Safety— according to a quick Google search— is the condition of being protected.
But safety, for most of the women in India, means anything but that. For many women, it means fighting a constant battle for their right to live; sometimes from the second they are born. For others, it is unsafe homes they cannot escape, vulgar mindsets they cannot call out, and places they shiver to go to.
Since when did safety stand for silently suffering?
With April being observed as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, MTTN reached out to its following to find out whether Manipal is as safe a place as it is perceived to be. Assuring anonymity, we put out a form with a questionnaire covering all aspects to life, here in Manipal. With 289 responses, the result was a reality check—the safety of women in Manipal isn’t as pristine as we thought.
IS HOME A SAFE PLACE?
Home for a student here stands for two different places — Manipal and their hometown. Considering how we all hail from different parts of the country, it isn’t surprising that we have all experienced different levels of safety. Some of us have had the privilege of safe homes while others fight a losing battle. There are bad neighbourhoods, heartless family members and friends, unsafe cities and many other factors that might not make it ‘home’. But, is Manipal safer than our hometowns? More than 50% of our responses agreed to this, while about 29% were unsure.
In Manipal, too, a home might mean your hostel block or your flat number. Is it the regulations such as curfew which make Manipal seem safer, or is it the independence which comes from living on your own? Although a large number of girls said that they’re living in hostels, the primary reason for Manipal to be perceived as safe is its population—students.
There is comfort in the fact that everyone around is of the same age group, going through similar experiences. People trust each other with their safety—something largely amiss in different cities around the country.
“While things have definitely happened, whether one chooses to believe in them or not, I trust in the general goodness of people, especially in the student community of Manipal. I don’t feel as safe anywhere else in India.”, one of the responses we got.
MANIPAL, A SAFE PLACE?
Manipal Life is very unique in its design—a quaint university town complimented by the best aspects of city life. Accompanied by the diverse crowd, there isn’t much that differentiates Manipal from college life in big cities. Almost 80% of our responses have never felt unsafe because of a male figure on campus. When it comes to our social lives, only about 33% feel unsafe in clubs and restaurants. All of this further points to the safety, security and trust students feel around each other. With all our statistics, does that mean Manipal is completely safe for women?
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
Of our responses, 46.6% have had something happen to them or their friends. Whether it’s the regular eve-teasing incidents on the dark road near the KC Gate or getting groped in clubs, every single incident makes our home that much unsafe.
In 2013, a girl was kidnapped and gang-raped while going back home from the library at night. Five men were arrested, out of which three had committed the crime while two had destroyed evidence. The accused men were between the ages of 25-30 years. The police caught them within a week of the crime. The three men who committed the crime were sentenced to life imprisonment and were fined for 1.1 lakhs each.
In the wake of the incident, security was increased overnight. The gates on the campus were to be closed from 9 PM to 6 AM for vehicles. Students and faculty members were, however, allowed to enter on the production of identity cards.
Another incident that took place was a more recent one and found a few girls to be a victim to the hands of the boy. From the various reports made, it was observed that the accused student would be friendly at the start and then make non-consensual advances.
After a while, many girls reported particular incidents through social media. Various clubs and organizations disassociated themselves, saying that they condemned the acts that had taken place.
Along with this, there are several issues which are now woven into the daily life of women.
Catcalling once its dark, being followed by men on motorcycles, non-consensual advances and groping in places such as clubs are just a normal day for many women in Manipal.
Adding to an already tough problem of protecting oneself is the narrative of victim-blaming and denial. While almost half our sample space has had to deal with some incident, only 22.7% have reported it to the authorities. Is this stat, although unfortunate, surprising? For every one incident reported, there have been several comments judging outfits, personalities, hometowns and many more. It takes a minute for someone to blame women, but as we’ve seen, lifetimes to understand the reality of the problem. Most would prefer silently suffering to reporting to authorities—people they think will water down the complaint, trivialize a horrific incident and refuse to take them seriously only because of their gender, sometimes further stereotyping on hometowns and judging outfits.
This is a country where women are quite literally worshipped. This is, however, also a country where a girl child is looked down upon. A large population, still, do not understand a woman wanting to be independent. Movie stars of the likes of Salman Khan compare rape to their schedules. Politicians easily blame crimes such as rape and sexual assault on women for staying out late or for their attire.
In a country where consent is a primitive concept, one apparently quite difficult to grasp, why is a low reporting rate a surprise?
WHO CAN YOU REPORT THIS TO?
Although there is a long way to complete safety to be assured, steps are being taken in the right direction. In Manipal, these are the following places to contact:
The Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) manages grievances related to sexual harassment and aims to create awareness and prevention of these offences on the campus. They can be reached by email, as well as a phone call.
Phone number: 0820-2922960
You could also contact Student Affairs, who can be reached by a phone call or by visiting their office, which is on the first floor of the MAHE building. Their offices are open from 2:30 PM to 4:30 PM on working days. They consist of a Director and two Deputy Directors — one for the Health Sciences and one for the Technical campus.
Phone Number: 0820-2922035
If you or anyone you know has faced any issue whatsoever, please do not hesitate to file a complaint. No one is safe until all of us are safe.
—Written by Aarohi Sarma and Kaavya Azad for MTTN
Featured Image by Ishika Somany and Samara Chandavarkar for MTTN