NEW DELHI: That Delhi is India’s rape capital is a fact repeatedly stressed by crime statistics, but recent studies show safer streets could help to make the city safer for women. Research by Jagori, with the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, shows that wider pavements offer women more manoeuvring room when challenged.
Another survey showed 42% women were harassed while waiting for public transport. “We have suggested sites for hawkers near bus stops to ensure these areas are not isolated,” says Kalpana Viswanath of Gender Inclusive Cities Programme.
Eight ways to make nation’s rape capital safer for women
The latest official crime statistics confirms what everybody know s about Delhi: that it is India’s rape capital. But recent studies show that by tweaking urban design and infrastructure – something as simple as ensuring wider pavements and closing cigarette shops near busstops – could make Delhi safer for women. Other measures, like ensuring safer public transport and busy streets, could come later.
Recall recurring incidents of women being pulled into moving cars and stalked on streets, where wider pavements could offer women an escape route. When women are confronted by a group of men walking towards them on a narrow pavement, they often step onto the road to escape being brushed past, leaving them vulnerable to passing cars and men on two-wheelers. Wider pavements would offer more room to manoeuvre.
Research by Jagori, an organization studying gender and space in Delhi, along with the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, shows that women feel unsafe and have repeatedly reported incidents of sexual harassment on the dug-up, poorly-lit pavements around Delhi University (North Campus). The result: women do not stay late in the library or laboratories, even though these facilities are open in the evening. Improving the infrastructure around the campus would automatically ensure women access these resources.
“Whenever there is talk of making DU safer for women, people want to throw out the cycle-rickshaws. And yet, the presence of cycle-rickshaws on roads makes the area safer,” says Janaki Abraham, reader at the sociology department of DU.
As is the case with hawkers, who are on target in the bid to turn Delhi into a world-class city. And yet, studies show that the presence of hawkers makes a city safer for women, points out K T Ravindran, architect and former president of the Institute of Urban Designers, India. Their petromax lamps and the constant stream of people around their stalls ensure the streets are busy and well-lit. NGO Pukar study in Mumbai, in fact, showed that when roadside booksellers were evicted between Churchgate station and Flora Fountain, women felt unsafe walking the stretch at night.
Barring roadsides, public transport has emerged the most vulnerable place for women. A baseline survey by Delhi’s women and child development department, UN Women, Jagori and UN Habitat showed that around 70% women said they were harassed on the roadside while 50% reported being harassed in public transport and 42% faced harassment waiting for public transport.
“Bus-stops are often dimly lit and are seen as unsafe for women at night. We have suggested that the municipal authorities plan sites for hawkers near bus stops to ensure there areas are not lonely and isolated,” says Kalpana Viswanath, director of Gender Inclusive Cities Programme and advisor for Jagori’s Safe Delhi Initiative. “Currently, the only venders are cigarette stalls frequented by men, many of whom harass women at bus stops. We have proposed the removal of cigarette stalls from the vicinity of bus stops.” The new bus stop model, with transparent back panels that don’t go all the way down are an improvement, she says.
The Metro, on the other hand, is not only well-lit and staffed with women guards, but the implied modernity of the service makes people behave better, says Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute of Human Settlement.
Dark and lonely subways have to go, say experts. “The solution is to do away with subways and have more traffic signals where people can cross the street. While this may slow down traffic, it’s important to ask whether the city is designed solely for cars, or for people too,” says AGK Menon, convener of the Delhi Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
“Pedestrianizing” Delhi, in fact, would make the city safer for men and women, says Revi. “While the central business districts of cities like New York and Mumbai have high population densities in daytime, in comparison, Connaught Place has very low density. If the inner circle of CP were to be completely pedestrianized, there would be more people on the streets. Not only would this make it a safer place in the evening, but it would also make commercial sense, since people tend to buy more when they walk rather than drive past shops,” he said.
In contrast, Gurgaon has much higher population densities, but the fact that the city is designed for cars and not pedestrians, with no public life on the streets, makes it unsafe for people walking on the road,” says Kavita Wankhade of Indian Institute for Human Settlements. “Gurgaon has tall buildings and cars zipping past on the road. If a pedestrian is attacked, there is no one to turn to on the road,” she says.
But crowded areas aren’t necessarily woman-friendly. A gender safety audit of Shahjahanabad, which INTACH commissioned Jagori to undertake for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, showed that while the area between Delhi Gate and Ajmeri Gate was frequented by women as it has two colleges, including one exclusively for girls, as well as schools, hospitals and maternity homes, women were not comfortable as the roads were largely male-dominated and lacked spacious pavements. Around 40% of the women surveyed said they had faced some form of sexual harassment here.
The other issue – that could be easily solved – was men’s urinals that were visible from the road, making it awkward for women to pass by. The study suggested redesigning the urinals besides building more toilets for women. “In many areas, the entrance to public toilets for men and women are from the same point and men often peep. Toilets should be designed to ensure the entrances are at opposite ends,” adds Viswanath.
Lutyens’ Delhi is very beautiful and well lit at night. But women still feel unsafe because the streets are deserted at night. More street life and street activity make a city safer for women
All over the world, studies show that the presence of hawkers at night makes areas safer for women as they have some sort of light around their stall, like a petromax. Also, wherever there are hawkers, there are people around
Many women, who are safe once they get inside their colonies, feel afraid of walking the distance from a bus-stop to their homes at night. Bus stops are often very lonely and isolated spots. If hawkers are allowed near bus-stops , this problem could be minimised
Bus stops should not have cigarette vendors near them, because wherever there are cigarette vendors, there are young men hanging around, who often harass women who get off at bus-stops
Subways are often dark and lonely and unsafe for women. Eliminate underpasses and have more traffic signals instead
A report released by the United Nations says for every 10 public toilets for men in Delhi, there is one for women. This indicates that the city does not take women’s spaces seriously. There should be more public toilets for women with separate entrances
While Shahjahanabad has a lot of street activity, the area is largely male dominated, which makes it uncomfortable for women
Women growing up in Delhi have complained of being sexually harassed in buses, but they feel much safer in the Delhi Metro railway. Men are known to behave better in the Metro
Better street lighting. Some parts of Delhi such as the stretch between DU metro station & Miranda House are very poorly lit at night