Women Safety
How safe really is Chennai's public transport? Women have a difficult time travelling in the city.
Image source: Wikipedia

When compared to several other places in the country that have earned the reputation of being notoriously unsafe for women, Chennai is often said to be a relatively safer city.

But how safe is relatively safe and is that enough?

When Awareness for Wo+Men to Advocate their Rights and Equality (AWARE), a city based NGO, surveyed Chennaiites a few months ago about traveling in the city, the results were anything but to be proud of.

50% of the over 1,400 respondents -- including 64% female, 36% male -- who participated in the online survey said that they had been sexually harassed while using public transport in the city.

The harassment ranged from verbal (sexual comments, noises, cat-calling), to physical (deliberate touching, leaning/rubbing against, cornering, groping, or pinching), to even visual (sexual looks or gestures).

The survey was part of AWARE's 'Reclaiming Safer Spaces for Women and Girls in Chennai' initiative, which in turn is part of its long term project #NoMoreNirbhaya.

56% of the respondents ranked Chennai between 5 and 7 on a scale of 10 when asked the city has a safe public transport system.

"The aim was to get data on what people felt about travelling in Chennai. Though Chennai has been identified as (comparatively) safer city in India, we still have a lot of incidents of women facing assault," AWARE said in a statement.

An overwhelming majority agreed that women are at a higher risk of being harassed when using crowded public transport.

In the survey, 51.8% of respondents did not agree that other people would assist a woman being abused on public transport.

This may remind us of the horrific murder of Swathi, an Infosys employee, at the Nungambakkam railway station in June last year.

It sent shivers down the spines of not just people in the state but also across the country and led to a discussion on how safe really were women in public spaces.

Swathi's battered body lay on the platform for over two hours, and some even claimed that passengers who witnessed the crime simply chose to look away.

People seem to have even less confidence in authorities.

60% of the respondents did not think that authorities would investigate if a woman reported that she had been sexually harassed or attacked.

This is of course a sentiment that runs through most parts of the country.

Recently, when a man masturbated at a woman and threatened her with rape in a Mumbai train, the helpline personnel who she reached out to for help allegedly laughed off her complaint.

So what next?

"Previous research has proven that globally women use public transportation more than men but cities have failed to include their needs in the planning and design. Enabling safer transportation can make a difference in the lives of many women- give them more independence, freedom which will lead to a better household economy," AWARE said.

Gender Sensitization Training for the Madras Transportation Department; AWARE/Facebook 

In an attempt to make public transport safer spaces for women, the NGO conducted a gender sensitisation workshop with 150 MTC staff members last month.

It will also be running an online campaign between July 14 to August 14 asking Chennaiites why they need a safer city.