that apart from routine security, specially trained women cops are deployed at Metro stations.

"Soon after we receive any call or get any information, the CISF staff acts swiftly. We have women commandos as well. Also, the quick response team is active," said CISF spokesperson Hemendra Singh.

"Continuous monitoring of CCTV, manual surveillance and suo motu action taken by CISF officials are other factors that help us in maintaining a safer environment," he added.

The DMRC, too, claims it has put in place adequate arrangements for women's safety. Of the 25 lakh people who ride the Delhi Metro every day, 30% comprise women passengers. A DMRC spokesperson said that the corporation website mentions the facilities it has put in place for women passengers as it was "fully committed towards safety and security of women passengers."

In addition to this, earmarked seats with adequate signage are reserved in other cars for lady passengers. Until April 2019, DMRC had prosecuted 664 men for unlawful entry into the women's coaches of Metro trains.

The Delhi government on Friday announced the formation of a task force to ensure safety of women commuters in public transport. "The task force will conduct both off and on ground review and monitoring of all existing schemes and propose new plans for women's safety in Delhi," said vice-chairperson of the Delhi Dialogue and Development Commission (DDC) Jasmine Shah, while announcing the task force "Metro remains the safest mode of public transport. The concern is the last mile connectivity. Once the commuter gets out from the Metro station premises, she becomes vulnerable for various factors. It needs to be taken care of by the concerned authorities," said Kalpana Viswanath, a gender rights researcher and the co-founder of Safetipin, an NGO that works on women's safety issues.

(With inputs from Priyanka Sharma)